In which I present a sequel of sorts to my last post in the interests of talking about writing, rather than planning…
My last post (30 Days of Stuff: Developing The Story App) produced some really interesting comments, some on the site, and many on twitter – sufficiently interesting, in fact, that I’ve decided they warrant a follow up post.
If I could sum up the comments in one thought it would be this:
my development process takes the spontaneity out of writing
This is not untrue, but it’s borne out of a slight misconception (I think). My development process really is only about the development, the planning of a story . If anything, if done well, it should aid spontaneity since you don’t have to stop every once in a while to work out where your plot needs to go next.
Think of it this way: you can plan the building of a house to the last detail, but none of those blueprints will really tell you what colour to paint the walls, whether you want floorboards or a carpet, how your garden’s going to grow.
It’s the same with the writing: you can plan out a dinner scene between two characters because you know it’s the right point in the story for them to exchange some information, or get to know each other; but you wouldn’t necessarily predict that one of them’s going to accidentally jab a fork into their hand early on and have to conceal the bleeding for the rest of the scene because their partner vomits at the mere sight of blood.
I hope any writers reading this will be very familiar with those awesome moments when your characters decide to do something you had no idea they were going to do. That’s the sort of thing you can’t (and shouldn’t) plan for. You can put the characters in the right place and time – and this is what the planning process is for – but often the rest of it is up to them.
Where good planning really comes into play is (referring to the above) what do you do after the dinner scene? One option is to simply carry on writing and see what happens – this can be an invaluable creative process, but if you end up going completely down the wrong track then it’s wasted time (and this is the sort of thing you should really use during the planning stages anyway). The other option is you sit around trying to work out what needs to happen next and, possibly, by the time you’ve done that you’ve lost the writing mojo. If you’ve got a plan, if you already know where the characters need to be, what they need to do, and why, then you can just carry on writing – instead of burning yourself up trying to work out the story, you can get on with the writing.
And this is why my development process is not really about the writing: it’s about what you do to enable the writing.
I’m running out of time here so I’ll have to indulge myself with a third post on this topic. I really want to cover the fact that the development process doesn’t need to be entirely clinical: there are plenty of creative, free-writing exercises you can do that can really help build up the story – and that’s what I’ll write about next.