Snowflaking

The Snowflake Method is Randy Ingermanson’s brainchild of plotting out stories in very particular detail.

I would say I’m a Pantser, but I don’t think that fully covers the depth to which I imagine my stories before writing them. I percolate information for months leading up to most of the actual writing; scenes are imagined and noted, sub-plots are considered, the lives of the characters outside of the specified story are thought through.

But there’s a lot to be said for being a Plotter, too. I’m definitely not all Plotter, just because I don’t put it all down in nice, neat rows. But the idea is appealing. Some kind of romantic notion about having it all worked out beforehand, you know? Just watch me never do that in my life – but I’ll muse over it all the same.

This Snowflake Method seems promising, to a degree. For the sake of curiosity, I broke down a completed story into the pieces which Randy directs. The single line summary, the paragraph, the character explorations. It worked out alright, though I quit when it got to the longer steps simply because I’ve already written this novel, and if I’m spending that kind of time working, it’ll be on another edit.

What about other stories? I’m only halfway through writing the first draft of SL, and while I have a good idea of where it’s going, there are still scenes missing from my process, ones which I’ll make up on the fly. Could I break this one down and try Snowflaking it? I’m interested in giving it a try.

If I did use a method for these books, how would I then adapt it to suit the over-arcing story? Do I make a wider view Snowflake, encompassing the end plot? Or do I line up the individual notes, one after the other? Maybe by this stage, I won’t do any of the complicated layers for the existing works, and just try building the next few books with this kind of method in mind. It really does seem promising, and a good way to keep an even flow of a long-term series.

Better yet, I can more than easily do all the steps in my favourite novel writing software, yWriter. It appears set up in a pretty similar format, so the important parts should all slot in nicely.

I like the idea of order, I really do. I just live in a natural state of chaos.

~A

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A little healthy comparison

As artists, there are a lot of reasons why we should never compare our work to everyone else’s. Every person has a unique take, and every creation we bring forth will reflect what is ultimately incomparable.

But I feel like some writers take that notion too far. Instead of holding up their work beside another and seeing where they could strive for improvement, many of them declare their piece finished with no greater judgement. They don’t assess what makes a story good, so they can’t apply that knowledge to their own creation.

We’ve all heard the stories. A writer who’s rejected by every agent and publishing house turns around and says they all missed out on something great. They drop a pile of money on self-publishing, only to prove they had been submitting an unpolished draft. No wonder it wasn’t picked up; the story wasn’t ready for publication.

Instead of being really honest and hard on themselves, these people abandoned reason in a glorious spray of egotism. They might’ve had a real chance at traditional publishing if they’d only been willing to compare and see why their story wasn’t up to snuff.

Criticisms of certain popular teen romance novels are only damaging this mentality more. “If that crap got published, I can too!” Simple fact is, most big books have a specific audience and appeal, and had a professional, experienced editor make it into a very readable piece. The writing is intentionally simpler for the younger market. Hate it all you like, there are no outrageous, book-breaking errors in the vast majority of traditionally published works in the YA range.

As with all “rules”, there needs clarification. Don’t compare yourself to others; they will have a different output, a different situation, a different career. They will sell more than you, or less than you. They will have a bigger fanbase than you, or a much smaller, yet more dedicated one than your own. They will have a larger marketing budget, or a smaller one. There will be differences, and you cannot compare yourself to those; they are outside of your control.

But you can compare your technical skill. What makes other books good? What makes you read your favourites? What stands out, what do they do, what don’t they do? Learn. Learn as much as you possibly can about the technical side, and compare your work in the most vicious, heartless way you can. Tear it down. See what emerges from the rubble. Start again, do it right.

There are also stories of people who were rejected by everyone, self-published a very good book, and are now international best sellers. Because they made sure their work could stand up against the other greats.

~A

How do you edit?

With only three chapters remaining until I’ve completed my second draft of TDM, I’m getting that niggling feeling I might be missing something, or going about this all wrong. I don’t know where these thoughts come from! I can’t explain the irrational doubts which enter my mind. I’ll be working away merrily, then BAM. “Do you even know what you’re doing?”. The answer to that is a resounding no, but we can all agree that none of anyone knows what they’re doing, so it’s all okay.

But to sate my curiosity, and my innate need to compare, I thought I’d just put it out there: how do you go about editing a manuscript?

I started out by reading the whole story. At least, I think I did. There’s a very good chance I got half way (or less) through it before I started making changes. I’ve been trying to work methodically, start to finish. At the beginning of a session, I will go back a scene or two and refresh my memory and get into the groove of the story before I edit further.

There have been many instances where I’ve changed something, and had to go back to much earlier in the story to modify something small for accuracy. Or worse, browse through the previous chapters to figure out what I already wrote, sometimes because I just need to verify my own memory, and sometimes because I can’t recall exactly what I changed.

It feels like a whole lot of back-and-forth. Am I doing something wrong? Is this the normal way to edit? Am I just terribly neurotic? (Yes.) Will this all get easier with practice, or am I going to be stuck with this method forever?

I’ve mentioned in another post how I love to collect and save words of wisdom and inspiration (Just half of a fully forgotten memory). One of the gems in my collection comes from INTERN’s NaNoReVisMo (another alternate to InSecDraMo). I can take a lot of comfort in seeing what INTERN deems vital during editing, because I can compare notes and see that I’m doing a whole lot of what she’s mentioned. That’s important! My feelings are being validated! I might almost be on the right track!

But let me know what you get up to when it’s time to polish your story.

~A

Can’t figure it out

Now that things are settling down a bit, I’m left pondering a whole new bag of mysteries. I feel a lot of interest with my novella, M. It’s something I want to write, and in general, I definitely feel like playing the author game at the moment. There’s no sense of “writer’s block”, nothing like that. Nevertheless, this one isn’t coming easily. There’s a lot of dragging and struggling; the words come in bursts, then I don’t know what I’m doing again.

Instead of getting frustrated at the progress, I’ve just adapted. I handwrite as much as I can, and when I’m stuck, I leave it for a bit. Then I transcribe it all into my computer, making whatever necessary minor edits along the way, and find myself hooked back into the story long enough to spurt out another few hundred words – handwritten, so I can follow this same, convoluted pattern next time.

All I can really say is, I’m getting there. I don’t know why it’s so slow going when I’m excited, and happy with the story. I can’t see what’s halting me all the time. Maybe I’m just feeling more easily distracted than I realise.

There’s no foolproof, 100% guaranteed method for anyone. Some people write to a word count, some people write for a time limit, some people are surely getting outside help from the magic realm to write consistently and persistently as a proper, fulltime experience. Plenty of writers that I respect and admire write a hefty chunk a couple of days a week, and don’t even look at their stories at other times. Meanwhile, others would swear black and blue that the only way, the ONLY WAY, is to write every single day without fail.

I rebel against rules, so there’s definitely no single option open to me. I’ll do whatever works this time, and just remind myself to adapt again when it stops working.

And put just a little bit on blame on the other stories in my head that want to be written. Maybe what I really need to do is figure out how to divide my writing time to include work on multiple projects at once… (now wasn’t I just saying I need to do the exact opposite of that?).

~A

Complicated types of taste

I don’t pretend to be very widely read anymore, because there are just SO MANY books out there, and I don’t have the time or inclination to consume them the way many others do. I don’t read books that are outside of my normal tastes very frequently, and even in some genres I only read a specific author. This doesn’t really bother me, though I do try to keep up with what’s new and interesting (or old and interesting!), because I have a certain responsibility to know what my chosen profession is doing, right?

So in my quest to remain somewhat attached to the comings and goings of the writing world, I still read books, and sometimes just for the sake of seeing what all the fuss is about. Occasionally, this means I read a really incredible book that is well worth the time and effort, and sometimes this means I am left in a state of wonderment that there should be anything considered remarkable about a book.

There isn’t a simple way to divide and define these books. What makes a person enjoy one story over another? It can be a case of fantastic characters, epic storytelling, or just a universal concept delivered in an accessible format. Maybe they are believable scenarios, or deep truths, or a subject you’re already passionate about. These traits don’t serve as a defining point, though. There are books that people love with honestly one-dimensional characters, then books that the same people will reject for having that flaw. I know this, because I make frank comparisons in my reading and I see myself doing it.

What makes a problem become a fatal flaw in one work, when it can be overlooked in others? Is it the cumulative quality that actually spurs our decisions, and we just put it down to the first simplified answer we come across? What’s worse, we learn all these rules about writing (that are surely for breaking!) and we appreciate why they are important, yet a book can come along and seemingly disregard all the important things you’ve ever learnt, and still be a good book.

I suppose the quest to understand what makes a story good is one of those endless, unanswerable things. Not just because everyone has their own personal taste, but because sometimes the things we love in one instance are the things we hate at other times. People are uniquely capable of these amazing contradictions. At the end of the day, there probably isn’t an answer at all. Not even to ourselves.

~A

Most obvious observation ever

There isn’t actually a “right” way to write. Even spelling, grammar and punctuation can be massacred for the appropriate reasons. Half of the characters in the Redwall series speak with an accent so heavy, Brian Jacques just made up his own spelling. Stephen King has a short story in Nightmares and Dreamscapes where the mental and physical capacity of a character degenerates to the point that his retelling of events becomes indecipherable gibberish. It’s my favourite story in the collection and never fails to make me cry.

Then there is slang and invented language, which doesn’t have any fair rules to break. It’s true that using slang or modern language will “date” a story, but so does proper terminology. I have been accused far too many times of writing, and also speaking, with archaic words, like they can somehow lose their meaning given enough time? I suppose so, but communication is all shaky ground anyway.

Things like this are the reason why so many people say rules were made to be broken. Because there’s always at least one instance of where a cardinal rule has been so completely disregarded with such amazing skill that you can’t imagine that work being written any other way. If there’s no clearly defined “right” way to throw words at a page, how do we know when we’re doing a good job?

Different people want different things from their reading. Some people like ongoing description that tells you every last thing about a place. I once counted twelve consecutive pages in a book solely of description regarding the landscape and farming in the locale, and absolutely nothing happened in all that time except a lot of info-dumping. This was in a very popular and successful author’s book, too. So some people like it when you’re wordy and droning. Others like sharp, fast-paced writing, where the sentences are short and punchy and there’s no real downtime in the story.

Each genre also has quirks that make a story “suit” the general target audience. Where you might be able to get away with a rushed description of a character in one genre because other things are more important to the story, you could find another genre that practically requires lengthy, gushing language about the people in the book.

So I come back to the question, how do we know when we’re doing it right? Take a look at any top selling books list and you’ll find titles such as The Lord of the Rings, The Da Vinci Code, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Gone With the Wind, The Chronicles of Narnia, And Then There Were None, Black Beauty, Twilight, Harry Potter, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Wheel of Time, Lolita, Discworld, it goes on and on. What do these stories have in common, beside being written works? They are vastly different books with varying degrees of appeal to every individual. They all did something right, but that right thing for each story (or series) was almost unique to itself.

~A