Current Release

Current Release
The Warrior's Viking Bride

Friday, March 21, 2008

Dossier before or after?

Today I am also blogging at Tote Bags and have given my recipe for Hot Cross Buns, in case anyone is interested.

When reading Swain's Creating Characters, I was so grateful that he explained the difference between dossier before and dossier after writers. There are reasons why I do love Swain's approach to writing.
Dossier before writers need to know everything about their characters BEFORE they begin writing. Some writers will go so far as to say that they need to know if the character will prefer apple pie or cherry pie. Everything is planned out and charted. Detail character sheets are filled in. Characters' histories are traced from cradle to that moment of beginning and some times beyond. A lot of time and effort goes into this.
I don't work that way. It sends my daemon running for cover and I sit staring a blank screen.
Like Swain, I am a dossier after writer. I discover things and get to know my characters as I write. This means that I will sometimes have to do back rationalisation, but it is the way I work. I start with a rough idea, a few character sketches, certain details, a rough outline of where I think the story should go and then I write. As I get further in, I put more details in as my choices get narrowed. Then later, in the editing , I go back and make sure the details are correct. It is one of the reasons why I love my editor as she does take the time to point out details. And because I know she does this, I do try to be more attentive and less slap dash.
Neither method is wrong. It is all in what works for you. BUT at the end of the first draft, the writer should know the characters really well, and should be able to fill out a dossier without having to ponder. The question of whether or not they actually do, is up to the individual.
Both methods have their pluses. And it is a smart writer who figures out the best method for their own work habits.
A dossier before writers is the sort of writer who is far better suited than I am to writing a continuity or contributing to a long running series or serial. Writers who write these types of books are given bibles which detail events that have happened previously. These bibles can run to many pages. Think beyond romance to Nancy Drew books or Star Wars novels. So before the writer begins her particular story, she knows that the hero once had a fight with a man down the street for example. Or went to a certain school etc etc. It can not be changed as it was in the previous book and the author has to deal with it.
And some authors are brilliant at it.
I can't or rather suspect that I would find it difficult to work with other people's characters. I have a very hard time colouring within the lines. I do not use this method for my own stories and so would find it hard to adapt.
Much of the filling out of a dossier seems to me to be make work. I would far rather be writing the story. It does mean I can change things more quickly than if my character is written in stone before I start. BUT it also means that I do have to be careful when I am editing that everything is rationalised and given a meaning -- in other words, the why has to be there.
Luckily with writing, it is possible to change and adapt. Logic can run backwards. Some parts of writing are unforeseen. Detailed planning will not necessarily save the writer from sudden flashes of inspiration and does the writer truly want to be saved? Trying to over guess can lead to the process taking longer. Anyway, my daemon works this way and so I just go with the flow.
Anyway, tomorrow, I will talk about plotted plants and why they are a necessity -- for both before and after dossier writers.


Janet said...

I love it when you blog about writing books as your recommendations are always well worth buying. (I'm ordering this one. It sounds great.) Keep the recommendations coming :)

Michelle Styles said...

Oh you are very welcome Janet. My blogging about the books means I am able to get things out of my system.
Both Swains are excellent choices. He just has a man's man voice. He obviously wrote guys with gear who go books.