A friend who is currently teaching script-writing asked me the other day if I use diagrams when plotting, or in any other way in my writing. It was an interesting question to be asked because I do, but not as a planner would. (Being a pure pantser, I don’t map stuff out at all before I write.)
Where I often find diagrams useful is in the process of editing a draft – particularly a scratch draft or a first draft – and I use them to examine logic. It might be that I know there’s a logic problem, or – as with PAR in recent weeks – I’ve got multiple sets of motivations feeding into movements and interactions, so I have to explore each set independently to check they hold up on their own and aren’t just serving the plot.
I also sometimes diagram to check how much time has passed over a sequence of chapters, as I lose track of how many days have gone by about as easily as my characters do!
Credit to my brain, it does a good job of getting logic and the passage of time right in the pantser chaos it prefers. I rarely find any big things wrong when I do my diagrams. They do, however, get me thinking about other things – probably because they get me looking at the story from different angles – and I find that interesting and often very valuable in itself.
Sometimes I laugh at the application of the “scene must have conflict” idea. Sometimes I weep! Particularly in TV shows where excellent writing can be ruined by someone ramping the conflict up to ridiculous levels.
Exhibit A from my recent watching was the penultimate season of a legal show, in which every scene in every episode was either a break-up or make-up. To achieve this, characters who were on the same side of the greater narrative conflict kept suddenly turning on each other. They then, of course, had to make up the breach so a few scenes later they could have another fight!
I found this absolutely exhausting. It was just such ‘shouty’ writing.
Also, you quickly realised that none of these conflicts were real conflicts and none of them would influence the narrative in any way. They were conflict for the sake of having conflict in the scene, so why was I watching them?
Possibly this would have been less annoying if I’d watched it weekly on traditional TV, instead of episodes back-to-back, but even then I can imagine the result being the same – I’m never getting to the final season.
Sometimes a scene needs to be there for a reason other than conflict.
I know I’ve talked about this before, but it’s been on my mind again after some of my bookclubbers asked me where the idea for the PAR came from. Considering my recent wordage was my excuse for not having read the book this time (!) I felt like I owed them a good answer. Luckily when it comes to the PAR the answer is easy…
I was watching a movie with a martial arts instructor who was a really interesting character, in love with a student, and I thought “that’s the kind of relationship I’d like to write”. This was partly his character in the movie, partly the idea of a relationship between two fighters and partly the extreme coolness of martial arts (I’m a teeny bit of a fan).
So my instructor became a sword fighter (because swords = cool). Then he needed something to be using the swords for (to fight beasties). Then he needed people to train (people surviving in a somewhat post-apocalyptic future earth). Then he needed a love interest I felt he’d fall crazy in love with (a highly experienced beastie fighter). Then I had to decide what kind of beasties and where they’d come from (accidental side effect of some research). Then I had to decide what the research was in aid of (finding a cure for a disease). Then I had to pick a disease and work out if it had caused the apocalypse or the beasties had (50/50). And then – the most fun part – I had to build an entire version of our Earth around the idea of an apocalypse with beasties.
Sounds simple when you lay it out like that, huh?
Funny thing is, Blurty had a similar start – a movie I was watching – but a totally different path and now it’s hard to see the origin point at all!
In the past two months I’ve had a similar conversation with a couple of writers I know and the topic has been “characters who do unexpected things”. It seems a lot of people are have had to break out the whip and chair, circus lion tamer style, to get their characters back in line.
Or not. If we’re honest, we sometimes have to let them wander off and do those unexpected and frustrating things, because strangely they seem to know more about their story than we do! Just to prove that our conscious minds are not as in control of things as we’d like to pretend.
Of course this isn’t limited to characters. A friend complained recently that she’d put a ring in a story, just so a character would have something to fiddle with in a scene, and now the ring is looking for its own series! Oh yeah, it happens.
My characters have been doing a bit of this in the PAR (mostly they’ve been a bit more amorous than expected), but they had been pretty well behaved until yesterday. Then it turned out one of them had been married previously. This I did not know! But I’ve forgiven them for up-ending a subplot. Well, mostly forgiven…still harbouring a little resentment.
It’s been a slow writing year for me in 2016. Most of the past twelve months were spent editing Blurty and then the first of my novellas. So it was probably a lot more productive than I’m giving it credit for, but editing always feels a bit like running on the spot to me.
Then I felt the call of the PAR and decided to blank-page a new draft.
Obviously the good ol’ writing daemon thought this was super fun, because I’m now going to finish the year with about 40K new words! There has been happy-dancing.
What’s more… I’m happy with these new words. They feel solid and very second draftish.
So, a good finish to the year.
Once upon a time, I used to feel a bit sick about throwing out hundreds of words. Blank-page re-writes of whole chapters were nausea inducing. But times change and, as I threw out 30,000 words the other day, I realised that I actually like doing it now.
Blank-paging a story – no matter the size – is just so freeing! You get to pretend like you haven’t already written it and work back in all the good things about the first go.
These days it’s a technique I highly recommend.