Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Writing on Wednesday: Epiphany

In the last few months I've had a bit of an epiphany. When I sat down in 2007 to write the first draft of The Shaelhan Sensors I did not have an exact idea of what was going to happen. There was a bad guy and a good guy and the good guy succeeded. There! And I wrote 80,000 odd words around that. 

When I sat down to prepare for NaNoWriMo in October, I knew I needed to plan. I needed to plan when and where I was going to write. And I kind of knew that I needed to know what I was going to write. Instead of writing my post-its to summarise a chapter, I wrote post-its to tell me what I was going to write. I filled a whole notebook with notes about what I was going to write. And then I sat down and wrote. And there the angel descended and cast light over my writing desk and sang in a voice of a million choirists: Thou shall plan forever more.

The thing is that while the planning tool I used was useful, now that I have had my epiphany I need something else, something... better.

Randy* Ingermanson's Snowflake method was mentioned on Bubblecow a while back, so I recommended it to someone else. At the time, I was floating on the glow of having finished a first draft of A twist in the tail and wasn't planning on planning again for a while. But it seems that NaNo turned the tap on and I've got three ideas on the go. The person I recommended the snowflake thingy too, said she was using it and it was quite good and I thought I'd give it a go. There's a ten point design system that takes you from a triangle to a ... well you go look at the site yourself if you're interested. So far, I'm finding the 'snowflake thingy' (as it shall now be known) challenging. For a start, I have a really bad time following instructions and I only read them properly when I mess up. Then, I'm impatient. I don't want to spend hours working on one paragraph. And I'm also a bit dubious when I look at the side bar and see yet another piece of software that will revolutionise the writing process. But, I'm also getting excited. For a start, the more I plan, the more I see that actually quite a lot of the first draft of The Shaelhan Sensors can be salvaged. I can also see that where there was a bit of substance and texture missing in the first draft, this can also be added.

The last thing I'm discovering is that planning isn't killing the creative process at all. It's just that I'm doing all those what if's and talking to my characters now, instead of later. If anything, I think it's really enhancing the creative process. I'm on stage 4 of the snowflake thingy at the moment. But a few questions to you the readers now.
  • Are you a plan or just write and see where it goes person? 
  • And if you are a planner, what works for you? 
I'm looking forward to your answers.

* snigger, snigger

7 comments:

Rebecca Brown said...

I tend to get a character in my head, brew it in there for a couple of days then sit down and start writing with a vague idea of my direction in my head. Then I get to a certain point and sit down and plot it out properly. I find if I plan from the start, it kills any love I felt for the idea initially. On the other hand, if I don't plan at any point then I flounder and die.

Admittedly, I haven't finished anything yet, and I am currently juggling a couple of stories, but having reached the plotting point I said above, I have both the connection with my characters to carry on when I can and the map laid out to guide me.

All of which is a very long-winded way of saying, I make it up as I go along and we'll see what happens!

Michele Helene (Verilion) said...

I know what you mean about the first part. I tend to do that too. I've got three ideas on the go, but only one I felt ready to plot.

Ben Elijah said...

Great post!

The snowflake method is one of those great ideas that are deceptively simple. Almost works like evolution, lots of little iterations which compound each other to make something awesome.

I tend to use outlining for the initial stages of my planning. Turning ideas into something more consistent. I wrote about it a few months back, would be great to get your thoughts... http://unformation.net/2010/10/dna-of-a-document/

Michele Helene (Verilion) said...

Hi Ben,
thanks for dropping by. I had a look at your post on your planning process and I'm not entirely sure I understand everything, but I like the idea of turning the argument on its head to see if it works. I also like mind maps, but mainly for brainstorming to see if something works. Once I'm past that stage I think I need something concrete... I think, I'm still quite new to this planning malarkey.

Rachna Chhabria said...

Earlier I just started writing after I had a character and a little bit of the story in mind. But not anymore. Nowadays I plan and plan. I do a detailed outline of the entire book before I actually start writing it.

Ben Elijah said...

Hi Michele,

I guess at its most simple it's a question of extracting the verbs (the relevant information with which you might like to do something) and arranging them into a new structure.

It's something I'm struggling with slightly for a new novel I'm planning. I've collected what feels like seventy volumes of notes over the last few years. How to make sense of them and weave the relevant bits into a narrative? Help!!!

So you're not new to "this planning malarky" but you know what, everyone else is too. They don't teach this stuff in schools, or even on creative writing courses, and I can't find any good books on the subject.

Michele Helene (Verilion) said...

Hi Rachna, I saw that you actually posted about your planning process on your blog too. And Ben, let me know how you get on with the planning. I have pages and pages of notes and I tend to stick them into the first draft and then about a sentence is left after the revision!

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