Preparation, Preparation, Preparation That Hits The Limit

I’ve been neglectful (yet again) of this blog, and hope that one day, I’ll be able to get to squeeze in more time and opportunity to create more posts. I enjoy it, but with various other things happening, it gets forgotten about a bit too much for my liking. But that is for another blog post…

Back in June 2015, I ended up writing a blog post about preparation and planning. This is a sort of revisiting, because in the Cabin for the April 2016 Camp NaNoWriMo (one of the things keeping me busy, but in a good way,) was the comment “I tend to have issues planning ENOUGH if that makes sense. I never quite make my final word count because I run out of story.” This is an interesting problem, from my view. I’m not sure how to fully answer it, either. But I’m willing to give it my personal thoughts, because it might just produce something that can help someone.

The first thing I think of with this is the issue of word counts. After years of bumbling along, and making literary messes, I’ve come to the conclusion that how long a story is supposed to be determines quite a few things. I now regard short stories as episodes in a television programme, and novels to be like films. I think I have touched on this before, but I’ll go through it again, because it connects in with what I’m going to say a bit later on.

To summarise, I regard every hundred words in a short story to equate to a minute of screen time, and every thousand words in a novel to equate to a minute of cinema time. By looking at it in that way, I then have a basis to gauge the length of the story, and thus work out how long I want it to be. This visualising is important, because then I can sit down and think about how much needs to go in, to make it get to that limit. From there, I can decide on the location, and see what research I need to do to get it right, and what interesting details I can learn about the place that can help build the atmosphere of the story.

Take Odessa, Texas, as an example. This is a city of 1000,000 or so people, in the middle of the desert. It has a nearby city it is a huge rival to in terms of American Football, their teams doing quite well for themselves in the leagues. (The Permian Panthers was the idea for the television series Friday Night Lights.) The city also has a meteor crater (which was part of the group that crashed with the Arizona crater meteor,) a replica Globe Theatre, and a replica Stonehenge. It also has connections to the Bush family, if memory serves. Suddenly, from what I have just outlined, you can start to get ideas, because there are some really nice features that could really set things in the story in terms of tone.

I also consider the characters as well. How many will be needed to get to that limit? How do they all interact with each other, and how does that spark chain of events? If I need to, I’ll go and add a character or two whilst writing the story, to add more depth and potential to it. In a sense, the characters are like threads waiting to be woven into a tapestry: each strand adds to the colour and variety of the whole. Not only that, but pull away a thread, and the whole tapestry could unravel. Life is about the events that spark off from the encounters with people, places, knowledge and realisations, when you think about it. And this follows true for story weaving, too.

Of course, it can sometimes turn out that you have managed to get the end, but failed to get to your target. For me, that is no issue at all. It them means I’ll go back through, and try to see what I can do to add to it. Have I described all the characters fully? Have I described all of the locations? Is there any minor or trivial characters than should be expanded on, to help benefit the story? Finishing under the word target isn’t a crisis; you have finished the story, and thus can build on the structure some more.

This should serve as a helpful start to people. I’ll probably end up coming back to this topic, and adding some more in another post, when I have come up with more to say.

Oh, and Happy Easter to all of my readers. May you all have a great and wonderful weekend.


Preparation, Preparation, Preparation…

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.