Stella Leventoyannis Harvey

It’s All About Story

All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” F. Scott Fitzgerald

In other words, to write well, you have to immerse yourself wholly and hope the story reveals itself before you drown. Yes, the fear of sinking keeps me moving.

When it’s going well, I am completely in the story I’m trying to tell. I see clearly what my characters are doing and why they are doing it. I find a balance between showing what they’ve experienced in the past so the reader understands why they are doing what they are doing in the present. Dialogue flows because I hear, see and more importantly understand why my characters say what they say.

None of this happens unless I’ve surrendered my brain to the story. In other words, I’m no longer thinking. I’m simply observing and writing it all down.

It takes a long time to get to this point and as I’ve said more than a million times before, it’s a painful process. Immersion for me means being at my desk every morning, usually before 5. I read what I wrote the day before so I can re-enter my story. Then I plough forward, which means I can stare at a blank page for an hour or type something and undo it again and again. Images and conversations have to flow from what has occurred in the story to date.

To develop a scene, I ask myself what is going on, who is saying what, how are they standing or sitting, what are the nervous ticks or habits they’re displaying, are they looking at each other, if not, why not, if so, is it aggressively or meekly or with some comfort? The questions don’t stop there. What does the room the characters stand in look like and what does it say about them? By asking these questions and writing down as much as I see, I build something I will later pick apart so eventually I only include what is important in the telling of the story.

When I hear sarcasm in a character’s response to another character, I ask myself what is going on between them. I observe their actions and eventually their back story unfolds. I write all of this down as well, likely too much, but if I have content, editing is a breeze. I cut what is not important to the story.

As I write this now, I wonder if I’m making the process sound too easy or even formulaic. It’s not. For me it’s all about story (repeated six times above, but who’s counting) and persistence, stubbornness and pain. But hey, I haven’t drowned. Yet.

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