Tuesday 28 May 2013

How to Write Something New

There would appear to be three major 'versus' debates going on in publishing these days. You've got Self-publishing versus Traditional Models, there's Work for Free versus Alternate Income Stream, and Pants versus Plotting. I'm not going into the first two, but the third is one with which I've wrestled for some time.

The key pros and cons of Pants versus Plotting are quite straightforward. Writing by the seat of your pants lets you enjoy the creative process, going where the story takes you, and essentially 'making it up as you go along', but you can end up with dozens of dead ends, characters you don't even need, or endings that just flat out don't work because they don't make sense when compared to the beginning.

By contrast, plotting allows you to map out the work before you start, so you never sit down to write without knowing where the story is going, and you can work out story kinks before you even finish the book/story - it's much easier to rearrange elements in an outline than it is in the finished piece. Unfortunately, it can feel restrictive, and remove some of the 'surprises' that pop up when you're pantsing.

For most of my works, I've used a combination of the two. I've known the major points of the beginning, middle and end, and my writing process has been simply joining the dots, making it up as I go along to get from A to B. It lets me keep an ending in mind, but gives me enough freedom to give my imagination room to gambol about.

I came across Story Engineering by Larry Brooks and while it's a fascinating book with a lot going for it, I got sucked into the mindset of "You must outline to the very last detail", and it completely derailed my creativity. I wrote The Necromancer's Apprentice using his method, but I only started to enjoy it when I'd finished my first draft, and went back to insert scenes that I felt would give the story life. I've got another novella I want to write, and I've fully outlined it, but I find I can't start it - weirdly enough, I know what needs to happen where, but I don't know where to start, and I have that ever present worry that I can't do the outline justice.

A while ago, I wrote a post on The Magic of 500, and I decided to revisit it to see if it would help. For a long time, I've been using the 750words.com website, and I suddenly realised that while I've thought I don't have much time to write, I've been putting in 15-20 minutes every day to write 750 words of crap. I worked out that by writing 750 words a day, a 30k word novella could be written in just forty days. So I could use those twenty minutes to do something productive, leaving my longer bouts of time free to edit The Necromancer's Apprentice. Interesting...

I wrote a Friday flash a couple of weeks ago called Contagion, and I had a few calls to turn it into a novella. I dashed out an idea for the beginning, middle and end, and just started writing. Earlier today it passed the 6.5k mark. It's going to need a lot of editing but the important thing is that I'm writing again. Aside from Friday flashes, I haven't written anything new in a long time.

So long may it continue...


Helen A. Howell said...

Hooray I'm glad you're writing again. I Plot, just the bare skeleton of each chapter I write, then I write it by the seat of my pants but make sure it heads towards the ending I want. ^_^

Nick Bryan said...

I can't work with pantsing, fun though it sounds, because I just get about half-to-two-thirds through a story, then give up because I don't know where it's going, or write a really bad trail-off ending.

But by the same token, I don't plot to the last detail either, because then I find the writing process a combination of intimidating and boring.

Icy Sedgwick said...

Helen - sounds like your method is similar to mine!

Nick - Yeah, wandering off down the wrong route is an ever-present problem, but too much plotting spoils the broth!

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