Not so fast

I began the sequel to Déjà Vu on Tuesday of this week, and now I’m going to stop. Why? Difficult to say with any pre­ci­sion (said the man attempt­ing a career as a writer).

I wrote my first two books on the fly. From one page to the next, I did not know what was going to hap­pen with the story. I loathed plan­ning. Why did I write them like this? Well, when I was a teen­ager, I read a piece by Stephen King about his meth­od of writ­ing, and that was how he did it. I thought, oh, right, so that’s how writers do it.

This impro­visa­tion­al meth­od cer­tainly suited my first book — I was fairly gripped by the story through­out, and this qual­ity has been com­men­ted on by review­ers, so I guess it worked. But that book was writ­ten while I was work­ing as a teach­ing fel­low full time. In a steady trickle of 500 words a night, in oth­er words. Now that I’m writ­ing full time, it’s dif­fi­cult to pro­duce less than 1000 words a day. When the thing you’re writ­ing is plot-heavy (as the new Saskia Brandt nov­el is a thrill­er, then this cer­tainly qual­i­fies), this stretches the impro­visa­tion some­what. I also recall that, when the nov­el passed through the hands of my cap­able edit­or (Aliya Whiteley, a writer in her own write), she sug­ges­ted some basic changes to its struc­ture that, at the back of my mind, I already knew needed to be done but I couldn’t, simply, be arsed because of the amount of work it required. Once you’ve writ­ten 100,000 words, chan­ging its dir­ec­tion is about as straight­for­ward as shift­ing an aster­oid on a col­li­sion course for Earth. This kind of change, how­ever, might have been vis­ible had I worked over the story before I wrote it.

Then yes­ter­day I came across this blog entry from Eric von Rothkirch, and it makes a good deal of sense. I still think that draft­ing holds the upper hand in the cool­ness stakes (and is par­tic­u­larly suited to more char­ac­ter-based pieces, like my last nov­el, Proper Job) but when it comes to a plot-heavy work, there’s enough evid­ence to con­vince me that a change in writ­ing habits is worth a shot. (I’m not a big one for ‘if it ain’t broke, doesn’t fix it’ any­way; if I had that atti­tude, I wouldn’t be able to improve as a writer.)

So that’s what I’m going to do. I’ll plan the story before­hand. This, I think, is a much less enjoy­able way of work­ing — or, rather, it was the last time I tried it — but it should pro­duce a bet­ter mash of theme and plot. We’ll see how it goes. At the end of the day, it’s well and good to max­im­ise the fun you have while writ­ing, but it’s the product that’s got to be the best it can be.

Author: Ian Hocking

Writer and psychologist.

One thought on “Not so fast”

  1. Ian, I’d be inter­ested to find out your res­ults with this…

    Of course, Your Mileage May Vary.

    I too have read Stephen King works strictly draft­ing style. He talks a bit about it in his On Writing.

    It’s a bit iron­ic we’re switch­ing places. I’ll be hard­core draft­ing in the NaNoWrimo con­test, and you’re decid­ing to try some plot­ting. 🙂

    Actually what I’m doing for NaNoWrimo is a bit of hybrid pro­cess. I’m going to plot out as much as I can quickly before the con­test starts in November and base my draft­ing off of that.

    Who knows, the ideal pro­cess, at least for me, may end up being the best of both worlds.

    I wish you suc­cess in your plot­ting approach. I’d sug­gest find­ing some way to visu­ally arrange your struc­ture and events via mindmaps or some­thing sim­il­ar. If only because it’s hard to keep it all in your head. It’s also easi­er to see ‘point rela­tion­ships’ if they’re drawn or mapped out. I sup­pose you could just do this on paper or 3x5 cards as some authors do.

    Personally, I don’t need the extra clut­ter in my house… 😉

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *