Welcome to Monday Musings, where I ponder some aspect of writing that has popped into my head over the last week or so. These posts aren’t intended to provide answers, they are more just a brain-dump that perhaps might generate discussion. This week I wanted to talk about something that that I have slowly been realising, but which only dawned on me fully in the last week.
I don’t like reading craft books. I firmly believe that there are as many ways to write a book as there are writers. Possibily more, since many writers find what worked for one of their books doesn’t work for another one. Every craft book I’ve read seems to take the tone of “If you don’t write your book the way I tell you, you will never be successful.” I hate it. What’s the point of scaring a budding author? Patrick Ness says his upper limit for a day is about 1000 words. Stephen King writes 2500 words a day. Research first. Outline. Get a first draft out, then go back and fix it. It’s enought to make you tear your hair out!
Still, trying the advice given in these types of books can help you to discover your own writing process. For such a long time, I said I didn’t really have one. The closest thing I had was my odd habit of writing a first draft before I did any research. But this week I realised I have something of a process without even realising it, and I’ve had it for a while.
Are you familiar with the Snowflake Method? It’s a method for outlining a novel developed by Randy Ingermanson, and basically the idea is you start with a one-sentence description of your novel, then turn that into a paragraph, then a page, then several pages, etc, etc. From Randy’s own website:
The first draft of A More Complicated Fairytale was only 22000 words. The second draft was 35k. The third was closer to 45k. One thing that came back in the feedback I got from early readers was that there wasn’t much detail. I took lines like “One week, he gave her a tour of the palace gardens” and turned it into a scene where Cait got lost in a hedge maze and Prince Felipe had to come and get her out (not before showing off by casually finding the centre for her). Cait’s original sweetheart, Guy, didn’t appear on the page until the third draft. Before that, he was only ever talked about. He also gained a whole family.
That book was still quite short by the time it was published. In the last year or so, I’ve taken note of scenes in novels I’ve read and how they go into more details. Things I probably would have glossed over are delved into. I try to be too concise, I think, and it is to my detriment. Yes, to a point, every scene should move the story forward somehow. But it’s all right to have two characters talk about how their day was exhausting and they’re looking forward to the weekend if it suits those two characters. In an old draft of Memories and Magic, Clara’s entire magical training was a few paragraphs. I haven’t reached that section in the rewrites yet, but I know that when I do, I need to show her struggles and triumphs as she learns to weild her new abilities.
Which brings me to this week and new WIP I’ve just started. The working title is Unchanging Tunes, and it’s an expanded version of a short story I wrote back in January. Actually, it’s now quite different to that short story, but the inspiration is the same. This is the fastest I’ve ever “snowflaked” my writing. I went from bashing out a few paragraphs on Thursday before I went to choir rehearsal, to realising that what was a paragraph was really a significant part of a character’s life story and should really be at least a couple of chapters. Then I was writing from the same story on my lunch break on Friday and realised the couple of pages I wrote should, again, be several scenes at least.
It was only then that I realised this has been the same process for me with every WIP I work on. Now that that’s occurred to me, I can actively look for these secctions where I gloss over the characters’ actions or a conversation, and expand on them. And it also occurred to me that perhaps the way to figure out the ending of Memories and Magic is to write it in a condensed form and work outwards from there (though I don’t know if that will work exactly).
I imagine that this is not a unique process and that plenty of other authors work this way. I’m just pleased its finally occurred to me that it is my way. I don’t need to say “Oh, I’m terrible at description” or “my novels tend to be on the shorter side”. I don’t need to outline, as such. I just need to build things up. And that’s pretty exciting.
How about you? Do you have a standard writing process? Or does it change every time?