(February 3 – 9)
This week I started a brand new chapter of the novel: equal parts scary and exciting. After the problems and extensive delays I experienced with the previous chapter, I decided to take a slightly different approach this time. As always, I knew roughly what the chapter was about, what needed to happen, and how it should feel, but I wanted to go into it with a clearer idea of what should happen in each scene. My hope is that this would avoid the issue of me getting stuck at various points wondering what was needed to happen next.
To do this I broke down the chapter into 9 or so scenes; enough to guide me from start, through middle, and to the end. I then put those scene into a short bullet-point list of those scenes. And that’s about it. Minimal as this process was, it helped me grasp the structure of the chapter, showed me the *story* for that chapter, and gave me enough confidence to plough into it.
So I did.
I wrote the first two scenes. I set things up, got my characters in place. And then things proceeded to go off in a slightly different direction; same story, just with the emphasis shifted a few degrees elsewhere. After that, I decided to rewrite those first scenes so I could get things set up a little more cleanly, given where the story wanted to go. I’m still only a few scenes in but, yeah, it’s looking like the story wants to go in a slight different direction than the one I plotted out.
And this is all fine. Good, in fact. I don’t regard the time I spent plotting the chapter as a waste, even though that’s not going to be the story I end up telling. A plot is nothing more than a plan; one possible route to get you from start to end, and there are, of course, many different ways to get to a destination. In this case, spending that time working on the plot helped me get a feel for my characters and the world they’re inhabiting in this particular chapter (as well as their trajectory through it). It was that initial sense of familiarity that gave the story, and me, the confidence to find a different direction.
I’ve often considered myself a ‘pantser’ more than a ‘plotter’, even though I usually have a clear idea of where my stories are going to go. But perhaps it turns out I’m both?
(p.s if you can see the awesomely cute feature image up there and you’re wondering whose work it is, it’s by the very brilliant Karen Hallion)
One good thing
My good thing this week has to be the finale of The Good Place, which I think might be just about perfect (and I’ll do my best not to spoil it in case you’ve yet to see it). There are many, many things I can learn from The Good Place, but my biggest takeaway from the finale is that the main story of the series (as in the plot component) had already been wrapped up in the previous episode. That left the extended final episode with nothing to do other than conclude each character’s journey.
It’s fairly common for final episodes to not quite work very well. One theory on this is that endings are unnatural, so we generally have trouble accepting them unless a story has been conventionally structured (hard to do in a series) or, perhaps, if all the characters die.
By virtue of its premise, The Good Place had the rare opportunity to separate out its ‘plot end’ from the end of its characters’ journeys, leaving us with a perfect hour to say goodbye to everyone in a way that seemed natural and satisfying.
And I think maybe this is the key lesson: the characters will drive the story, but they will sometimes have a different ending than the story. It’s worth looking at those threads separately and seeing where they lead, instead of trying to tie them all together at the same time.
Something to fix
My thing to fix this week is time. Sort of.
One of the things I’ve learned about myself is that I don’t like being interrupted in the middle of things. One of the ways that this has affected my behaviour is that I generally won’t make use of small pockets of time: I won’t pick up a book if I only have five minutes of reading time (because I’ll want to finish a whole chapter). And, in the mornings, if I have less than twenty minutes of spare time I often find myself considering not sitting down to write.
This is, obviously, a not very productive approach—and it’s also a case of self-imposed barriers: I won’t get things done because I tell myself I don’t have time to get them done.
I’ve been thinking about how to fix this (mostly in relation to my writing). My mindset when it comes to writing is that ‘some words are better than no words’ and this has helped me through the mornings where the words aren’t flowing particularly well. One step is still a step closer to the finish line.
Coincidentally, while I was mulling all this over I saw a tweet from Neil Gaiman where he explained that he finished writing Coraline in 50 words chunks last thing at night. I believe I shall use that as prod when I catch myself thinking that 10 minutes isn’t long enough to write anything worthwhile.