Thursday, 29 September 2011

House-cleaning & Tree-climbing

Writing a book is like... cleaning the house.

It's a mess. Socks hang off the lamps, last week's take out is still on the counter, there's a pile of laundry the size of a beluga at the foot of the bed and I think there's something growing under the sofa. I told you, it's a mess. The book, not my house. Well... no that's a lie, my house is a mess too. But before it can get tidy, it's going to get messier.

I don't like the initial mess. It's gross and smells I and wish I could magic it away with a *flick and swish*. It's horrible to begin with, so this whole getting messier bit... well, let's just say I wouldn't be having him around for tea anytime soon. In fact, I'm quite inclined to throw hammers at him and shove him out the window, because the messy getting messier bit makes me like this:


So, back to how this is like writing...

I'm a planner. I think pantsers must be some sort of alien species specially created to make all us planners seem like over anal, controlling psychopaths. But I think pantsing just sounds bonkers: jumping into a story without any clue about story arc? SHOCK HORROR! While I don't plan itty bitty details--that is unless they're important--I plan the big pictures. Yes, pictures. As in more than one. There's a lot of them, too. There's 'Plan A' all the way through 'Plan Z'. I like imagining how different situations would turn out. I attempt to try out every single 'what if' situation and see where it goes. So, in essence I'm planning out several books. So, writing a book is like cleaning the house. It's messy and before it can get clean, it's gonna get messier.

And planning a book is like... climbing a tree.

Imagine a tiny bug. How about a caterpillar? He starts at the base of a tree, and he's hungry--no, very hungry. He's a Very Hungry Caterpillar, and he needs to make it to a leaf. Nom-nom! So, he crawls up to where the trunk becomes a few thick branches and has to make a decision: which branch to choose? And then from that brunch, what does he do at the next junction. See how this is similar to how I plan books?

I've been working on drawing the tree. The one on which the caterpillar (read: protagonist) will journey. I know how my protagonist acts and reacts. She's as aggressive, stubborn sort of pain-in-the-ass who won't back down from a challenge and has a very strange sense of right and wrong. I can't make her act otherwise. I know her thoughts, beliefs and priorities... but I like to search every other point I'm going to throw at her (ie: scene, events, family dynamic or other things that reveal my character and the general themes that are outside of her).

Each different path from root to leaf is a different story; a different ending for the protagonist in the situation you've put them in. The branches are your crises. You invent a slew of different ways to torture the protagonist. It's so fun, it's frightening. You become an evil dictator. You are the The Hunger Games gamemakers. You throw fire, create acid mist and authorise flash floods. This is the story--YOUR STORY. These are the ways you are going to reveal the plot, describe the world and develop your characters.

And now? Well its time to stop planning and start writing.

I am fleshing out the storyline. And if I'm still not sure between several different paths, I'll flesh them all out. I'm seeing what happens when I actually make my protagonist endure the hell I've designed for her.

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