The Longest Way Down: the process

November 24, 2016 Writing  One comment

Anthony’s story had been percolating in the back of my mind ever since The Charm Necklace

I had some ideas. I knew that he would find a girl standing on the ledge of a building about to jump. That he would try to save her by taking her on a road trip. That he would try to save himself by saving her. I knew that he had issues. That she had issues. That they would go to the Grand Canyon. 

I totally had this plan where I was going to follow this writing process called The Snowflake Method. There’s like twelve steps where you completely flesh everything out prior to writing a word. You know what’s going to happen where, why, in detail. 

So I started by doing a month of research prior to writing. I wanted to do both character’s mental states justice, aside from drawing on my own experiences. To prepare, I read:

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness by Kay Redfield Jamison

Underneath the Lemon Tree: A Memoir of Depression and Recovery by Mark Rice-Oxley

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

Road Trip USA: Cross-Country Adventures on America’s Two-Lane Highways by Jamie Jensen

Southwest USA’s Best Trips: 32 Amazing Road Trips by Lonely Planet

Then I wrote out some character sketches. I like to include their Myer-Briggs personality types and horoscope personalities. I included things like their families and significant events in their lives. Where they worked, went to school, the hobbies they enjoyed, the clothes they wore. In some cases, I wrote little snippets from their POVs. 

Once I had a good understanding of who the characters were, I made a list of plot points and scenes I knew needed to take place. 

But then, when I tried to fill in the spaces in-between, I drew up blank. I had no idea what was going to happen in between these scenes. I wouldn’t know how one scene would lead to the next, how my characters were going to propel the story forward until I was actually in it with them, writing their story as I saw it happen before my eyes.

So I started with the Prologue. I needed to explain Anthony’s mindset, his view of the world. Why does he feel so tormented? What makes him willing to go on a cross-country road trip with some girl he just met? 

And then, I decided I was just going to dive right in. To hell with plans and plots.

I wondered if I could I sit down and just let the story flow without constant intervening from my inner editor and plotter. Could I write a quality story without all that time wasted on planning? After all, I had spent the last three years learning the craft of writing, reading countless writing books. I had spent my entire life absorbing story structure through books, movies, tv shows. 

What would happen if I just wrote what happened? 

What would happen if I just let my creativity run wild and had fun with it?

If it was a complete shitshow I could always rework it. 

So, I set the goal of 2,000 words a day and stuck to it six days a week. Many days, I wrote over the 2,000 words. Other days, the struggle was real. The first 700 words were always the hardest. 

I followed the story where it took me. And it turns out, I actually can write a story without thinking about it too much. Just by following the characters, letting them speak, react. Just by saying what happened like it was unfolding right before me. 

There were days when I was so immersed in the story, in the places the characters went, that after I was done writing, I had a hard time adjusting back to the real world. There was one day, in particular, when I completely lost myself in the story. It was a Saturday morning and I was working alone in the office for a good four or five hours. I was writing the scenes where the characters are in Tlaquepaque, a Mexican-style arts and crafts village in Sedona, Arizona. 

screen-shot-2016-11-09-at-10-07-35-am

I would virtually travel around the village via Google Maps (an invaluable tool for writing about places you’ve never been to) and then go back to Scrivener and write what I saw, what the characters did and said. I was so totally in that world that later that day when I left my apartment, my mind was seriously confused. I didn’t understand how I was in Charleston when I’d just been in Arizona for the past five hours. 

After finishing the first draft and going back over it, I was surprised to find that no major changes had to be made. There were some sentences that had to be reworked for flow reasons, but the content? No changes necessary.

It was a crazy, awesome experience. I’m so ecstatic about how the story turned out. I’m happy to report that no quality or excellence was sacrificed. 

I can’t wait for you to read it!

Coming January 17th, 2017

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