Friday, December 07, 2012

Barbara Kingsolver - How I Write

The esteemed novelist is interviewed on the Daily Beast.

From the piece...

Describe your routine when conceiving of a book and its plot, before the writing begins. Do you like to map out your books ahead of time, or just let it flow?
I do a lot of mapping out. I was trained as a scientist—undergraduate and graduate degrees in biology—and I tend to think like a scientist and work like a scientist. It seems to me that every book reminds me of writing a dissertation. Each idea begins with a hypothesis, to put it into scientific terms. A great “what if” that seems important to me. Then I think about how to translate that very real question, about human nature or the world, into a plot. A novel doesn’t tell you anything. It has to show you everything. Even a question has to be asked through character and plot. I spend a lot of time thinking about the narrative structure. I do tons of writing that is not yet scenic but more schematic. It will never appear in the book, it’s really just notes to me about this book. In fact the top of the file might say “The Lamp on the Desk.”  I made that up because it’s what I’m looking at now, but you see what I mean. The file will be “The Lamp on the Desk” and then it will say “the characters are x, y and z. This is the plot. It begins here, it goes there, everyone has to see x in the end.”  It’s writing about the book, almost like a treatment or, as they say in the film industry, a “bible.” I can spend months doing this, until I know who everyone is, and what they will be doing. Only then do I start writing. I invent characters who will do what I need them to do. Then I invent life histories that will make them the kind of people that would do what I need them to do. Like all authors, I’m asked if characters are biographical, if I put people I know into my fiction. You can see from my process that that would be impossible for me. I begin by seeing a narrative, so I can’t put people I know in it—they simply wouldn’t behave properly, they wouldn’t be cooperative and do what I asked of them. So I invent the people I need, and that’s a lot more fun anyway. I can continually refine the characters, their histories, and their damage, until they are exactly the right people I need. Then, after a lot of that work is done, I start writing scenes. Sometimes the opening scene will occur to me first, but usually not. I write a lot of material that I know I’ll throw away. It’s just part of the process. I have to write hundreds of pages before I get to page one.

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