Friday, August 21, 2009

Taking direction

Charles here, disagreeing with my esteemed colleagues.

Donis explained (below) that she enjoys jumping right in without a clear idea where the story will take her, allowing the characters to develop and influence the direction of the plot as the story unfolds. She notes that she doesn’t know who the killer will be when she starts, confident that the real killer will show himself/herself along the way. John doesn’t appear to go that far, but he does expect that as he is writing the story, his characters will provide answers to questions he himself hadn’t posed. Both methods sound like interesting ways to approach the writing process.

But as I said, I disagree.

Ever been a passenger in a car driven by someone who you knew started off without a clear idea of where they are going? They may be a fine traveling companion and they may keep saying, “Trust me, I know where we’re headed,” but you can feel it in your gut that they are just tooling around until they bump into something interesting. A surprise for the driver and a surprise for the passenger. A serendipitous joyride is fine if that’s what you are looking for, but otherwise it’s maddening.

However when you’re a passenger in a vehicle driven by someone who knows where she’s going and exactly how she’s going to get you there, someone who has it mapped out to ensure that you see all the way cool attractions along the way, someone who knows the shortcuts as well as the scenic overlooks, someone who exudes confidence in her driving skills as well as her knowledge of the greater landscape, then you know that not only will you get there in a timely manner, you won’t miss a thing along the way. Your driver respects you enough not to waste your time or get you lost for no good reason.

Anyone who has traveled with me knows I eschew itineraries and timetables – that’s my time and my vacation and I can live it the way I like. But when it comes to telling a story it’s different. Whether it’s an anecdote about a night in a Brisbane CafĂ© or a 85K word novel, I may veer off the core plot now and then and there will most assuredly be tangential thoughts that appear unrelated, but I know where I’m going, what I want to say, what I want to highlight and what the ‘moral of the story’ will be before I type the first word. This foresight provides an added sense of confidence to my writing and I believe readers can feel it too. We’ve all been in situations when we felt the person driving the car was cruising around, looking for an exit. The same can be true for a novel.




I've found that a good balance between "pantsing" and planning exactly where I'm going provides the best framework.

In my early years as a writer, I'd outline so assiduously that my stories never varied from the outline. Once I eased off on the detailed character outlines and scene-by-scene outlines, my characters and imaginations provided me with insights and sidetrips that were far more exciting than my original plans.

To each his own: we all eventually find out what works best for us. At least for the moment...

John Corrigan said...

You wrote, "John doesn’t appear to go that far, but he does expect that as he is writing the story, his characters will provide answers to questions he himself hadn’t posed." Not so. It's the other way around. I pose the questions as I go, based on the way the characters develop and the action unfolds.

Donis Casey said...

Charles, dear, I said that I do as a rule know who the murderer is and how the deed was done before I start. Things may change as the story goes along, but usually the idea for the murder is the first thing I conceive. How my protag is going to reveal the murderer is usually a mystery to me until she actually does it, however.

Charles benoit said...

Donis - Ah, yes, you did say that. My apologies. And John, you are right, I did mess that up a bit. Clearly I have to stop trying to write by blog posts in the shower and go back to outsourcing them to my ghostwriter in Mumbai.

My apologies.

Donis Casey said...

I could use that Mumbai guy myself.