Monthly Archives: May 2012

On different planning methods

So I was pointed to the Snowflake method of novel planning today. I’d heard of it before, but never really investigated. Today my curiosity was peaked, since someone mentioned that my planning method looked a little like Snowflake, so I went over and checked it out. Obviously every writer is different in terms of how they plan and what works for them, but Snowflake is definitely a nicely detailed checklist of things to do for people who don’t know where to start. (It’s also fairly time consuming, so it’s not for the super impatient, sad to say.) Certainly it’s interesting, but one sentence towards the end caught me eye:

I have heard many fiction writers complain about how hard the first draft is. Invariably, that’s because they have no clue what’s coming next.

This to me is a bit astounding. Not because I always have an idea of what’s coming next (I almost always don’t) but because to me that’s the fun part of writing. I love following my characters into the unknown and figuring out what’s going to happen as they do. It’s exciting, not knowing where this journey will take you. I write for the same reason I read: I want to know how the story ends and what happens to these people when they get home again. Planning a story too thoroughly ahead of time ruins that journey for me because I already know everything. There’s nothing to explore anymore, nothing to discover.

That’s not to say that I don’t plan. I do, sometimes quite extensively.* But my planning revolves more around worldbulding than plot or even really characterization. My characters often come to me fully formed, and those that don’t tend not to want to give up their secrets until we get to that point in their story. Lately I’ve been playing around with the idea of a scenelist, an idea borrowed from Rachel Aaron, who pointed out that the scenelist doesn’t have to be in order at the beginning of the process. She goes on to write out every single scene, but I stopped at the more important ones and put those in order. So, for instance, here’s the scenelist for¬†Skytouched, which is a story I hadn’t planned to write until July but sometimes life doesn’t work the way you want it to:

Current draft of the scenelist for Skytouched

There are, in fact, twelve chapters in Skytouched, but the last three don’t have any scenes yet and, anyway, my screen won’t hold them all at the same time. The novella is planned at around 50,000 words, and I have 19 scenes listed. That’s not nearly as many as I’ll have in the final draft, but these are the ones that I considered important when thinking up the story. Actually, this is fairly detailed, as scenelists go, because my main characters seem to enjoy talking to me. The scenelist for Amberspun Spiderwebs (my official Camp NaNoWriMo project) is much more typical:

Scenelist for Amberspun Spiderwebs

This is for a full length novel, not a novella, mind you. These characters are being quite reticent about their story, though presumably they’ll open up as I actually start writing.

Anyway my point is that nothing works for everyone. For some people, planning everything out to the most minute detail works best. For some, doing that is akin to committing creative suicide before even starting to write. But at the end of the day, there is no right way to write. Really the only way to figure out what works is to try out several different things and see what fits. Writing should be fun, and anything that makes it fun is the right way to do it.

In other news, Camp NaNoWriMo starts in a little over 24 hours. Expect regular progress reports throughout June.

All pictures are of the Liquid Story Binder program, for which I cannot claim credit.


*I plan more extensively for fanfiction than I do for original fic, but that’s a blog post for another day.


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Canon creation

Being an introverted type without a car, I spend a lot of my time on the internet. One of the things I do while wasting time online is read fanfiction. Lots of fanfiction. I discovered the internet via fanfiction, and that first love has never really left me. I spend a lot more time reading fanfiction than I do reading original fiction and, because my writer brain tends to turn on when I read something, I will often find an idea in a story and go, “I want to write something like that!” Usually this comes in the form of more fanfiction ideas than I know what to do with, some of which get started and some of which linger in my mind for a while before giving up and going away. (Very few of them ever get finished, though I’m still trying.) Lately, though, I’ve been trying to take those fanfic ideas and turn them into original stories, or add them into pre-existing ideas for original stories. Which is fine and an interesting challenge, but it brings up one of the key differences between fanfiction and original fic: fanfiction comes with pre-written history.

That probably sounds obvious and, really, it is. The whole point of fanfic is that you’re taking someone else’s creation and using it as a springboard for your own creativity. Fanfic lets you fill in holes or continue the story or shove two (or more) of your favorite characters into closets together until they give in and admit their undying devotion to each other. Fitting your vision into someone else’s world is a great exercise in creativity and flexibility and expanding someone else’s universe tends to be quite rewarding. (Or at least I think so. I am, after all, a fanfic author.) But all of those things that make fanfic fun go away when you take that idea and transfer it into your own universe. All the history you could draw on before goes away and you have to make all of it up from scratch. More importantly, you can’t assume that your reader knows that history. Fanfiction allows for shortcuts. You can namedrop characters without having to explain who they are or why they matter. Previous events can be alluded to without going into detail because you expect your reader to have the same background in the source material that you do. The moment you leave fanfiction you lose that shared background. Now the only person who knows the history is you and you have to convey that history to the reader without taking away from the story you’re actually telling. It also means that you have to, at some point, actually sit down and figure out what that history actually is. You have to establish your own canon.

This is currently quite relevant to me because my newest project was born from fanfic. It started as a what if question and was sternly guided out of the world created by J.K. Rowling and into one created by me. So far so good — the story wasn’t so hugely character-based that it couldn’t leave the magical world of Harry Potter. I started figuring out the basics — characters, setting, plot ark, etc — and even got a couple thousand words written. But the more I thought about it the more I realized how little I actually know. I know a decent amount about the future. I know the ark of the story and where the characters will end up (at least roughly; my stories work best when I don’t plot them too tightly beforehand). I know what the actions of the characters mean for the world they inhabit and how this story connects to the other stories set in this same world about 250 years later. What I don’t know is what happened before. The story starts in the middle of the final battle of a war. It picks up, in fact, just before a more traditional hero’s story would end: the final clash of good and evil where evil is defeated and good returns home victorious. The story is an exploration of what happens next. A tale of rebuilding, essentially, with wounds that are slow to heal and people whose childhoods were lost to conflict becoming adults in their own right. The problem is that I know very little about that more traditional hero’s story. I don’t know how my hero (who, spoiler, dies in the first sentence of this draft) became a hero, and I don’t know how he and my main character met. I don’t know much about my now defeated villain either. Back when this was fanfiction I had seven books of information to draw from for all of this, but now that resource no longer exists.

So I’m worlbuilding. I’m taking time off from getting to know my characters as they are now to get to know them as they were then. I’m figuring out how my hero came to be chosen and why my villain went down the path he did. I’m following my protagonist on her journey from wide eyed idealist to jaded warrior and making note of the major events in her life that influence her character as I met her. I’m visiting the centers of government before the war to see how that changed them and asking questions of my characters to establish their history before the opening scene of this book. I’m creating my own canon so that I can write a continuation for it. And it’s hard work, because plotting isn’t really my strong suit, but it’s hugely fun. My second favorite part of writing is worldbuilding, and this is nothing but that.

And before you ask, no, this is not the story I have planned for the June session of Camp Nanowrimo. I may still work on this in June, but my goal for that month is still to get a complete first draft of Amberspun Spiderwebs, which has its own unique set of problems that I will probably detail at length when the writing actually starts.

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Introducing the Camp Nanowrimo project

I’m going to be participating in Camp Nanowrimo this year, for the second year in a row. I’m signed up for both the June and the August sessions and, with May coming to a close far too quickly for my peace of mind, it’s time to start seriously thinking about the novels I’m going to be working on. Because this is supposed to be a writing blog instead¬† of a talking about writing blog, I’m going to do my best to document the whole process here, at least for one of the novels. This will involve spoilers and probably excerpts, as well as my various brainstorming sessions and inevitable dead ends. I can’t go through the whole process from start to finish because I’ve already had the original idea for both novels, though those might be discarded if they turn out to be unworkable. Hopefully, though, I’ll be able to stick with the ideas I have and create workable drafts. And who knows, documenting the process might inspire me to take the next step and actually edit a manuscript for once.

I’m currently focused primarily on the book I’m planning on writing in June, for the obvious reason that June starts in 11 days and I really should get my act together and decide what I’m working on. The planned book is fantasy, as is most of what I write, and focuses primarily on character relationships and growth. This is also not unusual for my writing. I’m an anthropologist with an interest in psychology and sociology. My writing is either character-driven or world-driven, with plot coming as something of an afterthought. As a result the most common complaint my roommate and fellow writer hears when I’m talking about ideas is a variation on, “this is such a cool idea, but I have no actual plot for this story!” We all have our weaknesses.

That said, this book does actually have a fairly coherent plot, though it’s not the focus of the story. Without giving everything away (that will come later) the story as it’s planned right now focuses on a group of three main characters and their changing and evolving relationships. The backdrop of this is a fairly turbulent political atmosphere, which will constitute the actual plot of the story. Each of these three main characters has different and fairly complicated reasons for being part of the group, the simplest of which belongs to the viewpoint character (tentatively named Torrick), who’s there because he has literally nowhere else to go. Throughout the story they grow and change and learn to work together (more or less) and eventually secrets get spilled, the most significant of which becomes vitally important to the entire story.

Admittedly, when talking about it broadly like that, it all sounds highly generic, but hopefully it’ll be interesting and engaging. Or at the very least coherent and lacking in significant plot holes and tortured logic. Not having started writing it yet, I’m not entirely sure how it will turn out, but I have a good feeling about this one. I’ve been poking at it for a while, trying to sort out the rather unique logistical problems in telling the story I want to tell in the way I want to tell it. If I’m very lucky, it’ll end up actually saying something about choice and self and how people interact with the world and the future. But for the moment I’ll settle for coherent and finished.

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