Hello dear readers, Matt Carter of the team of F.J.R. Titchenell & Matt Carter here today promoting the release of our book The Prospero Chronicles: Splinters. It’s got monsters and small towns and scares and teenagers fighting the forces of darkness, so a little something for everyone you might say (though no kittens, which might turn some readers off, but given the nature of the story I imagine you’ll be glad that’s the case).
My illustrious host Carol Ann Kauffman has invited me here to talk about, well, pretty much anything I want today. Giving me carte blanche to talk about anything is a dangerous prospect as my mind is a cluttered, oft creepy place full of cobwebs and shiny things and scary clowns hanging from the rafters looking to drop down upon careless passersby, so I think I’ll just go for one of her suggested topics instead and talk today about my take on the creative process!
It all starts with an idea.
I know, terribly original, but I’m an idea guy, so this is my usual launching point. It could be something as simple as “today, I think I’ll do a scifi story” or as elaborate as “today I’m going to write a story about a mistyped cell phone button that unleashes an apocalypse of flesh-eating smartphones”, but it always starts in some place like that. Usually, since I’ve already got a story in the works, these ideas don’t really go anywhere, or go in my massive pile of “stories I’d love to write eventually”, but in the event I’ve got nothing going on or nothing in said pile is looking great or I don’t have a new idea and something from the pile looks awesome, the idea moves to the next stage of the creative process: development.
It’s at this point that I just kind of sit on the idea thinking about what kind of story I can pull out of it. I like to look at similar stories that other people have done and try to figure out how to do something new with it, which usually involves having to tap into that never-endless pool of crazy in the back of my mind to try to do something really weird with it. From there I try to think of a few really cool scenes I’d love to see in a story like this, be they powerful or just over the top and awesome. I figure out where they have to go, and then start to work on the connective tissue that will hold them together. Then I work on the connective tissue that holds that connective tissue together into an outline, and usually find a pretty good story out of it from there.
And usually around this point I start to work on characters, figuring out who I need to make what I want to happen in the story (unless of course the story was based around them in the first place, which is always kinda 50/50 for me).
And I imagine right around this point a lot of you are thinking, “Wow, he really sounds like one of those soulless Hollywood hacks who values spectacle over character, I should read no further!” And in a lot of ways you’d be justified in thinking that, but hold on for just a moment while I do my best to try to win you back.
First off, yeah, I know it sounds a lot like the model that’s become problematic in modern Hollywood, and a lot of that comes from the fact that I was raised on equal parts movies and books and learned a lot about how to tell stories from both of them. I’m a very visual writer, and I really like painting vivid scenes for the readers.
Here’s where I start to break away from the summer blockbuster approach. When I start to figure out just what characters I need for a story, I work on them intensely, trying to figure out who they are, what they want, how to make them believable and real (or unreal as the story would demand), just why they would do what was needed for the story, and how they all fit in together. I won’t have characters do something just because the plot demands them to, I don’t like making characters jump through hoops just to have them jump through hoops, but if I can come up with a believable and in character reason for just why they had to jump through that hoop, then I’m having a good day.
I look at the creative process like putting together a puzzle. Before I get started, I like to know what the big picture is, so I have to look at the picture on the box. Then I like to put together the edges, the framework of the story, before filling in the middle to create the satisfying whole. It’s a fun process, and I hope it makes for some equally fun reads.