Christmas has come and gone and soon it will be New year. It’s a time to reflect on what we have achieved over the last year and make plans for the new year.
In 2018, I published my third novel, AndroDigm Park 2067. It’s a darker story than my previous sci-fi novels and in a slightly different crime sub-genre. It’s set in a corrupt future world struggling to deal with new android technology. If you’ve read it, I hope you enjoyed it. If not take a look on amazon. It might just interest you.
I also started work on the story for my fourth novel. To date there has been a lot of thinking and planning about the storyline, but not a great deal of typing. Should I be worried? No. It’s how I work.
Let me explain. All writers are different. At one extreme are the plotters who develop detailed plans of their story before writing it. While at the other extreme are the ‘pantsers’ who simply get under the skin of a character and simply follow him/her wherever they go. In practice, many writers fall somewhere between these extremes with some element of story planning taking place before writing. But that might be a notebook with notes, character sketches, and a bullet point lists of plot points, or it could be a twenty-five page outline and detailed scene list. Planning comes in all shapes and sizes.
Pantsers emphasise the need for writers to write. Here is some advice of some great writers:
“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
― Ernest Hemingway.
“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”
― Stephen King
“Planning to write is not writing. Outlining, researching, talking to people about what you’re doing, none of that is writing. Writing is writing.”
― E.L. Doctorow
Clearly, if you are writer you have to write. If you’re going to write a novel, you need to start it and then follow though until it is finished. Unfortunately many potential writers never get beyond ‘start’. But how much of the story do you need to know before you start? E.L Doctorow’s view is that you only have to plan a short distance ahead:
“[Writing is] like driving a car at night: you never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”
― E.L. Doctorow
However, Doctorow’s analogy is not complete. If you’re driving a car at night you normally have a good idea of the your final destination and the route you’ll need to take to get there. In this case, the route is analogous to the main plot points or storyline of a novel. But the point that detailed planning only has to take into account a short distance ahead is not a bad one, provided you know the direction in which the story is going.
So how much of the storyline do you need to know before writing? John Irving offers an answer.
“Know your story before you fall in love with your first sentence. If you don’t know the story before you begin the story, what kind of story-teller are you? Just an ordinary kind, just a mediocre kind — making it up as you go along, like a common liar?”
— John Irving
I couldn’t agree more with Irving. You might not know every detail of your story but you should know sufficient detail to articulate who and what your story is about, the major plot points and the ending.
Pantsers and plotters also have different views on the importance of plot.
“Remember: Plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations. Plot is observed after the fact rather than before. It cannot precede action. It is the chart that remains when an action is through. That is all Plot ever should be. It is human desire let run, running, and reaching a goal. It cannot be mechanical. It can only be dynamic. So, stand aside, forget targets, let the characters, your fingers, body, blood, and heart do.”
― Ray Bradbury
I happen to like Bradbury’s analysis of plot even if it is not entirely accurate. His emphasis on plot is that it is character driven and in that sense he’s absolutely right. But he overlooks that the resulting plot has a cause and effect pattern to it. Plot points are not random events, but they give meaning to the story. The English novelist E. M. Forster explains:
‘A plot is also a narrative of events, the emphasis falling on causality – “The king died and then the queen died” is a story.’ But ‘“the king died and then the queen died of grief” is a plot. The time-sequence is preserved, but the sense of causality overshadows it.’
So how do these words of wisdom from great writers help me form my New Years Resolutions? Should I target word count, scenes, milestones or other targets?
Mmm… Maybe like previous years I’ll give New Years Resolutions a miss.