Sunday, October 17, 2004


I've been answering questions about writing (to the best of my ability) in the comments section of a previous blog entry. I thought I'd bring that section front-and-center here for those who might have missed it and are interested.

I'll be happy to answer more questions from the comments section of this entry.


Robert said...
If you've got four or five ideas for stories or novels competing for headspace, each equally interesting and compelling and demanding of your attention, how do you prioritize them? Or do you? Do you just keep chipping away at all of them until one of them wins the race to The End?

Answer: When I've got more than one project I'm equally passionate about, I start on the one I'm most likely to finish first. For example, if something seems likely to be a novella rather than a novel. Or, I'll do the one that's least like the one I've done before. Or, as is the case with my current projects, I have to go in chronological order and finish The Zamilon File before completing Fragments from a Drowned City. It's tough, though, because you can feel as if you're frozen just because you have such a wealth of different possibilities in front of you. Of course, the truth of it is, if you sit down with any one of those projects at your peak writing time--which for me is the morning right after I get up--you're likely to be inspired.

JP said...
I have a question regarding point of view. I'm increasingly torn between the unique, engaging voices possible with first-person and the sweeping perspective provided by third-person. I'm trying out intertwined and sometimes recursive multiple first-person narratives, but frankly, it's very tricky. So what's my question? Well, do you think this is an approach worth taking at all (I would like othe people to be able to read my stuff one day) and do you have any pointers to places where I could read this sort of narrative, and well, after reading Veniss Underground, anything you have to say on point of view is just fine by me.

Answer: Regarding point of view--I usually use the point of view and the voice (first/third/second) that creates the greatest sense of immediacy. If I have multiple viewpoint characters, I tend to stay away from using first person because it's difficult to make them individual enough to stand out from each other. I also think multiple first person narratives in a novel or story tend to become tedious even if differentiated. I use second person to attain the ultimate immediacy at the risk of alienating some readers who won't get into it. But to answer your question--you should do whatever feels right, whatever feels comfortable to write, and let the markets take care of themselves. There usually are only one or two best ways to tell a story, and you can certainly get hung up on figuring out which ones those are. (I'll answer this one in more depth soon.)

Rajan said...
Jeff, I don't know if you're still answering questions, but I thought I'd ask. I know that everyone has a different process, but do you find that you know the way the story is going to go before you actually start writing, particularly in respect to the ending? If so, how do you keep things fresh and interesting. If not, how do you deal with connecting particularly difficult dots (if you ever have that problem)?

Answer: I never start a story until I know the ending. And by knowing the ending, I mean in general. I don't mean specifics. And that ending might change during or after the writing of the story. But if I don't have an end goal in mind, I don't start the story, because I know I've never finished a story if I haven't known the ending before I started it. So, I start with a character, a situation, an ending, and usually some kind of surreal or magic realist image connected to the character.

Because the journey itself is vague, knowing the general ending doesn't spoil it for me. And since the ending may surprise me anyway--i.e., when I actually get to the writing of the ending, the character or situation may wind up radically changing it, I often experience short, sharp shocks of epiphany that keep things fresh. Sometimes the ending changes because I know more about the character by the time I get there. I am definitely exploring a character I know little about while writing. I only do back writing on a character's history, personality, etc., after finishing a rough draft, just to check and see if there's anything I should add in terms of detail, or if there's something about the character I still don't know that's important to the story...But everybody's different. What works for me would be totally wrong for someone else.


At 10:52 AM, Blogger Rajan said...

Thanks, Jeff, for the response. I know that everyone works differently, but it does help to listen to you talk about what factors go into the process. Thanks again.

At 3:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting to read your comments on multiple first-person voices. I might even agree, except for the fact that I read David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas earlier this year, and the control and differentiation of the six different voices (five first-person, IIRC) is one of the thing that most impressed me. Have you read any Mitchell? If so, what do you think of him? -- Niall

At 4:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


It's not impossible. It's just very difficult. And you have to be absolutely certain it's the best way to tell the story or you can get into real trouble. It's also not very interesting to me personally, as a writer. Not as a reader--I'd be very interested to read any novel in which multiple first person voices really work. The only one I can remember reading, Beagle's The Innkeeper's Daughter (Song?), didn't work for me at all.

Cloud Atlas is on my list.


At 4:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Jeff,
I tend to jot down lots of short, random ideas that come to me. Stuff like sentence fragments, names of people, bits of dreams. Do you let stuff like this creep into your work, or do you file it away for use another day?

Ben in The Gong

At 9:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the question. It depends. When I'm writing a short story, there are quite specific things I need to pull out of the real world, so in those cases whatever I jot down--dreams, little stray thoughts--may or may not make it into whatever story I'm working on at the time. However, when I'm working on a novel, it's totally different. A novel is generous enough and all-encompassing enough that every little scrap that comes to me, for the most part, goes into the novel. Now, it could just be that as I get deeper and deeper into a novel, over months and months, that I tend to become receptive to the things I need and block out or ignore those things I don't need. But to me, it feels as if I'm magnetic and everything inspirational in the world is also magnetic and is sticking to me.


At 4:29 PM, Blogger erasmus said...


When you have all of these ideas bubbling in your noggin and you decide to use one of them for your story, what steps to you take to get your thoughts onto paper? Do you start with a few phrases representing the story and then branch off into an outline? Do you do brief character sketches to bring your characters into focus? Or do you perhaps just take the story idea that you have and start writing and then revise revise revise and revise the hell out of it?

By the way, big congrats on the book deal!

- Jeremy

At 4:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The answer is: All of the above. Well, except for outlining. And I rarely do character sketches ahead of time. By the time I begin to write a story, I tend to have worked out a lot about the character in my head.

Thanks for the congrats!


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