Experiments in cranking out words like a cracked up monkey

So 4 days in and… holy shit, I’m on track.  In fact, if it hadn’t been for a few bits of excess real life, I’d be ahead.  I wrote 1800 words in a hour today which is about twice my usual speed.  And I’ve been pretty consistent with that speed over the past 4 days.

Rather than this simply me bragging about how fast I’ve been slamming my palms against the keyboard, I thought I’d try and post something useful about why I thought this was happening.

  1. Excitement.  OK, this one might seem a little like low hanging fruit, but I think it’s important.  I am really excited about this project.  I’m excited to put down what happens next.  I’ve written things I’ve been less excited about, and it slows me down.  It becomes more of a chore.  If you’re not loving your project, work out why and change it.  If you need to throw something out, it’s still early days, and excitement might help you make up the difference
  2. Planning. This one, I admit, is very subjective.  But having everything planned out gives me one less thing to worry about when I’m writing. I know what I’ve got to do in the scene, now I just need to do it. I’m not having to stop and think things through, I’m just plowing ahead.  If you’re going is slow, maybe take a break and plan things out. Again, any time you lose could be made up with increased output.
  3. SO MUCH PLOT. Honestly, I think this may be the main one. The way this book has ended up, Natania and I have to cram a ton of stuff into each chapter.  And that keeps it fresh, it keeps me excited about how to transition to the next beat, the next revelation. I am always writing towards something.  There’s an urgency to the narrative that translates into an urgency in the act of writing itself. So is enough going on in your story?  Enough to keep you hungry and writing for more.

Anybody else got suggestions on how to keep the word count up?

Seven steps towards plot…

So last post I mentioned that this week Natania and I would be working on 7-point plots for the characters in our story.

What the hell was I talking about?

Seven-point plot is my favorite way to plot out the major narrative arc for a character over the course of a story.  It’s a refinement of the traditional 3 acts (beginning, middle, end) that helps the plot from sagging too much in the middle.  It consists, shockingly, of 7 points:

  1. Hook
  2. Turning Point 1
  3. Pinch 1
  4. Midpoint
  5. Pinch 2
  6. Turning Point 2
  7. Conclusion

However, when working out a characters arc you don’t work out the plot in that order.  Instead I do it this way:

  1. I work out what the character wants.  What are they struggling to achieve throughout the story (sometimes I give them 2 wants if it changes at some point)
  2. I fill out the conclusion – the character either getting or failing to get their want (though not always in the way they expected)
  3. I fill out the hook – I define the characters starting point (basically them in the opposite state to the one I just put in the conclusion) and then add why/how they get involved in the plot
  4. Then I go to the midpoint – what gets the character from the Hook to the Conclusion.  What’s the big midpoint thing that has to happen to them?  This also may change their want
  5. Then I do Plot Turn 1 – it’s the same sort of thing as the Midpoint, but now it’s asking what needs to happen to get the character from the Hook to the Midpoint?
  6. Next is Plot Turn 2 – same question again, but now it’s how do the characters get from the Midpoint to the
  7. Conclusion (Of note, the Plot Turns are usually what give me the most trouble)
  8. Then I fill out the Pinches if I haven’t done it out of order at some point because I got too excited.  These are basically ways to add pressure/urgency, antagonistic forces to drive the characters on

A couple of things to remember when doing this:

  • At every point except the Pinches, make sure the character is acting directly, not just reacting to some outside force
  • Make sure that you spread the events out evenly over the course of your novel, so that things don’t bunch towards one end of your novel
  • As you do these arcs for each character, events start to pile up.  If the same event shows up in multiple characters arc, then it starts to build up importance and resonance.  An event doesn’t have to play the same role for every character (eg, a death is a Conclusion for one character, a Midpoint for another, and a Pinch for a third) but as long as it affects all of them somehow it will seem “big”

And that’s pretty much it.  First draft starts tomorrow.  I’mnotscaredI’mnotscaredI’mnotscaredI’mnotscared.

I love it when a plan comes together

The world is full of dichotomies.  Introvert vs extrovert.  Sensible vs stupid.  Plotter vs pantser.

Of course this is a simplification. In reality we all exist on a sliding scale.  We are mixes of introversion and extroversion, we have moments of great wisdom and moments of equal idiocy.  So it goes with the plotters and the pantsers.  Some plot a little more, some a little less.

That said, there are those people who live at the extreme ends of any spectrum.  The oddities and the outliers.

That’s me with plotting.

I love to plot.  My process for plotting is long, convoluted, and clearly at this point, a little out of control.  But I love it.

“What do you mean, overly convoluted?”

Natania on the other hand tends towards the pantsing end of the spectrum.  However, once we decided that we wanted to write a collaborative novel, we also rapidly decided that a plan would be pretty important for keeping us both on the same page.

Welcome to my world, Natania.  Welcome to my dark, depraved world.

The process so far has been thus:

  • Have Natania set up a sweet, sweet pinterest board
  • Stare at all the pretty
  • Realize we have to do some work, so grab a few images we find inspiring and write down a scene fragment, just a few hundred words. These help us come up with story ideas, get a feel for tone, and explore characterization
  • Talk a lot about the setting, and Aztec mythology, and world trees – between these and the scene scraps a plot started to emerge
  • Eventually we had the rough workings of a plot.  At least a few sentences we could use to describe the shape of the whole
  • Then we stared sadly at all the gaping plot holes
  • So I started peppering Natania with questions.  How did this happen?  What does this place look like?  Why did so-and-so do that?  How can that be achieved?  And with each answer more questions arose, but also the plot came more and more into focus
Screen Shot 2014-10-25 at 12.56.18 PM
So much pretty

So far, the collaboration has been going really well.  Natania has had ideas that have challenged my assumptions about how the plot will work, and each time she’s done it we’ve ended up with something stronger. I think we’ve both forced the other a little out of our comfort zones and that’s a really great place to be.  This feels exciting and different.  After writing four books all set in the same series, it’s really nice to be stepping into the unknown once more.

And now, here we are, a week away, and we have a story that feels pretty solid.  There’s still more to be done, of course.  This week we’ll be trying to make sure that the overarching plot and all the subplots fit into a 7-point plot formula.*  Making sure we’re poised as best we can be for trying to write 100,000 words in a month.  And we both know the plot won’t be perfect.  It can’t be.  But we’re just trying to get as close as we can.  Right now, it feels a little bit like Icarus building wings, watching the sun slowly rise.  Both scary and exhilarating, and knowing it’s going to be a hell of a ride.

*More on 7-point plot, later in the week.