Okay...fine. After nearly two decades of answering the same questions, I decided to finally put my answers to paper. Fellow scribes, take note.
Intro by fellow author Doug Boren:
Terry Vinson is a prolific writer in the horror/sci-fi genre, with over two dozen published works, and at least that many short stories. His experience gives him an edge that is certainly worth listening to. Here is his latest exposition on the craft...
The Curious Masses (As in: ‘You write books?’)
Those of us who choose to place words to paper (or more apt in these modern times, words to computer screen), be it sporadic hobby or daily task, have surely faced similar queries from those within their personal circles. Though often timid to breach the subject initially, eventually they want to know the ‘where’s’ ‘who’s’, ‘why’s’ and ‘how’s of the writing process.
These questions (I’ve decided, for the sake of brevity, to limit this specific list to my personal top three) can originate from assorted sources; the mildly curious, the moderately fascinated, or, my personal favorite, the perpetually frowning non-reader who appears utterly flabbergasted that we waste our time so. Regardless of said inquisitor, I tend to remain polite (even to the fish-eyed, fiction-illiterate) and even withdrawn with my answer in fear of appearing a bit too prideful of my work. Regardless, we are bound by some unwritten (perhaps one of us should take up the mantel and change that particular status) rule to answer and answer honestly, with a minimum of well-worn clichés contained therein.
Question number one (with a bullet): ‘So….where do you get your ideas?’
A toughie, right off the bat. Fact is, this particular question is, for me anyhow, the most difficult to answer. Reason being? I haven’t a clue. They don’t magically materialize or come to me in dreams. My ideas suffer a gradual, oft-times painful birth on their way to adulthood. They undergo numerous alterations towards climax; mutating countless times and usually undergoing a half-dozen or more major plastic-surgeries within the editing phase.
There are those rare instances when several potential choices sometimes rear their heads simultaneously—some woefully underdeveloped but contenders nonetheless—and I have been known to pen what I lovingly refer to as genre-hybrids, wherein I’ll combine ideas, mixing and matching, into a single fictional entity.
That in mind, and as we all understand, there are two distinct species of writers: Plotters and Ad-libbers.
Plotters begin with that initial light-bulb flash and proceed to outline the entire manuscript down to the concluding word of dialogue, covering every aspect of the story in their minds-eye ( I call this ‘literary story-boarding’) before ever daring to begin a first draft.
Ad-libbers write, literally, by the seat of their pants, beginning a project by cranking out page after page without a single blasted clue how it all ends. I myself fall into the latter category, but with my own personal twist. I take ad-libbing to new heights, yes indeed. You see, I actually begin with the characters themselves, creating the stage players even as the stage play itself is barely in the fetus phase. Once I have those folks named and subsequently described—their roles characterized in one of four categories: Main, co-main, supporting and cameo—then and only then do I begin to chip away at the adventure they will soon share. Truth be told, I did attempt to join the other team, so to speak, several times before ultimately realizing the futility of trying to be something I wasn’t. In fact, I did manage to outline an entire project once. If I recall correctly, it ran past the eight or nine thousand word mark. Meticulously plotted; beginning, middle and end. In the bloody aftermath of said task, I was so mentally drained I never even started the manuscript, as I’d felt as if I’d already written the damn thing. More power to those who can, but this boy will continue to take flight by his baggy cargos ‘til the day he puts the keyboard away for good.
Question two, similar but unique: ‘Who do you base your characters on?’
This I must answer as two separate queries, as the answer is two-fold and separated by both time and space. My earlier incarnation as a fiction writer—covering the age range of approximately twenty to thirty—was that of a ‘borrower’. That is, though I’d done my share of living and met a wide range of individuals, thanks mostly to an eight-year tour of service in the U.S. Air Force and the vast travel contained therein, there was still a fair share of character plagiarizing, i.e., unconsciously basing one’s own characters upon those already created within previously perused novels or even television or film. There comes a time, however, with age and experience, when such involuntary pirating isn’t necessary. This began with me sometime past my thirtieth birthday. I now, at age fifty-one, have a plethora of personalities to choose from, both past and present. I do often base my fictional populations on people I’ve met along the long, winding road of life, though loosely, and more often they are a hybrid of several, with numerous traits extracted, stirred, and pureed into one. Logic would dictate that the good, bad and ugly characterizations are represented just as they were in real life, perhaps exaggerated at times, but generally the same. Admittedly, I do go overboard with the use of names from my past, but I do this as a humorous homage to those kind folks, and thus hope future litigation can be avoided.
Question three is the one usually reserved for the non-reading sourpuss type(s) who precede said query with ‘I ‘can’t’ or ‘won’t’ waste my time reading something somebody else has ‘made up’ or similar slur: ‘How do you possibly find the time?’
This one is easy. No deep thinking or long-winded sermons necessary. I find the time because I enjoy it. I enjoy the creative process. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t do it. There are those rare times it titters closely at the edge of qualifying as actual work, particularly during the seemingly endless rewrites and editing. If there ever comes a time when it becomes more bothersome than exhilarating, more tedious than enjoyable, I’ll find another hobby. Period.
As PWW’s (People Who Write), we understand there will always be doubters. There will always be naysayers. Those who just cannot or will not ever discover the magic found in a great piece of fiction (or non).
That said, there will also be readers—those who willingly hop aboard the literary train we alone conduct—and that, fellow scribes, is a major ingredient in the fuel that keeps this man glued to those keys.