Post Writing

So this is a long post! Select a link to jump ahead:

Okay, pun was intended, because, good news:

  • I’m posting writing!
  • I’ve done some writing!

At least, they’re two of the important ways that you could read that. And indeed, I’m here to ramble about a few ways I’ve been learning But wait, there’s a third: I must post this, otherwise, I won’t let myself study this semester1. Oops!

Yes, life’s a very busy thing.

A number of weeks ago I started working 40 hours a week, which, even after counting transport, leaves me a decent amount of time2 to do other things. Take out the indispensables, and I’m left with about 3-4 hours every day to:

  • Practice piano & violin
  • Help organise a collaborative blog project
  • Contribute to an open-source project3
  • Rollerblade to save my aching back
  • Interact with my family
  • Write????

Admittedly, writing has suffered the most out of all of these.

So what am I considering?

Going back to Uni, of course! Now, now, I’ll only be taking one subject at a time. Maybe. If I can sort something out. I have until this weekend to decide. Of course, I could, y’know, get distracted taking photos of the sunset…

Or I could tell you, I don’t pants anymore.

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The beautiful “Sunset Lake” pond4. (I’m *such* a romantic.) 

But wait, you what?

Yeah. I’m not a pantser anymore. For some of you, I’ve seen the light. For some of you, I’ve gone to the dark side5.  But it’s neither, because both are beautiful, and I need both. And, okay, it’s hard. Plotting is new, plotting is a mess – yet plotting brings a clarity to my writing process that I’ve missed.

But to understand how I’ve got here, maybe we’ll take a little history lesson.

This is the earliest6 plot that I know I wrote. (NaNo 2013, wcg 30,000 words. The three previous years I was just having fun, but in 2013 I got serious.)

Screen Shot 2019-03-06 at 8.26.45 pm
Pure cringe, just for you. (The next 4 1/2 pages only got worse.)

Spoiler alert: I didn’t keep to this at all. And it’s no wonder. The plan was essentially a pantsed novel in itself, just in super-vague form. There was no real reason for anything that happened. It just did.

2014 was better.

Screen Shot 2019-03-06 at 8.26.21 pm
Ah, the beautiful scene-by-scene plot

Unfortunately7 the plan stalled at Chapter XVIII and, frustrated, I began a new story from scratch. The freedom was amazing. I could write wherever I wanted to go. Chapters flowed from my fingertips. Dialogue felt natural; the world felt real. There was only one problem: I didn’t know how to end it.

For four and a half years, Criminal Innocent has sat unfinished at 44,340 words.

Nowadays, my writing is dry, lacks suspense at the best of times, and lacks depth everywhere. There is no purpose in the scenes except “That happened next” or “that had to happen because…”. In isolation, there are some fragments which are powerful, barely sufficient in number to keep me writing. But on the whole, my stories story aren’t stories. They’re recounts, pieces that catch your interest at times and lose you for the rest.

You see, I thought Pantsing had given me freedom, and that it was a good thing. What I didn’t realise is that it was teaching me I could write for the sake of writing. I was very, very wrong.

I mean. When was the last time you just scribbled on a piece of paper?

8

You have to, have to, have to have something to say.

Enter F, a good friend of mine 9. She came along when I was freely handing out the advice that all you had to do to make a story is to know what happens next. Right? After all, that’s how I wrote, and it was working. But here’s an exercise. List a hundred things that happened between the start of the paragraph and the end. List a thousand. List a million. Say “atoms vibrated” or “photons reached their eyes” and cover an uncountable number of events in a few words. Did the author write about them? No. Why not?

F taught me something invaluable, I should have learned in English class: writing has a purpose.

Please, don’t run away yet! If you’re one of those people who “writes for fun” or “writes for self-exploration” you should be agreeing with me here10, 11. This doesn’t mean that you’re writing the kind of boring literature people study and say is amazing12. This doesn’t mean you have to plot your work and plan every detail and symbol to the electron. No, for the people who don’t realise that writing has a purpose, that’s likely because you’ve already found yours. That’s why you’re not looking for it. You’ve found it already.

Oh, look, this is a prime example of me pantsing away at a post. I don’t want to edit now. I was writing with a purpose, and something else came to mind so I shifted focus. Can you find the shift? (Note: I did end up editing it, so the shift won’t be so obvious now.)

So: Pantsing didn’t work because I forgot why I was writing.

Plotting provides a framework for constantly re-focusing yourself. Consider this line from The Curse of Healing:

God wasn’t going to bring her back, because he was the one who struck her down. Why would he do this to her, to me?
Conveyed message: fairness of life is really important to this story.

At first the story was to be a hyperbolic commentary on the impacts of fame; thus, David (the narrator) was supposed to be very quiet and reserved. The first four thousand words showed no hint of this. Technically, this information can be contained in a single sentence, but the more information you have, the greater picture you have. Since a story is simply a clear and compelling illustration of a point, giving yourself more information gives you a framework for constructing a pointier point. Remember: Sharper knives cut cleaner.

But there’s another big limitation pantsing has:

My brain isn’t big enough to remember what I’ve already written.

In order to know what else should happen in a story, you have to know what has happened in the story, since the two inextricably link together to form the greater picture. A simple solution is recording all important details in the story, but quickly you’ll find each detail you record makes a prediction about the future of the story. For example:

And then there is this pull — this mind that I can reach, when I can reach no other, I reach towards it, but there is simply a wall. But there is a mind, somewhere, ever so faint and distant, but a mind, a bright and shining mind. And now I know I have to escape because this mind is calling for help.
Note: Vanessa is driven to aid a distant, unknown mind

This note makes at least two promises: Vanessa will try to escape, and Vanessa will try to help this mind. This should have been simple, but fifteen thousand words in, her drive is gone. Thirty thousand words in, you’d forget that she ever did anything about it13. Clearly – twice over, now – writing purely by the seat of my pants doesn’t work for me.

(Please note: Neither of these will pertain to every story or every writer.)

The Experiments

#0 – Dragon Hunter

#1 – The Touch of Life

Since last year, I’ve been trying with little success to make progress on Novel, largely because I was struggling to keep in mind why and what I was writing. My biggest struggle was with my characters, who I’d never really fleshed out in the first place. This was touched on above. However, I found that if I read over what I’d already written, it was significantly easier to re-construct in my mind the personalities of my characters. This made it clear to me I needed some sort of framework to keep the relevant information more front-of-mind.

Because at this point Novel was becoming a mess, I started something new.

The Touch of Life aimed to lessen the responsibility placed on my memory by bringing the writing of interdependent points in the past, future, and present as close to each other as possible. My plan was to start by writing a brief introductory overview, following which I would write all the scenes that provided backstory to that overview, and then all the scenes that they provided backstory to14. Ideally, every scene would be positioned as close to the most pertinent other scene from its past and its future.

Very quickly I discovered I was writing faster and more fluently than any of my chronologically-written works, I found the freedom to re-iterate scenes that had already happened from a different point of view to tease out a different detail. I was free to write those scenes that I pictured in the future, and their proximity to each other really did help. This worked unbelievably well, but with no top-down view, it grew chaotic and difficult to keep track of. At this point, my dilemma was whether to start something new or to take some time to extract a plot from what I’d already written.

Naturally, I started something new15.

#2 – The Ghost Sisters

It took me a bit to know what to do with The Ghost Sisters. Firstly I just wrote, trying to see where my mind would take me. 2,000 words in, I was ready to get serious. First I tried Scapple, but with hardly anything to start with, the blank page was overwhelming. But then I opened Scrivener, and I knew what to do.

I’ve tried this strategy before, with The Curse of Healing, and I’m not sure why it was a total disaster. (This was touched on above.) In spite of that, I knew it would work this time, because of what I’d learned from The Touch of Life. Firstly, every scene I plotted had to be a turning point; if it wasn’t a turning point, it just became interesting backstory that would only possibly come to bear on the resulting storyline. See this brief description for chapter 2:

Sculley’s misbehaving becomes more pointed, leading to sever ties with Catherine.
Catherine never actually betrayed Sculley, it just felt like it.

Although brief, this leaves a magical faraway-tree-forest of ideas in my mind, plenty enough to know exactly how the three scenes in this chapter should go16. But why is this different to The Curse of Healing? Well, here’s a chapter description from TCoH:

“They won’t let me go to school until my head stops hurting”
That evening, with Hannah

TCoH’s scenes are outlined as just the next thing happening to the MC. This isn’t bad, it’s just not what I needed. See, I don’t read that description and think “this conversation must focus on David’s fear of attention”, because it’s not framed as the most important thing here; instead, I just write a conversation, which more often than not will miss the point. The plan for The Ghost Sisters, however, focuses on the root of the problem, detailing what’s going on in Sculley’s mind. This allows me plenty of freedom to decide what happens, while taking the care of what I most often can’t – the why of what happens.

However, this is a new project, and I don’t know when its growing pains are going to show. All I know is that this framework is already making things easier for me, and I hope they will continue to in the future.


A P.S. for you

It’s important to realise that there’s a point to plotting. Because it’s simply a framework to assist with the weaknesses that plague some peoples’ pantsing, there’s nothing scary about it. It won’t work for everyone the same way because everyone thinks differently, and everyone needs a different supporting structure for writing. Some people don’t need any at all.

I’m hoping to find time to write another post focusing on how my writing has grown over the years, and another one focusing on the fact that writing has a purpose. Of course, I’ll have uni to do, so maybe I’ll talk about that. But for now?

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Sunset!!

Good luck, and have fun!! 😉
~TheSquirrelScribe

Jump to comments?

1. hence, the imperative
2. ~6 hours
3. mostly as their go-to native-english-speaking editor
4. It’s not actually called that. I just take more sunset photos there than ten times everywhere else combined.
5. They had cookies, so why wouldn’t I?
6. Actually, after searching through some ancient files, this isn’t quite true. In 2012, I’d attempted to outline the characters in three vague sentences each, given a paragraph overview of the entire story, and then essentially started writing a summary as the plan. It covered the first five thousands words in 900. 2010, my first NaNo, had a plan similarly pitiful (but daring by 2014 standards). But by my standards, none of them quite qualify as a plot, and I certainly didn’t know what I was doing.
7. or, fortunately?
8. I’ve actually forgotten what this was supposed to mean, but I liked it so I left it there
9. who, along with every other friend of mine I don’t talk to enough
10. If, however, you never intend to re-read what you’ve written, and don’t care about anything, there’s no reason I can see for you to plot. Feel free to either read on, or wait for my next post.
11. “For” indicates purpose!
12. for some undecipherable reason
13. Or the fact that there was a very significant pack of wolves supposed to be chasing her.
14. Curious note: all of these scenes, only partially by design, seemed to be turning points in relationships between the main character and another character, or a certain environment.
15. You know that play is the best way to learn? It’s really hard to play with something established, just saying.
16. 1: misbehaving becomes more pointed; 2: Sculley sever ties with Catherine; 3: Sculley refuses to forgive Catherine even when Catherine tries to prove her friendship
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Throwing cheese to the glory of God

There is more than one way of celebrating God’s goodness.

In certain parts of the world, one of the marks of an abundant harvest is an excess of goat’s milk, which, as per their custom, they convert most of into cheese. Continue reading “Throwing cheese to the glory of God”

#ohNo!vember

So it’s 9:36 pm and I’m realising that it’s October 31st. Earlier today I was out rollerblading and had the nice surprise that there were actually people on the street for once! (So that’s when Halloween is supposed to be!) And just now, on my way to sleep, I realise that:

a) I have not posted on my blog in yonks.

b) Tomorrow is the first day of NaNo. And I’m completely unprepared. And I have a write in at 11 am. 

b.2) This is my first year participating in the adult NaNo and I have to go for 50k and last November I only made it to 20…

Continue reading “#ohNo!vember”

A Song

Because everything has a purpose. Sometimes the purpose isn’t important enough. Sometimes that’s because it’s overshadowed by a greater purpose that needs discovering, and sometimes letters are only half-sent. Sometimes you have to look closer at the details. Sometimes they’re the only important things, and must be viewed in isolation. But in the end, the purpose is always one and the same. And sometimes, things need to be passed on.

I’ll see if you can work it out.

~Squirrel

Continue reading “A Song”

🎶 *sings* Not A Writing Post!! 🎶

Did I ever make a spiel ((I feel like that should be spelled “schpiel“)) about why, when I started this blog, I called it Reality Crisis? Well, there were two main reasons. One: My current project at the time was a series titled Digital Conflict, of which The first book is titled Facing the Reality, the second is titled The Grim Reality – it’s set in a digital reality and neither book is good; the second because it’s not finished and the first because it’s just bad. (And there are more books in the series.)) And then there’s another thing – my favourite subject in high school was physics, and I kinda wanted to write about that (and math) too. That’s why the tagline is “Is this a writing blog?” Because before the first post, I didn’t actually know. And I still don’t know.

Because this is actually a post about songwriting.

Continue reading “🎶 *sings* Not A Writing Post!! 🎶”

Excerpt 21/5/18: Novel

“Want to see some magic?” I whisper.

Isobell clutches my hands and nods her head in a frantic yes.

As she watches, I pick a leaf and close my eyes. I see the web of the magic glow, feel its gentle tremble on my fingertips. I see where the thin lines of magic run across the blade of the grass. I lift. I thread. When I open them again the blade of grass is resting in a loose knot.

“How did you do that?”

“Come with me.”

Continue reading “Excerpt 21/5/18: Novel”

Naming Fictional Places (Names: Part 1)

What’s in a name? When there are thousands of names out there (and thousands more waiting to be invented) how do you choose one? How will it impact your story? What meaning will it carry to the reader?

Naming things isn’t hard. I named my violin Sasha and piano Eleanor through a spur-of-the-moment whim – it sounded nice. If you feel the need, you can just use an online random name generator. But names aren’t always that easy, right? Most of you would have – at least once in your life – had a character named Whatshisname, or worse, just Character X, because nothing seems to fit. I’ve done both. So, how do you come up with a name, and not just a name, a perfect name?

In this post, I’ll look at how places get their names, both in fiction and out of fiction, and suggest a few strategies for coming up with place names of your own. Continue reading “Naming Fictional Places (Names: Part 1)”

Excerpt 26/4/18: Novel

Hey everyone! I’m currently working on a series of posts about names, and hopefully I’ll finish the first post soon. But for now, I’d like to leave you with a scene from my current novel, Novel. It’s a post-apocalyptic fantasy set in 12th century England and has taken a lot of research, and there is still more to do. However, it’s been almost as fun to work on as Dragon Hunter, and I’m learning a lot of cool things.

So, a bit of background to start you off. Vanessa (the main character) was thrown out of her village and left to die at the start of the story. Currently she is going by the name “Rachel” to hide her true identity. She’s been captured by the Warriors of Light but is not being held prisoner, rather she has been given a room and offered a new home. What follows commences shortly after she has been left alone in her room.

This is a full 1177 word scene, and I hope you enjoy! 🙂


My room is large but somehow cosy, with everything fit in tightly. Everything has a purpose. It’s perfect, but too perfect; the four posters of the bed the wardrobe I could fit the mattress in, to the ensuite and its polished tiles. Such riches that I could never have dreamed of at home. Continue reading “Excerpt 26/4/18: Novel”