There must be 50 ways to draft your story: How do you plot vs how much do you pants?

March 13, 2014

Kathrin forwarded out a passionate and controversion Writer Unboxed post by Lisa Cron, saying that neither Pantsing nor Plotting was the best way to write a story. I took a read-through and immediately took issue with Lisa’s thesis; in my opinion she was setting up straw men for both Pantsers and Plotters, and though she provides some good advice for one way to draft a story, I don’t think it’s anything new or revolutionary, and in fact it sits somewhere closer to the pantser side of the spectrum.

That got me thinking about all the different ways you could prepare before writing a story. Very few of even the hard-core Pantser tribe would sit down and begin writing without even the glimmer of an idea picked out in their head beforehand, though it might be very interesting in a zen way to try that and see what comes out. And even if you’re plotter enough to try to get everything planned out beforehand except for the final text… what order do you tackle it in?

So I’m going to try to review how I prepared before writing a few of the stories I’m proud of writing at the moment:

Return to Civilization: This was one of the first ideas I got when I tried Holly Lisle’s ‘calling down lightning’ brainstorming idea, and so from there I had the general premise of an explorer returning to Sol system after a long trip, and running into robots who thought he was an alien because he didn’t have proper Earth citizen identification. I mulled over that much for a long time, including all my weeks at Odyssey, and finally felt I could start writing it once I realized it needed to be a funny piece. I don’t think I had much more about the character or the ending until I started typing.

Gotta Have That Look: (the first version.) I vividly remember that this was an A-Z challenge prompt from Nicki, and I saved it for my ‘Summer of Shorts’ Camp Nanowrimo challenge. The original challenge was more surreal and fantasy-ish, about a shop where you could literally buy body parts for yourself, but I knew I wanted to make it more sci-fi-ish, with genetic therapy injections, and I figured out that it had to be in high school, with a teenager who wanted to get a makeover to make himself the dream guy of his dream girl, except there’s a problem with one gene sequence he needs. Again, I don’t think I fleshed out the characters much before I started writing, and maybe that’s why I had to throw so much of the original plot out when I started again at Odyssey. 😉

The Storm Mirror: This started from another prompt, one I got online from a random prompt generator: a mirror, a seaside setting, and happiness. This time I planned it out a lot more before I started writing, though, working out what the mirror had to do with happiness and unhappiness, who had it and why she was using it, and established what my main character wanted in each act of the story and what was standing in his way.

The Angel’s Charlie: This was the first time I really plotted out a book in extensive detail, using the snowflake method. I had several pages of plot and character notes before I started writing. It’s also the first time I reached the end of my book still short on words to win NaNoWriMo, so I ended up writing a few teaser scenes for a possible sequel. 😛

What about you? If you’re a pantser, what do you generally want to know before you start writing? If you’re a plotter, what element of the story do you come up with first?

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Who’s afraid of the blank page?

January 4, 2014

Hey everybody. Hope you had great holidays and that the new year is starting off bright! I’m doing okay up here, though I’m already tired of the wintry weather in Ontario.

Just wanted to say something about an email that I got weeks ago from Writers of the Future, with a link to an article about fear of the blank page. And I realized that, though I have a lot of fears and insecurities about writing, that isn’t one of them anymore. I can get worried that I have nothing new to say, or that I won’t be able to do justice to a particular story idea. But I don’t really associate either of them with a fresh digital document. (If we’re talking about a physical blank page, then I just get angry at the notion of having to write in longhand, but that’s a different topic that I’ve already covered.)

But the blank ‘page’ on my computer screen is always something I associate with the pure joy of creativity and I usually can hardly wait to rush in, start typing and fill it up–and then hesitate after a few paragraphs when I realize I have no idea where I’m actually going, now that I’ve started writing. I’m not sure how far back in my writing history that goes. Possibly, like a lot of my writing habits, it started to gel when I was cranking out Buffy the Vampire Slayer fanfic in university.

So, what about you? Do you have the blank page fear? If you’re a writer, how do you tackle it?


May round-up: Thinking Sideways

May 31, 2013

Well, May is almost over, and one of the things I’m pleased that I tackled, (along with getting ready for Odyssey!) is my ‘How to Think Sideways’ lessons. I’d only just started lesson 1 back in February, never really got back to it through EdMo and Camp Nanowrimo, but I did some gangbuster Thinking Sideways in May!

I’ve even gone through the lesson material… well, maybe not strictly sideways, but I went through and did it my own way, maybe just because I’m too dense to have figured out the right ‘sideways’ path from the start. 🙂 You see, in HTTS Ultra there’s a couple of different elements to each lesson. There’s the lesson itself, in ebook or PDF format, which comes with worksheets to go through the main exercises on. That’s all there was to the old ‘HTTS Direct’ (which has now been discontinued,) which I got for Christmas from my sister and her family.

Since I upgraded to the Ultra course, though, there’s a few other elements to each lesson, like DVD bonus material. First, there’s the walkthrough, which has videos, audio files, and cool graphics; each walkthrough step has a section where Holly shows us what she’s working on with a creative project or two, tying in the same concepts that are in the core lesson, and discussion questions for people who are doing the walkthrough at the same time, and a ‘hotseat’ interview with a student writer who’s volunteered to have Holly help them out with a writing challenge that they face, for the edumacation of us all.

There’s also the Quick Fixes, which are little audio files describing useful techniques and worksheets to use them with, and a few other Ultra video files.

So, I went through the core lessons up to lesson six, where I sortuv ran aground on the ‘Amazon River’ exercise; I understand the description of the technique, but I’m not really sure how to apply it to the stories I’ve been working on this month or anything else I’m doing at the moment. The workgroup forum for Lesson Six had a prominent sticky thread for ‘The Fireside chat’, which was actually part of the lesson through walkthrough, but it took me a lot of exploring in the Ultra classrooms before I found that, and I haven’t actually gotten to it yet. First, I went through all the bonus videos and the Quick Fixes up to #6. Then, I finally found the walkthrough, and I’m still partway through the walkthrough for lesson three. It’s great stuff; I love actually getting to see Holly and hear her voice, after just getting to know her as words on the page in ‘How to Revise your Novel’ and the core HTTS lessons.

I’m not sure how much I’m going to keep tackling HTTS during June. Probably it isn’t wise to put too much time and energy into these lessons while I’m getting ready for Odyssey… but I never said I was wise, did I? 😉 And definitely I’m going to be really busy learning other things about writing once I get to New Hampshire.

I’m definitely going to keep the techniques that I’ve learned from ‘How to Think Sideways’ in mind when it comes to Odyssey, though; especially Calling Down Lightning. That one could certainly come in handy for my Odyssey writing assignments!


Surprising news about my Muse!

May 15, 2013

Over the weekend, I started working on How to Think Sideways lesson three, which involves a really cool brainstorming exercise, “Calling down Lightning”, and talks a lot about getting to know your muse better. The brainstorming went really well; I came up with two good ideas over a few waking hours and one night of sleep on the weekend, and I think I’ve got another today that I’m going to start this evening for a short fiction contest.

But I was definitely startled by some of the things I learned about my muse. For one thing, I found out that it wants to be able to communicate by talking to me out loud. I’ve suggested a few ground rules on that so that I don’t blurt out a story idea in a situation where it would be awkward to explain what I was blathering on about, but in general I liked the concept.

I was wondering about a picture for my muse too, and at first I didn’t come up with anything but the old standby I’ve told you about before, and I got the sense that my muse wasn’t really wild about looking like Liz Parker, but didn’t suggest anything different over the weekend. At some point yesterday or the day before, I walked into the living room, noticed some of my stuffed animals sitting on the stereo, and idly remarked, “Maybe some of you guys  could be the face of my muse.”

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To which Ember, the golden owl with the smart black bow tie, shot back, (with my voice,) “Who says that isn’t what we’ve been all along?”

That really got me thinking. I know that a lot of people, writers or no, might think of having stuffed animals around, talking to them, and having them talk back, as something childish that should be stopped before you enter your teen years. My mother and I definitely wouldn’t agree with that sentiment. She has some beloved teddy bears of her own, and while I don’t know how much she talks to them while I’m not around, she usually doesn’t mind chatting with them if I do.

We even have two small stuffed bears who have become a package deal; Almond was mine and Praline Mom’s, but now they shuffle back and forth between our homes, seldom splitting up. They look fairly similar, maybe six inches long or so with brownish coats, but lying on their bellies in a sortuv polar-bear-like pose. And there have been a few moments when I wonder if Almond and Praline are ship-teasing us, dropping hints that their relationship is a teddy bear romance and not just a close friendship, but never admitting anything straight out. 🙂

I never really thought of stuffed animals in terms of my muse or my inspiration before, but considering the fact that my muse wanted to speak to me out loud, and that since I was little I’ve been speaking for teddy bears and other stuffed animals with my own voice, there’s probably a deep connection there. And big thanks to my parents, for never telling me that that spark of imagination, that suspension of disbelief, that can give a teddy bear or stuffed cat a personality of its own is something I have to give up in order to grow up. I’m sure that spending all this time with them has helped me keep my creative edge in ways that I never guessed.


How to Draw your SSM

May 10, 2013

No, not that SSM. After a few false starts, I’m finally making progress on my new Holly Lisle ‘How to Think Sideways’ lessons. I asked my family for this course for Christmas, and my sister’s side came through, paying for my first eight lessons! Thanks, sis.

I remember I took a stab at lesson one back in February sometime, downloading the worksheets before going off to Williams for a write-in with Elizabeth and Nixy, and I got through at least one exercise that day, the shadow room, which is a lot of fun. I think I did my first visual clustering exercise back in February, or maybe squeezed it into May when I was sick and tired of editing. But my attempts to get some Thinking Sideways done during April were completely squeezed out by Camp Nano. (Getting to 50k in a month is never as easy as I think it’ll be.)

But I’ve been going a little gangbusters on HTTS since May started, finishing lesson 1 in a few days, (where you’re introduced to four fearsome villains of the mind: Safe, Perfect, Victim, and Feel–doing battle with each in an introductory exercise.) On Sunday afternoon,  I touched based with Elizabeth about her own experiences with the first few lessons in the course, and read through lesson 2. The next day, I started the lesson 2 homework: a giant six-page cluster of free association that Holly calls a Sweet Spot Map, or SSM for short.

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My first SSM is almost complete now. There’s a starting ‘node’ on each of the pages: Things I love, things I fear, things that make me shiver, and so on. From these six starting places, you just let your brain free-wheel and draw your own things to connect, creating a big cluster of things, names, and concepts that make sense in your own inscrutable brain. It’s a lot of fun.

I’m not quite sure what I do with this map now. That’s in lesson 3. 🙂

 


I sold somebody on How To Think Sideways – and bought into it myself

March 15, 2013

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Cheerfully,
Holly

That’s the email that came through around 4 pm this afternoon. If you bought something from my links to the Holly Lisle sale from a few days ago… thanks so much! I hope you get a lot of benefit out of the course. And I’d love to hear from you in the comments (or privately at chriskelworth at gmail dot com if you’d prefer.)

Myself, I’d been wavering up until this morning, but I finally signed up to the How to Think Sideways ‘Bring your own lessons’ plan: This means that it doesn’t include the original 29 lessons, which you can buy a la carte on Holly’s side, or through Amazon or Nook stores through her HTTS Direct program. My sister and her family got me the first 8 HTTS Direct lessons for Christmas. But the ‘Ultra Bring your own lessons’ package includes all the extra stuff beyond the basic lesson handouts – permanent passes to the HTTS student forums, examples of the process from Holly’s own books, audio and video materials, and bonus lessons.

I hadn’t been sure if I needed that, but decided to dive on in. I also scored a bunch of HTTS Direct courses – from nine through twenty-four, which seemed like a good place to stop for today because lesson twenty-five was quick revision stuff, and as you know, I’ve already been through Holly’s big revision course. 😀

So I’ve got lots of course stuff to go through, when I find the time of course. What else? Oh, I’ve officially starting my victory lap for ‘How to Revise Your Novel’ – while “Children” is out with critiquers, I’ve begun going through lesson 1 with “The Angel’s Charlie”, a very different kind of book, but one that I have high hopes for revising.

Lots of cool Holly Lisle-ish stuff goin’ on.


Holly Lisle has an Ultra sale on!

March 12, 2013

Full disclosure: After months and months of raving about Holly Lisle courses here on the blog just because I think they’re amazing, I’ve decided to see if I can actually promote them effectively to my friends and followers. So all the links in this post are tagged with my Holly Lisle affiliate ID: if you follow the links and buy anything from Holly’s site, then she kicks some of the money back to my Paypal account, which I can then spend on my next courses, and so on. Everybody wins. 😉

And the reason I’m bringing this up now is because Holly’s having a big sale. She’s launched a really cool upgrade to her How to Think Sideways course, with one cool bonus lesson already released and dozens more in the pipeline. For three days, she’s offering How to Think Sideways Ultra at the 2011 prices, before raising them to reflect all the new material on Friday. I’ve only gotten partway through lesson 1 of HTTS, but I think it’s really good stuff, and I’m seriously considering upgrading to the full course before this offer runs out. For anybody who’s been considering getting a Holly Lisle course but wasn’t sure, this is a great moment to commit!

What if you sign up and decide the course isn’t for you? Holly guarantees that you can quit at ANY time and receive a full refund of your current lesson and all remaining paid-for lessons. No questions, no hassle.

You have nothing to lose. And even by trying out the course, you’ll learn more about the process of writing- even if it’s just that Holly’s process doesn’t work for you.

Here’s the blurb for the first bonus lesson:
If you’ve ever sat staring at the blinking cursor, trying to find the right, the perfect, the one and only way to start your story (or your chapter, or your day’s writing), trying to will words onto the page…

…Discover the PERMANENT five-minute fix for this problem—the technique Holly uses to get words quickly on days when SHE’S having a hard time getting started.

Five minute fix. Lose the agony.

Sounds tempting, doesn’t it? 😉

 


I feel like a true Story wonk now!

February 22, 2013

It should surprise none of my faithful friends and followers here that I’m a huge fan of the Storywonk podcasts with Lani Diane Rich and Alastair Stephens. A little while back I submitted a question on the Storywonk.com forums, and this week Lani and Alastair really got on a roll!

It’s a great episode, including the jokes about how nice Canadians are, and shoutouts to myself and to Elizabeth Twist, who I mentioned when introducing the questions. (I’m not sure if Lani and Alastair know that we’re both Canadian or if that was just a random coincidence.) There’s three listener questions and a follow-up ramble about reader expectations in the episode, and I’m the second, so  the stuff about my question is mostly in the middle-ish of the MP3 file. They go to town explaining the differences between problem and conflict that were confusing me, (and the trouble with the capital T Trouble,) and share some interesting thoughts about Man versus Himself contrasted against Man versus Nature, both of which might be applied to The Time Bubble Blues.

So surf on over and give that podcast a listen!


How do you cook the books?

February 1, 2013

Today’s post idea is courtesy of Strands of Pattern. I’m pretty sure Jeff won’t mind me taking his idea and running with it.

I loved Jeff’s metaphor of cooking for the writing process, and some of the analogies that friends and followers came up with in the comments to his post. Thinking about it, I’ve decided that my writing process has a lot in common with the way I make one of my favorite meals – spaghetti and meat sauce.

First, I take a big lump of slightly slimy hamburger out of the fridge, slap it in a pan, turn up the heat, and start stirring like crazy as the meat browns and gets crispy. This is the heedless first draft composition stage – often set to Nanowrimo or some other crazy deadline event.

Once the meat is browned, I add some other ingredients – tomatoes, vegetables, herbs and spices, and let it simmer for a long time, stirring occasionally, tasting now and then. This would be the no-pressure editing, letting the story sit on the back burner of my brain while I’m doing other things, occasionally sitting down to try rewriting a scene or polish some of the prose.

And finally, there’s the slightly less frantic activity as I boil a pot of water and toss in the dry spaghetti – or set myself a deadline for finishing revisions and get myself into hot water. 🙂

Is it a perfect analogy? No, probably not. But I had fun with that notion. There are probably ways that my creative process is like whipping up crepes, or roasting a turkey, or microwaving some soup, but I’m not gonna think about them just now.

What culinary process is your writing style like?


Short story revision process is underway!

December 8, 2012

Okay, I finally got started on my modified revision process for ‘The Storm Mirror’ this morning, and I think it’s working out pretty well so far. I’ve finished the lesson 1 exercises, more or less – I didn’t want to go through the Despair worksheet the same way, so instead I just took my printed pages and marked them with highlights in different colors to represent the different parts of Despair – Green for the ‘Keeper stuff’ that I really like, Orange for broken elements that need to get cut or fixed, blue for worldbuilding issues, and purple for character issues.

I decided to either mark character/worldbuilding positives in green or ignore them, because I didn’t have enough extra colors to keep them all straight, and using the same colors for positive and negative elements seemed like a recipe for trouble when I wasn’t doing the full worksheet. Yellow was supposed to be the ‘So boring I skip over it’ color, but I’m pleased that I didn’t need to use that once. 😉

I also did the third target worksheet for Lesson 1, where you imagine your ideal story and put your finger on the three biggest changes you need to make – they lined up rather neatly ind the end, middle, and beginning of the story respectively (but they’re not the WHOLE end, middle, or beginning.)

I’ve decided that for reasons of time I’m going to pick and choose which lessons I’m doing with Storm Mirror, so lesson 2 is a skip – I’m happy with the characters, don’t think I need to do much work with them. Step 3 is the scene inventory, and hopefully I can get some more work done on that this evening before I turn in.

Onward!


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