Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Process Examination #1: Notebooking

I've been working on THUMB and analyzing my writing process for only ten days and already I've realized so much about how I write. It's really been an amazing experience.

First of all, I have trusted my brain far too much to retain information, especially in the pre-writing stage. I do a lot of mental brainstorming on plots and characters and theme and, if I wrote anything down in the past, I only recorded the end results. I never recorded my thought processes or the crazy alternatives I considered and discarded in my brainstorming sessions. It's amazing how much more grounded in my work in progress I feel by documenting all the gonzo twists and turns of my thoughts in these initial stages of writing. Also, I can review where I've been so much easier and get back into the flow of the project that much faster.

Secondly, there are a few key things that I can do first thing in pre-writing any project. (Well, first thing after I freewrite the initial idea for a scene or two and let it stew for a bit.) These are basically ripped from He Wrote, She Wrote and manipulated into my own sense of order.

  • Jot down my idea in one sentence (One Sentence Idea)

  • Identify clearly my protagonsit and antagonist (or at least identify their roles)

  • Sketch out the central conflict, refine until the conflict is the protag and antag pushing directly against each other (Conflict Box; I find that I do a lot of backstory and worldbuilding in this step as I extrapolate motivations and goals from my one sentence idea and the roles of my protag and antag)

  • Attempt a four act structure plot outline (following the KISS method and just trying to see how conflict and action can arc form where the protag and antag are at the beginning; usually I have some sense of the overall outcome of the conflict box from my freewriting and idea percolation)

  • Find where four act structure doesn't quite jive and start asking questions: does the outline fall flat because there's no undercurrent of theme to hang it on? does the outline fall flat because I'm trying to force events rather than have them grow organically from the story?

  • Thirdly, all of this has to be done in a notebook, it seems. Every time in the past ten days that I've sat down with software to try and organize or record the results of this above process, my brain goes blank. But every time I sat down with my notebook for THUMB, the ideas just flew. I could also make connections better, see where they were coming from and where they could go. Also, I've been able to write down anything that comes into my brain in the notebook, not caring if it wasn't going to take me anywhere or not. With software, apparently I use the ease of editing to try and create something beyond first draft brain purge as I'm first typing. It leads to reverting again to keeping my thoughts all tied up in my mind and only writing down the end result and feeling less connected with the world I'm building. (However, I have already learned that I need to eventually organize the final decisions into some sort of easily accessible and readable software. Flipping through a notebook to find that one plot point or character note is not conducive to productivity.)

    Finally, in being aware of the hows and whys of my writing process, I've been able to get to the point faster. I'm more in tune with my muse and the logic behind her ways. I was able to home in on a major logic problem in my broadly defined plot almost immediately. Then I was able to get to the crux of ways to sidestep the problem. After that, I knew exactly what strengths and weaknesses to look for in those methods and could chart out better how the solution would fit into the meshwork of the novel.

    This will lead into my next process examination post: research.

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