It is annoying, you know, this whole blog thing.
I have ideas for posts, and have yet to get round to dealing with them. And then, I end up seeing something, and I just know I will have to write something in response…
This time, it is the comment of “I never plan anything, I guess this is why I have so many unfinished stories.” A massive, heavily paraphrased comment, I can assure you. But it raises the question: is it impossible to write without a plan?
So, here is my take on the matter, and a bit of my experiences, as well.
The first fiction I ever wrote never had a plan to it. All I had was a scene in my head, and I knew that was where I wanted it to go to. The second was also unplanned, and needed revising before I even got to finish it, because I had fallen foul of the “no research” trap. A terrible thing to be avoided at all costs, I can readily assure you. The third novel was unplanned as well, and I was just writing scenes all over the place, and then slowly stitching the scenes together with more and more interconnecting scenes. A most difficult and frustrating way to do it, at least for me. So nowadays, I’m the opposite. I plan, I plot away, I research like crazy, and will photoshop pictures together to get an idea of what each key character looks like… So I never write anything unscripted, literally “winging it,” as they say?
Well, that isn’t the case.
Last year, 2014 NaNoWriMo was there, and I had a massive crisis. I had been working on an outline for a book, and it just wasn’t working. No matter how hard I tried, this perspective, that direction, leaving out some characters, putting them back in, and removing other characters… nothing seemed to work. I was there, closer and closer to the start of November, and all I had was an unworkable mess. (I have since figured out why it was an unworkable mess, but I will save that for another time.) I was staring at failure before I had even begun.
Then Lucy saved the day.
Who is Lucy, you might wonder? Not a who, but a what. I had somehow come across a trailer for the film Lucy, starring Scarlet Johansen. I looked into the background of the film, and saw a vague description for it. The idea, however, captivated me, and I ended up putting everything aside, and then started fleshing out the idea for myself. By the time I had watched the film I already was going in quite a different direction. And I was glad for it, because there is no way I would write a story as crazy, insane… and well… rubbish as that film. Yes, I was entertained, but I was also staring at it with utter bemusement that the director – Luc Besson – had come up with it.
But the essential thing was… I had an idea. I could move forwards.
The idea was adding, and then fusing into a new whole, another film. Well, a final scene. I had seen Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and one of the Easter Egg scenes had my mind racing. Okay, I was excited at the notion of the two characters appearing in a future film, but it was there, sparking ideas of its own. The end result?
Girl agrees to medical experiment that gives her psychic powers.
And that was the way I was trying to play it. However, I had by then a few other characters, and I was finding myself going in a different direction to that. So, I followed, just wishing to have a vague clue as to where I was going to end up. No matter how hard I tried, the experiment wasn’t happening. So I found a different way to make it happen, and then there were two new friends, and then things developed… And in the end, I have a story that works. But it was painful to get to the point where it was doing well.
That was one agonising , tiring month. The story isn’t finished, though I went over the fifty thousand limit, and won the target. Thing is, I know – roughly – how to finish it, and I plan to do so, when I know the status of my old laptop’s hard-drive. (my old laptop died on my, so I have a lot of things in limbo.) But I know that I can finish it, even if I have to re-write the last two days of writing. (which would be several thousand words, to say the least…)
So… what advice can I possibly offer to people going through a story unplanned?
- Listen to the characters. They will help you by showing where they want to go. In fact, fleshed out characters are an essential thing here, the more detail you have for at least the main character, the better.
- Don’t do anything that will require you to stop and conduct a lot of research. Stick with familiar locations, Use buildings you know readily, all of that. because when you are trying to go forwards, having to look into details will only serve to kill your momentum. Don’t let it happen, you can research every last detail later. Do only what is absolutely necessary.
- Have an idea of where you want to go. Even if it is simply “the princess meets the prince, and they all live happily in this castle forever and ever,” that is where you want to head to. Don’t worry about the journey, it will sort itself out. Just keep the destination in sight. If you have certain things you just know must happen, then head for them too. They are your signposts to the journey to get to the destination. Travel to them, one by one.
I have a feeling I will end up, over time, define further and add to that list. But that should serve as some form of starting point, I suspect.
As for July, I plan for that Camp NaNo to finish a story that never got completed, (it has an outline, so it is perfectly fine,) and I have an outline for November waiting to go. Unless, of course, disaster strikes again, and I have to go and wing it once more… we shall have to see.