Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Method to My Madness

To be honest, I'm not sure I really have a writing method. I've said that I'm a panster at heart, and that's mostly true, but I will use whatever means necessary to get the book done.

I'm not a huge planner. As long as I have the ending in mind (or already written)  I can focus on getting to that point - but I don't always worry about how I'm going to get there. (For the first draft, anyway. Editing is a whole 'nother story.)

I have had to change things a little bit with the book deal - simply because the publisher requires that I turn in an outline for each book before I write it. I'm not entirely sure why, since I tend to only use them as basic guidelines, but I suppose they want to make sure that the long term story arc is viable.  (And not doing anything off Abby. *cough*)

The biggest problem I have with outlines is that if they're too detailed, I find I no longer want to write the story at all. It's as though my muse is out to discover the story with me when I write, but once I know what's going to happen? Eh, then why bother?

On the other hand, I think having a skeleton framework in place is fairly helpful to keep me on track when I'm under deadline - though I never force myself to stick to it. Even if something seems a little funky for a scene, I'll leave it in for that first draft. Often I discover the reason for it later and I can go back and change it up accordingly. I don't use any fancy software to "plot" - just Word and sometimes the Mindola virtual index cards, and I usually just use the cards for organization of things I want to include. (Or character details, for example). I like that I can just "stack" the cards into a main chapter folder as I think about them, and they'll be there for me later when I get to that part. ("Oh yeah, that *would* be a good idea! Glad I thought of it six months ago!")

Sometimes I'll get to a chapter or a scene and I will want something to happen - i.e. character x needs to find a body. Maybe I know who the body is. Maybe I don't. Unless there's something specific that needs to be in there as part of the plot, I just see what happens when I get there.

Of course, I've written myself into a corner or two that way also, but often I can catch myself early enough that it's not a huge deal and I'll back it up a bit. It can be as simple as changing a character's reaction (i.e. a chuckle vs a smirk) and the entire tone can be modified from that.

When I get stuck, I'll find myself writing out the things and character motivations that I *do* know. Usually on paper with a pen. Even I'm just writing the same thing out over and over and making little doodles, that's often enough to jar something loose or take me in a new direction. Maybe it's just cementing the pieces that *have* to be there.

Failing that? I take a shower. I brainstorm the best there. (And there have been times when I've literally taken 4 or 5 showers in a single day, but it's rare that I get that stuck.)

And sometimes I just give up and sleep on it for a few days. I cannot force things before their time (and when I do, it's pretty painful to read.) If my brain really needs a good break from storytelling, I'll spend a few days reading or gaming or writing something else entirely...or I'll bounce ideas off my CPs or my agent. It's amazing what sorts of perspectives other people can come up with. If I'm too close to a character or a scene, having a more objective person  make suggestions is also helpful. (Or just talking it out loud.)

The key is not to give up, though. Even when I'm internally rebelling because hey, writing is *hard* - I still continue to think things through. Somewhere inside my head, the story is trying to get out, but I'm still the one who needs to make it happen.


  1. Yes...never doubt the importance of sleep as a problem-resolver. It's amazing how a good night's sleep can shake things loose from the imagination tree.

  2. I love bouncing ideas off my CPs - that's the best method for me, by far!

  3. Showers. Definitely. I suspect it edges me toward alpha state and once I'm hanging out on the fringes of that, all sorts of stuff starts bubbling up from underneath.

  4. I find the last bit very interesting there, Allison. You said "Somewhere inside my head the story is trying to get out..." Makes me think of a prisoner escaping--motivated by how good that freedom will feel. And you also said ..."but I'm still the one that needs to make that happen." That "need" is also motivational. You're like the hero on the outside. That prisoner will only gain freedom if you do your part. Of course all of this is pointing at stories like they've been kidnapped in our is a heroic effort to set them free. :-D

  5. Allison- thanks for writing this. Much of it sounds familiar and it's comforting to know that I'm not alone with the mess. I think the hardest thing is trusting the story to be right.

  6. Now, I have a Lady Gaga earworm trying to escape...possibly so it can have 4-5 showers today.