My new writing process includes some initial brainstorming to feel my way through the idea, some vague outlining which is essentially a list of sequences (groups of related scenes) in a spreadsheet, and then a process I call quickdraft.
“First she does this, and then this happens, and she goes there an, um, some stuff happens I don’t know what but because of that she has to do this other thing.”
Gaping holes, bad writing, no description. It’s just a way to get the story told, the whole thing out there, so I can turn it around and flip it over and poke and prod to see if it holds up.
Today I finished the quickdraft of Love Runs Out, my first novel with a female protagonist.
I hope it’ll be published before year end, but no promises for the moment.
I think I’ll go play with cover ideas.
It used to be called anacrusis before I figured out what I was really doing.
When we let the listener or reader finish the story, it’s their story now, and everyone wins.
For instance, take a simple joke, like “What’s the difference between a surgeon and God? God doesn’t think he’s a surgeon.”
The initial microsecond response is “What? Of course not. So what? Do surgeons think they’re—” Boom.
As Robert McKee, said “If your scene is about what it appears to be about, you’re in trouble.”
Bill and Sara Coming Apart
Subtext requires setup. If you go into the following scene knowing that Bill and Sara have an unhappy marriage, we’ve seen Sara eyeing another man, and we’ve seen Bill stocking up on sleeping pills, it’s not about the words at all:
She didn’t look up. “Then go to bed.”
He flicked a glance her way, then stood.
“I just didn’t want you to be alone.”
Now she looked up.
“Being alone doesn’t make me lonely. I’m fine. You look tired. You should rest.”
Bill looked into the fire, then down at the slippers she’d bought him on their honeymoon.
“I think I will.”
He took a long, slow look around the room, and slowly climbed the stairs to the spare room where he slept these days.
Pressing the last few pieces into place, Sara looked at the puzzle, then shoved it off the table into the box, put the lid on, and turned to look out the window into the darkness.
If this were about a happy couple, it’d be banal to the point of nausea. Build some setup, and it’s a different scene, which is not in any way about the words but about the subtext.
Off the top of my head again, that scene, written as a beginning hack would have written it:
“I’m really depressed and it feels like you don’t care.”
As usual, Sara ignored him. Her attention was elsewhere.
He watched her, hoping she’d try to stop him.
“I need you to love me, Sara.”
Now she looked up.
“You’ve had what you needed all along. Now I’m going for what I need.”
Bill looked into the fire, then down at his slippers. She’d bought them on their honeymoon, when she used to love him.
“I can’t do this anymore. And I’m not going to.”
He took a long, slow look around the room, then slowly climbed the stairs. He hadn’t shared a bed with Sara in a long time, so he’d been sleeping in the spare room.
Sara thought, I’m through with him, just like I’m through with this puzzle.
Besides for being even worse writing, there’s almost nothing here but a bit of shoe leather or staging that’s worth keeping.
Yes, just as a pure pantser can find story structure, foreshadowing, etc. by rewriting their entire book 14 times, one could do it this way. It would require rethinking every single word of dialog, finding ways to not say the vital stuff, the way Coltrane or Parker might play every note except the melody.
I think knowing in advance where I plan to go makes for a more efficient trip, without taking the spontaneous fun out of it.
Drop by and give me a holler in the comments.
I have my list of scenes for the first Jake Calcutta scifi action/adventure mystery.
I had a list of scenes I knew I needed, but on the computer, I couldn’t get my head around the process to put them in order. Sure, some scenes are obviously early in the story, others later; some are clearly before this one and after that one.
I finally printed out the list, cut it into 3/4″ X 3″ strips color-coded for beginning, middle, and end, and it all fell into place. That’s them in front of my closet door. Almost as tall as my daughter.
How Do I Know Which Scenes I Need?
Good question. Shawn Coyne’s Story Grid provides one answer.
Fair warning: if you are committed to the spontaneous pantsing version of writing, please don’t read this. You won’t benefit, I won’t benefit. If you’re open to having assumptions challenged, read on. To the end. Don’t read the first 80% and quit or you won’t get the point.
What is a House?
Though wildly different around the world, all houses share certain characteristics. Let’s explore the ins and outs.
- Roof — Without a covering, it’s a yard, not a house.
- Floor — It may be dirt, but it’s not water or air. If your residents are standing in a pool up to their waist, or swinging in hammocks 30′ aboveground, you’ve built something other than a house.
- Privacy — Roof but no walls = carport or equivalent.
- Toilet — Yes, in some parts of the world this is not inside the house. If you live in one of those places, you may dispute this requirement.
- Services — Electricity. Running water. Drains. See above note for quibbles.
- Egress — Without a door suitable for us humans to enter through, it’s not a house, it’s something else.
- Lighting — Even if it’s windows and skylights, there’s a way for light to come in.
You may dispute any of these if you choose to live in the house yourself.
If you plan to sell the house, or even sell time using the house (called “renting”) I defy you to leave any of these out and still succeed.
Or, more accurately, how I begin the process of moving toward my books.
Planning is a left-brain process. Creativity has to have a healthy dose of right brain. You need both. The apocryphal Hemingwayesque “write drunk, edit sober.”
Here’s a very short version of my story-generating process, which thus far has given me good results blending left and right, analytical and creative: Continue reading “How I Write”
Elizabeth Spann Craig’s Twitterific writing links a couple weeks back led me to Ryan Lanz writing about stretching your word count.
In a moment of weakness, worried that Anodyne is too short, I followed it.
Expecting smarmy tricks, I found solid advice, which if implemented properly and with good motives is, what’s the phrase I’m looking for . . . oh yes; Good Stuff.
The 5 stretches listed by Lanz:
A new list member asked about outlining; how to, more than why to (or why not to.)
Below is an enormous excerpt from my cute little book Getting Your Book Out of the Someday Box. While it describes my nonfiction writing process, it’s really an information-gathering-and-sorting process, which, in a way, is what outlining is about.
If this raises more questions than it answers, as I fear it will, ask and ye shall receive.
I’m gathering resources to create some kind of structure checklist for my writing and wanted to share 3 useful lists and concepts I’ve encountered the past week.
Someone described the method of steering a sailboat called “tacking” as first sailing in a direction to the left of where you want to go, and then sailing in a direction to the right of where you want to go. The process of shifting from left to right is called “coming about.”
Get on a sailboat and everyplace you want to go is against the wind. Forces external to the boat, such as wind and currents and other boats, cause you to adjust your heading, even if you haven’t changed your destination. That’s also a possibility: discovering that the beach you’re heading for is crowded, but over that way is an open spot you’d prefer.
Same with any business venture.
My father was of the impression you didn’t have to meet trouble halfway; it was more than glad to make the entire trip. Some guy recommends stepping into an icy shower every morning in order to train yourself not to flinch so life won’t be so hard. My father would have said stop jumping into icy showers and maybe your life wouldn’t be so hard.
Onward with our experimental Goodreads giveaways. Yes, plural.
Here are the questions we raised in the last post:
Science tries to deal with what’s real, to identify and label and if possible rule out the imaginary, illogical, impossible.
Sometimes science bothers people with little facts like gravity being the weakest force in the known universe. The only thing that keeps us from flying off into space as the earth turns (moving 1,000mph at the equator but slower near the poles) is that the earth is so huge that the tiny pull of gravity is amplified enough to keep us pinned.
Earth spinning: at the equator, a spot moves 24,000 miles in 24 hours. Simple math: 1,000mpg.
About 8 feet from the geographic pole, you could draw a circle 24 feet around. Stand (float) in one spot, and make the 24-foot trip in the same 24 hours.
That spot is moving 1 foot per hour. The bit at the equator is going 5,280,000 times as fast (1,000mph = 5,280,000 feet per hour.)