This week, I have been mostly … plotting.

I’ve been sitting here in my artist’s garret this week, plotting. All that I’m missing is a white feline to stroke menacingly. I did escape my lair long enough to go see Quantum of Solace, but that is a whole different blog post. No, this is about plotting of a much less threatening kind.

In my day-time career there is a principle that transfers nicely to my shadow career of writing. In the cycle of software development, the earlier in the design process a problem is detected, or a requirement gathered, then the less costly it is to fix it or implement it. It stands to reason. If you discover towards the end of writing software code that there is a problem — something that wasn’t thought of sooner — then significant chunks of it have to be re-written, interfaces to other systems need to be altered, tests have to be run again, and man-hours spent writing the original code have to be written-off. All this affects the bottom line. That is why successful project managers on large software projects are so fastidious about requirements gathering.

So too in writing. It’s striking to me how many parallels there are between the process of writing software and the process of writing a novel. My first novel taught me the importance of having a sound plot outline before a word of prose is committed to paper (or to hard disk platter). It had to be re-drafted to repair plot deficiencies and that took a lot of my man-hours.

But, a story outline can’t be worked out totally in my head; sometimes a few scenes need to be drafted and played with to get the feel of characters, and how they might interact. There is a parallel in software for this too – it’s called a “prototype”, or a “proof of concept”. It the writing world, I think it’s called NaNoWriMo! Do something quick and dirty to see if it works, or how it works, or what the implications will be. Then take what you’ve discovered and add it to the master design.

With my second novel, I want to start similarly streamlining the writing process (insofar as a creative process can be streamlined!) If I do get to churn out novels for a living, then I’ll need to take on-board what I learnt about writing Broken Evolution and reduce the number of drafts needed to produce a novel, if I can.

So for this reason, I lock myself up in my artist’s garret, and won’t put pen to paper, or come out, until I force myself to draft a working version of the story outline. Will such anti-social behaviour turn me into Ernst Stavro Blofeld? Perhaps. I just hope it won’t be Jesse that I turn out like:

Well, you’ve got to laugh, haven’t you? If I can’t find fun while doing this, there’s no point doing it at all, because it’s improbable I’ll be doing it for the money (although more about that in a later post)!

Fun – that’s another thing I want to inject into this new novel. My new protagonist is going to be a bit of fiesty fun for the reader.

It’s invigorating having a blank creative slate again, after rounds of revising and tightening and editing the same story over and over to make it as refined as possible. A new novel is a fresh playground where I can go anywhere and anything is possible. That’s at the start, at least. Creativity is a process of harnessing inspiration, and slowly circumscribing it with boundaries created by the choices a writer makes.

That’s where a story outline begins – with infinite horizons. It very quickly needs to start having its wings clipped.

Add comment November 21st, 2008


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