When I began writing my first novel, Fire Lilies, more than 20 years ago, I spent the first year working on my first chapter. I realized at the end of that year that, at the rate of one chapter a year, I’d either never complete the novel or I’d finish it on my deathbed. I’m not sure how I got out of the first chapter rut, but thank goodness I did.
Interestingly, when I finally found my stride, I ended up throwing out that first chapter. Most writers will tell you that at some point in the writing process the characters take over, overriding your carefully constructed plans for them. The characters start doing things you don’t expect. Their actions may come as a surprise, but usually it is a welcome surprise and very much in keeping with whom they have become as the story progresses. This is what writing organically means.
Writing organically is both fun and scary. Think about what enthralls you when reading a novel. What keeps you turning those pages? Usually it’s the element of suspense or surprise, coupled with characters you either care about or who you find intriguing or exasperating. These attributes are also what keep a novelist writing.
Writing organically has not been easy for me. I am a highly organized person who likes structure, so I usually have some type of structural device or foundation when I start any writing project, fiction or nonfiction. However, in my fiction, I try to follow the adage of the estimable American author Ray Bradbury (1920-2012):
“First, find out what your hero wants, then just follow him [or her]!