Friday, March 13, 2015

Carl Tries Planning

When I wrote Pilgrimage, I got about a third of the way through and then I thought up the plot. You see I had the premise and I had the characters and I had a general idea of how the story would happen, I just wasn't sure what the story would be. I didn't have a central conflict. I was about a third of the way into the first draft - That's about 28,000 words in - when I came up with the drama that would make Pilgrimage into something more than a walking tour of New South Wales.

That worked out all right in the end. It took a lot of work and a lot of editing and a significant amount of rewriting that first third of the story. Many scenes were cut, many later scenes were moved to earlier in the book. It took quite a bit of breaking and rebuilding, until the final product looked like a Frankenstein's monster of a manuscript, compared to the first draft. Mind you, it is one sexy, sexy monster compared to that first draft, too. Okay, so maybe Frankenstein's Monster is the wrong analogy. Editing was more like...

Did you ever watch Ren & Stimpy? There was one episode where Ren gets massive pectoral muscles through surgery. They cut the fat tissue out of Stimpy's arse and stuff it into Ren's chest, making him look buff. The editing process was more like that. I took the useless flab of the early drafts and moved it around until it had big, impressive, attractive muscles in its chest... Made of fat... From a cat's arse...

You know, looking back, Ren & Stimpy didn't make a whole lot of sense.


The way I wrote Pilgrimage worked. Once I had worked out what was going on, I was able to start planning what came next. I did that by writing down one sentence about the chapters coming next. I wrote these ideas down as they came to me. This usually meant I was about five chapters ahead at any one time, until I had thought up the right way to end the story.

This is more or less how I wrote Sorceress' Blood and how I've written a lot of short stories and some of the early drafts for Winter City. This is how I've been working for a long time. There are many ways you can describe this kind of writing, but efficient probably isn't one of the words you would use.

The problem with winging it like this is, well, there's a lot of work to do in editing. The structure can come out a little sloppy and all over the place without you noticing. It is an exciting way to write, but it also creates a lot of problems.

Note that I'm not talking about a method that is devoid of planning. There's method to this madness and there is always, ultimately, a plan and a structure in place. It's just a very loose structure and the plan is very simple. That's not a bad thing, it's just the way it is.

But now I'm working on a new book and I've been doing something different. Before even beginning the writing part, I've planned the whole thing, every significant event, every significant character, every twist in the plot, ever conflict and personal drama and fight scene and mystery and reveal are all being written down and arranged in a kind of textual storyboard.*

And so far so good. I'm liking this approach. Although I've created less prose than I otherwise would have, I've still created a solid story. The time I would have spent in brainstorming and rearranging the plot and coming up with new scenes hasn't been increased, it's just been moved to the start of the process. Instead of staring at my word processor, halfway through a chapter, wondering what comes next, I've done it first.

Much of this approach is new to me and even when I've pre-planned a project, I've never done it to this kind of depth. The actual writing has begun, now, and it's been productive and I always feel directed and certain of what I'm doing. Is this more efficient? Maybe. That remains to be seen. If anything I think this approach has taken me longer because there's a lot to learn about this method. But it hasn't been so much longer that I'm willing to write it off as a failed experiment and go back to the old ways. Mostly it's changed the way I've spent my writing time. I won't really know if this is the right way for me to work until I've completed the book and tested this method some more, but it's definitely been a worthwhile use of my time.

So, as always, I encourage you to do as I do and experiment. Always experiment, and test and push yourself. It doesn't always have to be with content. Next time you sit down to write, think about experimenting with your creative process. Who knows what will happen?

*A good friend of mine and fellow writer, Craig Robotham, put me onto the program Scrivener for my experimentation in planning. It's very cool.

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