Sunday, 11 April 2010

Writing And Planning

Today is a lovely, lovely writing day. Not an enormously productive one but nevertheless very enjoyable. I began by finishing the first draft of a short story for my writers' group to look at this week. Then our overnight guests got up, so I stopped writing and joined them in a leisurely sociable breakfast. After they left I went back to bed, re-read a short book from cover to cover (my very favourite way to read), and then had a nap. I should have been born in a siesta country, warm weather and afternoon naps suit my constitution perfectly.

Since then I've been tinkering with my WIP. This time, I'm planning, and I've started using the Snowflake Method which was brought to my attention by the estimable Spiral Skies. Up to now I've always been pretty much a seat-of-the-pants writer, rarely planning more than a few scenes ahead. I've always thought it would probably be more efficient to plan a whole book in advance, but I couldn't, before; I didn't know enough about plotting, story structure, narrative arcs etc, and I had to work it out by writing and rewriting. I read lots of how-to books, and learned about the three-act structure; the need for each character to have their own narrative arc; the differences and relationship between plot and character; and so on. But I only seemed able to relate the theory to my own work in retrospect. Now I think I can do it in advance, because I understand it well enough.

Of course, I may be wrong about this, but if I am, as usual, I'll find out by giving it a try. I don't think there's anything wrong with seat-of-the-pants writing, as such, and I know some very experienced writers who I admire enormously use this method. Alan Garner, for example. But I prefer to manage many things in my life through organisation and planning, so I suspect I might enjoy writing even more if I could plan a story first, really thoroughly. My own theory is that I could then write a good first draft without worrying or wondering what's going to happen next and how it will all end. Will it work? Who knows? I'll keep you posted!

But in the meantime, I have a question for you. Are you a planner or a seat-of-the-pants writer? Why? (OK, that's two questions. So sue me!)

13 comments:

Cathy said...

I'm actually a bit of both.

I couldn't write a novel with no plan at all, but from my experience with novel 1, I now know that plans can change a lot as characters speak to you and dictate their actions. What I did on that novel, and overall it worked fairly well, was to know my characters thoroughly and have a rough structure, ie I knew the beginning and the end, also two turning points in the middle, so creating the three act structure almost by instinct. The rest I let develop as I went along.

That method did result at times in a blank mind and no writing being done, so it might not be the best approach if I had a deadline. I guess it's a case of playing around to see what works best for you.

SpiralSkies said...

I must confess, I'm really enjoying plotting out the novel and can't wait to get stuck into the actual writing although I suspect I'll revert to type, as it were, and much of the plot will change as I go along. It's a very different thing, crafting the words onto an existing framework, don't you think? I'll be interested to hear how you get on with it.

And now I must take a leaf out of your book and write my short story!

Beleaguered Squirrel said...

I've tried both, and got neither of them quite right. I think if I ever grow up, I might be a mixture of both - my current htinking is that it's bext to plan a broad outline but avoid getting too mired in detail, which then gives you room to breathe and be inventive within secure boundaries.

Queenie said...

Cathy, that's interesting, thanks. Yes, I guess it is the case for each of us that only trial and error will show what works best.

Spiral, yes, I feel much the same. Let's compare notes as we go along.

BS, as always, I learn from you. That's kind of what I was groping towards, but beautifully articulated, thank you!

SueG said...

Each book has been different, but I'm a planner by nature and so Novel 2 was totally planned, and yes, using the same Snowflake method that you just found. I thought it was helpful, but I had to be very flexible with it. I had to use some bits of the process and not others, I had to be willing to make changes while I was going, etc. And that worked fine. Now that I'm thinking about book 3, I'm tempted to just dive in and see what happens, but I bet I won't be brave enough for that. I bet I'll still plan it out to a point, but maybe not as detailed a plan as Snowflake. I think Snowflake was very helpful for plot development, though, which is my weakness.

Debs said...

I try to plan and do type up a synopsis of sorts, but then start typing and pretty much go with it.

HelenMHunt said...

The snowflake method sounds really useful. I may use it to help me with my directional dilemma.

Sylvia Phoenix said...

The snowflake thing looks interesting but I'm not sure it would work for me. I'm a planner and I use outlines for planning. I'm told they're a bit like a long synopsis, so hopefully that means I can distil it into a one suitable for submission, further down the line.

Of course, my characters never had any intention of following the plan.

Queenie said...

SueG, that's interesting, I'm already feeling the need for flexibility with the Snowflake method so it's useful to know that worked for you.

Debs, I guess everyone needs a slightly different level of planning.

Helen, I hope it helps.

Sylvia, I know, those pesky characters and their big ideas!

Pat said...

Not having written a novel I don't feel qualified to answer this - but when did that ever stop me?
Mostly I'm writing posts just now and although planning sounds too organised for what I do - there is a certain amount of thought before I start to pound the keys.

hilaryusfun said...

I think I'm a bit 'seat of the pants' for my whole life, and I'd like to be a planner.

Maybe when I grow up...

Queenie said...

Pat, I'm not surprised, your posts often come across as well thought through.

Hilary, yes, maybe! ;-)

Debi said...

Oh my! I just checked the link to the Snowflake method and I'm reeling in horror!

Not that it's wrong. We're all different and what works for one ... but to me it's complete and utter anathema.

Writing is a creative process - a right-side-of-brain activity. This kind of planning and analysis (OMG - spreadsheets!) is very much left brain stuff.

My own feeling is that there's a risk of blurring and stifling the essential creative spark with all this planning.

I prefer to start with just a general idea, or a character or scenario. I put the character into the scene, give them some conflict and see how they react and where that takes me next. It's only once I've allowed the creativity to have its way that I can access my analytical skills to deconstruct what I've done and see if it works.

I'm amazed by how often this 'letting go' and trusting my instincts seems to work when I look back with a left brain dispassionate eye. I have no doubt at all that my writing would be stale and contrived if I tried using this approach.

But hey, horses for courses - whatever works, eh?