PEOPLE FORGET THAT WRITING IS WORK
It’s the most fun work I can think of, being mistress of all I survey, but sometimes it’s still work, and it takes time, and is subject to all the interruptions Life has to offer.
For all that I didn’t start polishing Book 1 (Pride’s Children: PURGATORY) until I had a complete blueprint and a rough draft of the whole story all the way to the end of Book 3, I’m finding that the original blueprint – even the one from the Great Reorganization – is merely a sketch compared to what I need to actually sit down and write every day.
Suppose you’re building a house, and you have this nice little plot of land on a hillside, and you sit out there and draw a few lines of what it might look like when it’s finished, with a porch here, and a big window in the kitchen with a view of that magnificent dogwood tree…
The house is no more real at that point than a dream, and you can’t go into the bedroom which doesn’t even appear on the drawing, and take a nap.
There’s a bit of work to be done first.
The road from dream to reality is a long one
Once the house is built or the book is finished, it has the solidity that belies its complete lack of existence before that sketch, and somehow it doesn’t FEEL any different than the sketch did, but the concept has absorbed an enormous amount of human time and energy (and money or opportunity cost).
In Spanish we say, ‘Del dicho al hecho hay mucho trecho,’ which means, ‘From words to action is a long way.’
Many books never get written.
Well, the reason I haven’t had much to say lately is that I’m just down in the trenches, doing the work, and it isn’t all that exciting.
But it’s incredibly necessary.
Blueprint/outline/storyform – don’t proceed without it
I’m a structuralist and an extreme plotter, partly by nature, and partly because, working on one tiny piece of the quilt at a time as I do, I have to know the pieces will fit together when I finish them.
Book 1 proved the worth, to me, of my methods: I did it exactly the way I said I was going to do it, and it worked and came together and connected and made sense.
Now for Book 2
The blueprint that I have, my Dramatica storyform and its ‘encodings’ – the sum of everything that I’ve put into the little text boxes which are the result of figuring out the structure behind this WIP, or what you might call events illustrating each structural point – was complete in concept, and even had placeholders for everything.
I had two choices: use the long-ago blueprint, and try polishing the rough draft.
Or go through every single piece and decide if it was still the best way to do that part of the story – or if it needed replacing with something better.
A lot was already good and connected and made sense.
What happens during writing?
But I’m more experienced now, and the first part of the story, a developing friendship that left its characters at a particular point with no obvious way forward, is finished.
The characters – big surprise – grew in the writing. Not changed. Grew. Things only hinted in my rough draft and master plan – happened.
That’s the only way I can describe it: until they are written in their final form, things haven’t ‘happened.’
And the blueprint for the next part needed a thorough going-over before being used to make the next set of things ‘happen.’
The eternal problem: picking up the story in the next book
Instead of choosing to understand and execute what I had planned back then, even if it was somehow part of the whole – which would have meant examining every choice I made in the storyform, and reading every bit of text I put in a text box so that I could write that better, I chose to delete most of it.
Not because it was ‘wrong,’ but because making it mine again as a whole would require that I remember why I put it there in the first place, and then that I take the time to decide if I still wanted it quite that way.
I foresaw that it would actually take me longer to go through the steps, for each entry, of figuring out what I meant back then and then deciding whether I still meant it quite that way and changing it to reflect Book 1 where necessary – than to trust that I have enough of the story encoded in my brain as a whole, and just answer all those prompts again from that gestalt.
This, I hope, will have the side effect of making the ‘new’ more connected when I start, and making the revisions – complete rewrites in most cases (as it was in Book 1) – easier when I’m working on my quilt squares.
I didn’t do that in Book 1, because I was too deep in revision by the time I really needed that one-ness, and so I found myself having to figure out whole sections AS I went.
I think this will be easier in the writing phase because I’m putting so much work into the planning phase.
And since I really need to write faster – and a major part of my time in writing the scenes in Book 1 was spent figuring out what and why – this may help me complete the next two books faster, so we can all have the whole story sooner.
Will this help Book 3?
Yes, this means I’ll have to do the same thing again for Book 3.
I naively thought I could do 2 and 3 simultaneously, and then pick up at the end of revising Book 2, and just move right into writing Book 3.
Until I realized how much work the re-planning is.
Book 3’s will have to wait.
I took extensive notes, and I’m feeling out my whole system (I’m not planning to stop writing after I finish the trilogy), and it shouldn’t be nearly as hard as for Book 2, since I won’t go through most of this questioning again, and just do it.
Learning to write is a process of finding out everything there is, and then selecting YOUR writing best practices, and finally getting practice doing it your way.
Even with refinements, and especially when you start out older, this system, if it works for you, is not going to get a lot of future change. This is one of the benefits of being more mature as a LEARNER. [And if some of you are out there, laughing at me because I’m STILL naive, so be it.]
Progress on preparing for writing again?
Those little text boxes for the Dramatica prompts? There are 71 of them, if you don’t count the character appreciations.
I’m almost finished with re-filling them, and I’m pleased that both nothing has changed – and they are filled better and more consciously and, what’s more important for me, more coherently.
They are forming a better ‘set’ than they would have, had I merely tried to remember what I was doing.
And – phew! – they have not hugely changed anything in the story that I care about.
And I have answered a bunch of niggling questions in my mind that I was putting off until ‘later.’
Character appreciations? What is she talking about?
The remaining ones, the character and character relationship apps? There are a LOT of them, but they tend to be shorter and smaller and more obvious – and require only a bit of thought or dialogue to reveal in the final version. Plus many of them carry over from the first book.
Only a few characters change from book to book. I use the Dramatica technique of handoffs: if character A represents something in Book 1, and then dies or leaves or the story moves elsewhere, then someone else is needed to represent the same thing in Book 2 or 3, and may express the ‘something’ differently.
To put that in more understandable terms: George has to go home at the end of Book 1, which will leave Andrew, just at the point where many things are heating up, without the childhood friend he trusts as a sidekick. Who will his replacement be – and how will the replacement deal with the pressures of the job – and will the replacement have the right stuff – and what will the consequences of the change be to Andrew? All questions important to the final end – and all planned in.
Hint: how is Nahrendra like George – and how is he George’s antithesis?
I’ll stop here, having talked forever about something few people will have any interest in.
But if you wondered why there weren’t more posts in between, when I have so many other things to write about, this is the reason: I’m putting in the work, and I need to stay focused until it’s done.
But trust me. It hasn’t been boring.
And it’s all necessary.
What say you? Does structure bore you or bear you up?
I’ve been known to whip out some really detailed outlines, right down to scene-by-scene detail of emotional arcs. But my plans never ever stick. Somehow, when the words come, to just do their own thing. OTOH, I’ve written books from start to finish with no outline at all. It tends to be a much slower process.
Once I get the major outline finished, every scene has a list of the plot, character, and theme points that I’ve chosen to put into that scene. Then the real work starts, because things like emotional arcs through a scene or a chapter have to be marked in. I have to decide all kinds of other points, as if each scene were a short story.
The funny thing is that when a scene is finished, I can’t tell where the pieces are that I put into the preliminary work. Apparently, I can make a chunk of less than 3000 words work together; I just can’t keep it up for longer because it doesn’t fit in my head all at once.
I’ll never know what it would have been like to write with a younger, undamaged brain. It doesn’t matter, because this is all I’ve known, and this works. But sometimes I get misty about what might have been. I’ll indulge that for a half hour or a half day, and then set it aside and get back to the WIP. And save that angst for when a scene needs angst.
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It’s fascinating to read how other writers work.
And this is something I cannot relate to at all, on any level.
I’m a pantser. Nice to meet you, Plotter Extraordinaire!
The best way to express my “process” is to say that I take dictation from my characters as they tell me their story. It unfolds on the stage in my mind – and I am discovering the story as a reader might. I do take notes; after all, it’s silly to forget your protagonist’s eye color and change it accidentally, 200 pages in. Notes are important to help keep little details that may become significant later straight.
Most of the time, though, I have no idea where the thing’s going until it gets there. Here are a few examples: http://jahangiri.us/2013/?s=%23storyaday
I know a LOT of pantsers. I would never presume to tell anyone else how to write (though short blog titles often give that impression).
It just boggles my mind – because any time I work that way, I produce tiny things like the ones on my short story tab: Confiteor came out in one chunk (it goes with a play), and The House of the Vord was a quick one sitting letter to explain something necessary right before someone’s death. Knowing that focuses the mind: you have only a short time to leave something coherent.
But a whole novel? I know every little thing about it – and then I can be free to write and revise until the externals of what characters do and say and think match the plan.
Extreme plotting is, to my mind, building a solid skyscraper with water and electricity, elevators and AC and heating, on all the floors. The writing is the decorating of units that have working bathrooms and phones. I can go higher because the plan allows me to.
Other people, well, like probably most of my writer friends, follow the story and the characters. And then go back and edit. Go right ahead, but I’m going to take that other path. I’ll see you all at The End.
I wonder whether there are readers who are the same – those who need their stories plotted out even if the bones are covered and don’t show, vs. those who like to follow the winding path. I’ve only seen it discussed from the writing side.
Any ideas about readers?
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Done right, I’m not sure readers can (or should) notice the difference.
One of the books I’ve spent a fair amount of time with is Albert Zuckerman’s Writing the Blockbuster Novel.
He follows Ken Follet setting up a detailed outline for The Man from St. Petersburg, in draft after draft.
I found I can get to that detailed outline much more deliberately and efficiently (I think) by my methods; I’ve incorporated a lot of the techniques Zuckerman discusses but they came by default, such as picking major characters.
If I’m ever fast again, I’m going to have fun.
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Such a good question! This reader likes both . Some stories lend themselves to the winding path (at least in my experience) whereas others are definitely better, enriched for having been carefully plotted. If I ever write a novel, I would definitely plot it in careful detail. Or so I think, today.
My first novel followed an amateur detective as she solved a tricky case; the reader knew what she knew when she knew it. That book needs major rewrites. It is not publishable as is by any stretch of the imagination.
Some place along the way I found out that I like to think of things in separate pieces – to consider theme, say, at a different time than character. I have seen a lot of outlining methods – and found one which works for me.
If you’re a pantser, you have no need of such detailed plotting, but then you have to figure out later how to impose some order on the drafts.
Just different methods.
I do not think they arrive at the same place – it matters. The stories reflect their methods as well as their authors – how could they not?
I don’t know if this way is better, since it’s the only way which has worked for me. I do know I didn’t like MY results as a pantser (which I thought was THE way to write because Lawrence Block did it that way).
The only thing I worry about is finishing what I need to write with; almost done.
I do think readers are more flexible than writers – they can absorb all kinds of stories.
Whew!! Alicia….I’m exhausted just reading about all this work. I am so impressed with all you do to write. Take care and keep it up…can’t wait to read Book II.
Me, neither. And thanks for the chocolates – yum! And so low in calories.
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Also: remember that it takes me days, weeks, months to do the work. Then I write it up quickly, but it never happens that way. It’s only impressive in the final accumulation, not during the execution.
And I’m still not finished.
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Not impressive to you, but it is to me. You are slow, but thorough and it shows in your work. 🙂
Thanks, Claire. Making virtue of necessity.
That all sounds very involved. But writing is an involved process no matter what method one uses. Me, I too like to do pre-work, although my outline is more so a brain-dump, stream-of-consciousness flow of “Gotta get these ideas down before I forget them don’t worry about punctuation don’t worry about too much nitty gritty you can work it out when you get to it!” I do a lot of thinking on the page as well, and sometimes throw the pre-planning right out the window as new insights occur to me. Keep doing what’s working for you.
It IS involved. It’s also necessary. For me. What amazes me is that all along the way, as I learned the software and designed the plot and created the individual pieces, I KNEW this was what would work for me. I’ve had plenty of doubts along the way having to do with my ability to execute my plans, but not about creating it. And now that I’ve got one novel out that way, I can’t see ME doing it any other way.
Funny how that works when you find ‘your’ methods.
Well, I’m jaded. Don’t plan, just write. But planning works well for some writers – you are a case in point!
Dunno. Maybe some day I’ll be able to do it all in my head. Not likely, given how my brain doesn’t work, but possible.
But at least my methods allow me to work and publish. At this point I’m happy with that.
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