I often hear from people who want to write a book but don’t know how or where to begin. Or from people who have already written a book that’s ready for publication but don’t know how to get it published. I recently began a new blog series, Writing and Publishing Tips From Authors Around the World, to help writers.
The fifteenth contributor is U.S. author TK Carter (Tami Carter) and she’s here to talk about writing without an outline.
“I Hear Voices…” by TK Carter
Thursday as I drove down the street, I saw a young woman lacing her fingers through her long, red hair as she walked on the sidewalk. I only saw her for a moment, but the writer in me wondered from what she was releasing her hair. Dreadlocks? Why dreadlocks? By the time I got to the next intersection, a new character had formed – a young woman trying to find her place in a world where she felt she didn’t belong. Then she spoke. “Dreads. It was significant at the time, since I dreaded every morning, every hallway, every school bell, every bedtime. Dread filled my mind, so it seemed appropriate to let them sprout from my head.”
And with that, a new storyline unfolded.
There are two types of writers – pantsers and plotters. A plotter is someone who develops a storyline and molds characters to fit the events taking place. Often they have plot plans for each chapter focusing on action/rising action and have an outline for how the book will unfold. A pantser develops characters and has a general idea of how the story will flow but flies through each chapter by the seat of their pants without planning much in advance. I am the epitome of a pantser.
My biggest strength as a writer is my ability to create believable characters and write realistic dialogue. I jokingly admitted in an author talk a while back that I hear voices. No, I’m not schizophrenic, but the statement is pseudo-true. My muse is constantly in search of an interesting character, and when she finds someone worthy, the courting process begins. I sit at my laptop, disengage from the life around me and plug into the world of the character. Often I close my eyes and type what I see playing like a movie in my head. As I watch and listen, each character reveals something to me that strengthens the story and moves it forward. There have been times when I’ve jumped the gun and wrote what I thought was going to happen, then I’d get stuck or the characters quit talking. When that happens, I know something isn’t right. In two different novels, two female characters stopped and looked at me as if to say, “Do you know me at all?” In both stories, their next move completely changed the vision I had for the novels and made the stories that much more intriguing and much stronger. If I had forced the story instead of allowing the character to lead me, I would have missed it.
Let’s return to the young woman I referenced earlier. Why was she walking? (Now. In real life, I saw this woman for a nanosecond. From here, we’re talking about my character.) Why did she have an immediate need to release her dreadlocks while walking down a busy street? What is the symbolism behind releasing her hair? In that second, I saw her dressed completely different two years earlier. She was crying and humiliated by something that happened at school. (She wouldn’t reveal it at that moment, but as I get to know her, that story will unfold.) Then she appeared in frumpy clothes with tangled dreads and downcast eyes. Shame. She doodled on paper in blue ink – long flowing swirls of vine-like designs with an eye in the center brimmed with tears. So she’s an artist. She has an outlet, and therefore, she has hope. Which means she has a dream. Maybe the release of her dreads meant in that glorious moment on the street, she’d let go of whatever was holding her back and I got to witness the cracking of her self-imposed cocoon. So I saw her (the character), I saw the beginning, and I saw the end. Everything in between will be revealed as I sit with her and let her show me her world.
Sounds completely crazy, doesn’t it?
That’s how every book I’ve written started. Collapse: Book One in the Yellow Flag Series stemmed from me filling out the 2010 census and wondering what would happen if the government misused the demographic information. Tess was born. Then I wondered how the American society would be most crippled, and with my background in logistics, I instantly thought of fuel shortages and failed supply chain management. That’s when Doug, the fuel truck driver, nodded and waved. Boy did he have some stories to tell. Next came Brenna, a ten year-old girl who represented the vulnerability of the nation and the next generation. Three very different characters each with a story to tell.
My latest novel, The Breakup Mix, involves five lifelong friends: two still married with children, two divorced, and one bitterly single. Each one has something the other longs for, but none of them are overly happy with where they are in life. I saw a flash of a woman sitting in a rocking chair in a dimly lit nursery holding an infant. Is that her baby? Whose baby is it? And The Breakup Mix formed from that one flicker in my imagination. Prior to this novel, I’ve written all my stories from third person limited point of view. I wanted to challenge myself to see if I could write three women’s voices in first person and make them sound like the individuals they became. To do so, I had pay close attention to their mannerisms, speech patterns, and know them inside and out. I created a list of their favorite things, gave them birthdays and even figured out what astrological signs they were to make sure their actions in the book matched their true personalities.
For me, that’s where the magic happens. Often I get emails, Facebook messages, and feedback from readers saying they find themselves wondering about the characters I’ve created after they’ve read my books, and to me, that’s the biggest compliment ever. If I’ve created that strong of a connection between a reader and a character, then I feel I’ve done my job well. There’s a certain parallel that runs between fiction and real life – many of our stories are similar, but it’s the people in them that make all the difference in the world.
TK Carter is a Southern born-and-bred middle child with all the complexes that accompany this birth order. She loves the color red, anything shiny, and has an unnatural love for peanut butter Snickers and Diet Coke.
In response to her chaotic, single life as a divorced mother and head of household, she started a blog called My Ms. Adventures where she holds nothing back as she tells exactly what it’s like to be her.
Tami, as she is casually known, was raised in mid-Missouri and now lives in Centralia. She has two children, two dogs, a mortgage, and a dream. She is the author of women’s fiction novels: Independence, An Afternoon with Aunt Viv, and The Breakup Mix, and the Dystopian Suspense series: Collapse and Three Meals to Anarchy. Book Three of The Yellow Flag Series is due out Summer 2015.
Follow TK Carter’s career at:
Goodreads- TK Carter
My Ms. Adventures (http://mymsadventures-tami.blogspot.com/)