Friday, February 02, 2007

Process – And where does it fit in

You can tell where all of the drunk writers are in their books by our blog posts this week.

Molly has just finished a book(minor revisions aside), Maureen is nearing the end of hers and I’m waist deep in the first draft of mine.

Usually in the first draft I try and shut out everything except writing the story. I don’t edit as I go along, I have an outline I use, but I veer from it often.
Before I write a word, I tend to mull over my ideas. I liken it to coffee percolating. It takes a couple of months before I really have a handle on story arc, who the characters are, and very roughly, what happens. I usually know the beginning and the ending pretty well, but the rest gets sorted out as I write that first draft.

But the truth is, as much as I think I have worked out before I sit down to write, it’s never enough. I’ve tried expanding the planning stage, detailed, scene by scene outlines, but that failed me, and left me scrambling to put a book back together.

But I have learned a ton in the past year. McKee, conferences, story structure, character arc, it’s all there in my head and while I think I apply some of it as I write that first draft, I know I don’t apply all of it.

So what I’m going to do this time is finish the draft, sit back and analyze it. Scene by scene. Does each scene move the story along, subplots, are they well spaced throughout the book and do they relate back to the main plot? Do my characters show multiple facets of their personalities?

I’ve actually never done this before and I’m excited to try it. Sit down and write a brief description of each scene, does it serve the main plot, a subplot, or both? Does it move the story forward, or just repeat information the reader already knows? Are the character’s expectations shifted, or reversed? Is there a gradual, logical buildup to each turning point, but done so in an unexpected way?

I might end up bashing my head into a wall, but I know asking these questions before I had a rough draft would have left me shaking and quivering with fear before I sat down to write anything.

This way, I have something to start with. But it also may horribly backfire and I may have a ton of that rough draft to completely re-write.

It’s a gamble.

How does it work for everyone else? Do you plan before you write anything, after a certain draft, or at all? Would love to hear about other people’s process and what works for them.


K said...

I do a chapter by chapter plan of the novel before hand (usually done on my off-writing months while I'm working on contract gigs). I then write a quick first draft with basically action and dialogue. After that, revisions, revisions, revisions.

As I learn, I'm also trying to make my scenes work harder. Trying to keep the novel as lean as possible. Have every word count.

Maureen McGowan said...

A brave and nobel plan, Sinead. I've tried that for other books and often only get about half-way before i give up... Too lazy.

I take that self-disparaging comment back. I did exactly this for "The Miseducation of April Hillson" when that editor asked me to make changes to the structure. But I did it more to help me move things around...

Sinead M said...

I'm a lazy person, so it's probable I'll give up half way through the analysis..

K, I'm also trying to make my scenes work harder and ensure every scene does several things. I'm hoping a change in process will allow me to increase the pace without losing any of the emotional impact, but we'll see.

Molly O'Keefe said...

You know my books stray so far from the "plan" I write up for them but I'm glad I have it - it at least makes me feel like I sort of know where I am going and if I get stuck I can always go back to that plan.

But I really am coming around to the fact that all the real work of "storytelling" comes in the editting process. Making the story hang together and keeping the conflicts sharp and the act climax's exciting -- for me it all comes together in that first big edit.

My process is also changing in that I am really thinking about ACTS instead of scenes or chapters. It's helping at the moment -- that could change at any moment.

Saw an interesting array of movies the last few days -- Smokin Aces, The Illusionist and Invinciable (yep, the football story). Interesting.

Did you see PAN's LABRYINTH?

Sinead M said...

Saw Pan's Labrynth last night and my mind is still trying to put itself back together.
Can't say how much I LOVED it.

The intertwined stories, the grown up, scary fairytale, and the entire atmosphere... Wow!

A spectacular movie for people just a little twisted..

Wylie Kinson said...

Still working on a 'process' to call my own, but there's some interesting stuff here to consider. Thanks for the ideas!

I really enjoyed The Illusionist! Pan's Labyrinth is on the must-see list. It's getting quite a bit of critical buzz.

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