Discovery Writing

From The Creative Penn:

Joanna: Patricia McLinn is the award-winning and multi-USA Today bestselling author of over 50 books across mystery, contemporary, and historical romance, women’s fiction, and nonfiction. Today we’re talking about discovery writing and the Survival Kit for Writers Who Don’t Write Right

. . . .

Tell us a bit more about you and how you got into writing.

Patricia: I was one of those kids who read everything I could get my hands on. I haunted the Helen M. Plum Memorial Library, and I loved it. Her husband was Colonel Plum. We actually had a Colonel Plum and they donated their house and garden to my town, and that was the library.

I thought everybody had stories in their head. It was a real shock to me to find out that people didn’t. As I was reading and growing up, I can remember specifically going down to the kitchen to my mother and reading her this passage from Dickens when he describes Uriah Heep as unctuous. I got the shiver down my spine and I told her, ‘I want to do that to people.’

And then I discovered, it seemed to me, Dickens was so far away over there, a different century, a different country, a different world. And what really struck me was when I found out that a woman named Marguerite Henry who wrote horse books, as somebody said, girl-meets-horse stories, Misty of Chincoteague and Sea Star.

I had read these and I was fascinated. She lived in the same county I did. And it was like, ‘Holy moly, real people writing books. This is a possibility.’ So, that probably really sparked the dream to do it someday.

Understandably, my parents thought something more practical would be a good idea. So I went into journalism. Not totally practical, I went into sports, especially at a time when women didn’t do it.

The last part of that career in journalism was 23 years editing at ‘The Washington Post.‘ And in that time I started really writing, because I had been goofing around with writing before that but I could never get past the first couple of chapters.

I would send them off to my sister-in-law who babysat for me when I was six because she and my brother were high school sweethearts. And she’d say, ‘This is great. Now what happens?’ ‘I don’t know.’ She said, ‘No more. Send me no more until you’ve finished it. I can’t stand it. I get invested in these people and then you just leave them.’

I got involved with the Washington Romance Writers and I got into traditional publishing. As I said, my first book was out in 1990, did 27 books in 25 years of traditional. Kept being told I was pushing the envelope, never felt like that to me, but it wasn’t a great fit.

When indie came along, I was more than ready to explore that. And I was hybrid for a while, and then in 2015 I went a hundred percent indie, and it has been a ride. It’s been terrific. All-encompassing in some ways, as you know, we can work all the hours, right?

As I said, 27 books in 25 years in traditional, and now I’m pushing, or I may be over 60, I don’t keep real close track, but I’ve done a lot more books indie in a shorter span than I did traditional.

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For people who might not be clear, what is a pantser or a discovery writer? What do you mean by those terms?

Patricia: What I mean primarily is that I don’t plot ahead of time. I dive into the book, writing whatever I know at the time. And for me, most of the times the books start with almost like I’m eavesdropping on two people in a restaurant.

I hear voices, Joanna, and I just start taking down what they’re saying. I don’t know their names, I don’t know their situations a lot of time. I have this feeling and I’m hearing them talk.

I can say specifically with my first book, it started with an argument on a basketball court between the heroine and the hero, and there was this back and forth, and that’s what I started with. And then I had to think, ‘Who are these people? Where did they come from? How did they get to this point? Where are they going to go from here?’ And then you play the what-ifs.

One of the ways I think of it is that, I did a talk with a really good friend who writes totally differently, and our talk was writing from the inside-out or the outside-in. So I think of it as writing, the way I do it is writing from this feel and hearing who the characters are and then writing out to structure.

Where plotters tend to start from structure, they know the story, they know the events that are going to happen, and they write into the guts of the character. You have to have both to have a really good book. But it doesn’t matter which way.

Joanna: You mention that your friend who writes totally differently. Even within the broad pantser and discovery writing to the plotter, there are different people within that.

For example, you’re talking now about almost taking dictation, some people call it, and they hear those voices. My mum who writes as Penny Appleton does exactly the same. And it’s so funny when she gave me the first draft of her first novel it was totally talking heads in an empty white room. It was a conversation between two people with no setting, no nothing.

It’s like she just heard the conversation. Whereas I don’t hear that at all. I don’t hear any voices. I’m a discovery writer, but I usually start with an object, or a thing, or a myth. But that isn’t the story that I’m getting to, or a place. For me, dialogue is one of the last things that happens.

Link to the rest at The Creative Penn