Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Getting Ahead of Myself?

Here's a question for the other writers who frequent ::Acquired Taste - how far ahead are you thinking when you're writing? Are you a chess player, computing every permutation for an endgame thirty moves hence? Or do you fly by the seat of your pants, a spendthrift who has no idea where tomorrow's prose is coming from?

The question occurs to me as I reflect on my own writing processes - something I do rather more since I've started this blog. I'm only about a day ahead of myself at the moment - so when I went to bed last night, I knew what today's scene would look like, but not tomorrow's. I know plenty of scenes further down the road, but that's no help if I can't fill in the intermediate scenes to get there.

Ideally I'd like to be about a week ahead. As things stand, I'm only one day from running out of material (which came perilously close to happening last week). Like Scheherezade, I'm having to come up with a new story every day. I know that tomorrow I need a filler scene, because I've planted a plot loop which will take a couple of days (in the story) to ripen. So I must fill the protagonist's time for those two days. I've done it by arranging for the protagonist to visit his grandmother. That's fine - I already see the cantankerous old bat in my head; but on redrafting I'll need to retro-insert her earlier in the story, so that the reader's first inkling that this spiteful old matriarch exists isn't after 40,000 words.

What about the rest of you? Do you find yourselves improvising your way out of holes? Or do you all plan better than me?


David Isaak said...

When I start, it's very much EL Doctorow's situation of driving at night and only being able to see as far ahead as your headlights.

But the deeper I get into a book the more possible scenes start popping into my head, and by the time I'm about a third of the way in I have some pivotal situations/scenes that I driving towards. Problem is, I don't know what's in between my current position and those scenes.

It reminds me of wilderness hiking when you get to the top of a high mountain. You can see all the other mountaintops you're hiking towards, but you can't see the valleys between, and, because of the trees, you can't even see the path down the mountain.

When you need two unrelated metaphors to describe something, you're in big trouble.

Len Tyler said...

An interesting question. My first two attempts at novel writing were based on the theory that the book should be as much a voyage into the unknown as it was for the reader. I'd begin a sentence (let alone a chapter) with no clear idea how it was going to end, just letting the stream of consciousness flow. Neither novel got published.

More recently I've planned ahead. I write the ending fairly early on, so I know what I'm working towards. In terms of publishability, this seems to work better.

Of course that doesn't mean I have planned every word. I am currently trying to bridge a 5,000 word gap between where my current manuscript has got to and where it needs to go.

It's interesting, Tim, about your character's visit to his grandmother. My solution to an awkward gap is often to send some of my characters on a road trip. At least you get to describe the scenary ....

Neil said...

Hi, Tim.

This varies for me. With novels, the details, I make 'em all up as I go along. Usually I have an end in sight. At the moment I have two books I'm about a third of the way into, one of which I absolutely know the last couple of chapters of and could write them. In fact I may just do that as I'm stuck in the quagmire of the end of the first part. The second I don't have an ending for, but I know it will be a much easier book to write. I could probably bash out the first draft in a few weeks of full-time work, if I didn't have an actual job. For short stories, I often write and see what comes out, and rarely revise. Which is strange as quite a few of them seem better plotted than my longer work.

Tim Stretton said...

"I could probably bash out the first draft in a few weeks of full-time work, if I didn't have an actual job."

Ain't that the truth, Neil...