Creative Writing While Still Planning (or) Planning for a Pantser

David_Malo's_map_of_the_world,_1832

By nature, I’m more of a pantser than a plotter.  (Okay, maybe it’s because I was never taught to plot.) Recently, however, a writing friend looked at one of my story ideas, proceeded to twist it on its head and challenged me to write a short story using the idea of a bridge burning at both ends then suggested a few elements to work in, however I chose.  I thought when I gave him the finished draft that I had gone too far afield of what he had “assigned” me.  He emailed me back quickly and told me, “You nailed it!”

That made me start thinking about how you plot and then work the elements you’ve decided on in, but also have room to make the story whatever it might be.  I have started several short stories since then, and also pulled out several that I started some time ago, but haven’t yet finished ANY of them.  Normally I get started and sometimes I finish and sometimes I get lost along the way.  With the framework that he gave me, I plowed right through writing but wasn’t too stifled.  It was something of a revelation.

How to create that framework to work within on my own? I’ve heard and read lots about outlining and planning but I’ve never really managed to grasp it.  Maybe I’m older and wiser but it’s beginning to make sense to me.  I really enjoyed Chuck Wendig’s post in 2011 on 25 Ways to Plot Plan and Prep Your Story, but I can’t say I was able to apply it that well.  (I think that was my shortcoming, not his post.  I’ve always been that way, I could memorize formulas in math, no problem, but applying them was a whole other quadratic equation.)

I like Wendig’s ideas of “The Vomit Draft” where you just write down everything you can think of and “The Bring Your Flashlight Draft” where you only outline a chapter or scene in advance.  (Is that really plotting?  I guess so.)  Anyway, give his ideas a read.  (He’s hilarious.  Seriously, I now must go read some Chuck Wendig.  However, there is at least one thought that made me say, “Oh, ish.  No, it wasn’t the pants comment, it was before that.)  One of my favorite thoughts, “The key is not to let this – or any planning technique – become an exercise in procrastination.  You plan. Then you do.  That’s the only way this works.”

I’ve been hearing a lot from people about using the Snowflake Method to organize their thoughts about a story.  I’ve looked at it and found the originator’s articles online about how to use it for both novel plotting and short story plotting so I’m going to give it a try and see if it helps me finish these short stories I have started.  I suspect it will.

At the same time, I’ve started turning Jim Butcher’s LiveJournal blog into something that I can hit point by point in plotting out my novel for NaNoWriMo.  He says himself that this is information he learned, not something he came up with, so I plan the distillation once I have it finished.  I figure, if I use the Snowflake method then fill it in just a little more using Butcher’s methodology, the novel is going to be a lot easier come November 1st, as long as I can stay in story space.  I’ve been out of that part of my brain for a week at least and I’m looking for the door back in.

In the meantime, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Neil Gaiman’s latest novel, The Ocean at the End of the Lane.  It really reminded me of books by Madeline L’Engle that I read when I was growing up, though with a bit more adult content.  There was the same wonderful young main character, the magic and yet the feel of the Time Lords.  I’ve always enjoyed stories with a young protagonist.  I suspect that’s because we’re all a child inside, as he says in the book.  Or as another author put it, we never lose all the ages we’ve been.

Anyway, reading a slightly older collection of short stories by Neil Gaiman now, listening to Anansi Boys in the car, working on applying the Snowflake Method to my short stories in progress, and distilling the LiveJournal entries from Jim Butcher.

Right now I have a story to write and I need some coffee.  I’ve already written one scene last night, two scenes this morning, and I have two more to write then I can start editing and turning it into something that makes sense.  Wish me luck.

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2013 NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) Calendar

Here it is folks – a calendar of quotes and inspiration with your daily word count goals for NaNoWriMo.  We’ve still got a month and a half so start day dreaming about what you want to write now!

I’m going to attach the calendar full size but you will probably have to click on it to really see the image clearly.

2013NaNoWriMoCalendar

Writing + Editing & Getting Ready for NaNoWriMo

Matite

I’ve been doing a lot of writing these days, or at least editing and re-writing.  I wrote one short story, a post-apocalyptic love story where people are living in trees, for the Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Contest deadline in November on the 15th.  I’ve been working with another writer on editing and he’s been giving me little things to fix.  That’s been an interesting process that I’ve tried to work on daily.

As I finished that one, three characters showed up in my head – two angels and a demon, all in human form.  (Hey, at least the angels outweigh the demons, right?)  One angel is a middle-aged, rosy-cheeked Italian priest with thinning hair who has more questions than answers but trusts in his faith; and the other angel is a slightly younger, scruffy-looking, chain-smoking, cynical construction foreman.  The demon is a fairly normal guy who grew up fundamentalist Christian, with a wife and kids and he is having a bit of crisis about who he is.  (I’ll give you a hint, he doesn’t know he’s a demon.)  Anyway, there’s a whole lot of humor to this piece but I see some tragic and painful stuff to balance it out.

I put that aside and tried to focus on editing the first story.  Then my editing friend went for a major change and my brain balked.  I’m wondering though if the real problem isn’t that I stopped creating and started just editing.  Maybe I need to make sure I get a little original creative time in?  Try to find some balance between the writing and editing so that both get done daily.

So, then, another story popped into my head that’s sitting there wanting to be written now.  It’s a romance and I see some real potential in that one because it’s very truthful to my own experience as a teenager.  I sat down this morning and wrote some notes so I could focus on work today and start writing it tonight.

There’s a whole lot of characters swimming around in my head right now, but I’ve also had the realization lately that I need to work a little harder on figuring out what the central story question of a piece is and making sure each scene adheres to that so that my characters don’t run off and leave me without a story.  I’m very character driven, I think, but you need a plot too.

Maybe because I’m in this great creative space, I’ve started getting excited about NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month.) I have to ask myself why I want to do this – 50,000 words in one month?  On one level, it’s completely insane.  With my schedule, there’s very little chance I’m going to write anything intelligible, let alone good, in that short a time period.  In the past, I’ve gotten a few short stories or a giant outline.

On the other hand, the pure creative exuberance of it can be intoxicating.  Plus, there is the chance I’ll end up with a draft.  I’m beginning to understand the true nature of re-writing and editing.  It’s a long process, but it lets you turn something you think might need burning into something worthwhile.  If nothing else, I’ll enjoy the creative flight into fancy.

I started a NaNoWriMo calendar today to hand out to my writers group.  (I’m happy to share if anyone would like a copy.)  It’s basically encouragement/ inspiration and the countdown of where you need to be with your word count to finish on time.  I wanted to make it fit on cardstock so my quotes had to be fairly short.  Here are a few of my favorites that I couldn’t fit.

Write the kind of story you would like to read. People will give you all sorts of advice about writing, but if you are not writing something you like, no one else will like it either.  ― Meg Cabot

The reason that fiction is more interesting than any other form of literature, to those who really like to study people, is that in fiction the author can really tell the truth without humiliating himself. ― Eleanor Roosevelt

If you want to write, if you want to create, you must be the most sublime fool that God ever turned out and sent rambling. You must write every single day of your life. You must read dreadful dumb books and glorious books, and let them wrestle in beautiful fights inside your head, vulgar one moment, brilliant the next. You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads. I wish you a wrestling match with your Creative Muse that will last a lifetime. I wish craziness and foolishness and madness upon you. May you live with hysteria, and out of it make fine stories — science fiction or otherwise. Which finally means, may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world. ― Ray Bradbury

Don’t bend; don’t water it down; don’t try to make it logical; don’t edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly. ― Franz Kafka