Author On the Bookcase: Susanna Kearsley
Fill a room with writers, and you’ll find we all work differently. There’s no “right” way to write. Just as a garden can have many paths that all meet at the same central fountain, we each have our own process for finding our way to the end of a book. Some like planning, and some work to music, while I work in silence and fly by the seat of my pants.
So I was intrigued to come across this quote from R.A. Salvatore, the New York Times Bestselling Author of the Neverwinter Saga, who said: “Writing a book for me, I expect, is very similar to the experience of reading the book for my readers…I don't often know exactly what's coming next, and that makes it more fun.”
I’d never really given it much thought before, but when I read that quote I realized just how much the way I write is like the way I read, and how my own “path” through the story can run parallel in places to the reader’s.
I start, not with a plan, but with a general idea that’s not much more detailed than one of those summaries found on the back of a book in a store. When I sit down with Chapter One I might have an idea of where I’ll be going, but I’ve got no clue how I’m going to get there.
This is less mystical than it sounds—I simply sit and stare at the computer until my much-smarter-than-the-rest-of-me subconscious takes the driver’s seat and starts to steer the story, which makes nearly every writing day a process of discovery.
I rarely know the theme of what I’m writing when I start a book. I have to write the story first, and try to work it out from what I’m reading on the pages. Sometimes scenes that I wrote early on and didn’t think were that important can take on a whole new meaning as I get towards the end, and suddenly I see a bigger picture filled with sub-themes and connections that I didn’t even realize I was writing.
The characters are strangers when I meet them, and I get to know them gradually, the same way that the reader does. Because I see the story like a movie in my mind, there can be times when characters get talking that a little piece of dialogue surprises me, revealing something new about a person or the plot I hadn’t known before.
Those are my favorite moments, when the story takes a turning that I wouldn’t have expected, when it catches me off guard, because I know if I’m surprised, then it’s a fair bet that my readers will be, too.
The more I think of it, the more it really is like sitting down to read a book I haven’t read yet—getting wrapped up in the story, always guessing what might happen next, but never truly knowing things for certain. As R.A. Salvatore says, it’s fun. And I confess I like the thought that, even if I’m half a step ahead sometimes, I’m walking on the same path as my readers.
What are your writing techniques? Does your book club every read members' writing? Tell us about it!
Susanna Kearsley's writing has been compared to Mary Stewart, Daphne du Maurier, and Diana Gabaldon. Her books have been translated into several languages, selected for the Mystery Guild, condensed for Reader's Digest, and optioned for film. She lives in Canada, near the shores of Lake Ontario.