I’ve written a number of posts on the various techniques available to a writer, here I’m going to discuss my own. What works for me. Not that I hold this up as an example for others to follow, if you know another way I strongly suggest you use it.
I am by nature (somewhat unsurprisingly) a moody writer. When I have an idea for a story, the approach I take to writing on any given day will depend on my mood. I don't mix techniques, I veer wildly from one to the other, often in the same story.
Some days I feel structured and exact and the whole plotline will unfold before me (maybe for the whole story, maybe just for a scene) so I only need to jot down the plot points in short sentences and I have a solid outline to work from.
Mr Man goes to store. Why? He’s hungry. Why Isn’t there any food in the house (come up with reason). He gets his favourite morning snack (which is what? What does it tell us about him?). As he pays for it at the counter a car smashes through the storefront window...
That’s roughly the kind of thing. I won’t care too much about the specifics of what happens or how it happens, mainly it’ll be a bunch of motivations and reasons. This leads to this, leads to that. If it all links in a causal flow I can move from scene to scene very smoothly and quickly.
On another day I may feel more inspired to write a whole scene and it will come out fully formed in a torrent. Mr Man might be hungry because of dramatic events the night before and he forgot to eat, he searches through the house driven by a cancerous hunger growing inside him, he can’t even remember the last time he ate, was it Tuesday? He finds money in a sock stuffed in a sneaker and bowls down the road eyeing a kid with an ice lolly and has to shove down the temptation to snatch it off him. He makes it to the store and is about to grab a large bag of the unhealthiest snack in the gaudiest packaging when a car comes smashing in...
But there’s a problem with each of these approaches. It’s not the same problem, but they manifest in the same way—I can only see them weeks later when I come to rewrite.
With the outline method it’s east to get blinkered by the rigid nature of having everything signposted for me. You go from point to point like markers in a cross-country race and although it’s great to get to the finish line, you can miss a lot of opportunities for a better story as you convert the outline into a manuscript.
With the winging it method it all flows so effortlessly and feels the right way to go as you're writing, but often the momentum can carry you into being indulgent or predictable. People make the obvious choices and dwell on irrelevant things. And what makes sense in your head as you write may not feel joined up on the page.
As I mentioned, this is not an insurmountable problem. After a few weeks the problems will become apparent and can be addressed. But since I am aware of the likelihood of these problems surfacing (from bitter experience and an understanding of my own weaknesses) I don’t wait for those weeks to pass, I correct for them now.
When writing to an outline, I rush through the first draft sticking to the plot points on the page. I could take a little more time and be creative, but I know from experience how much my writing changes in rewrites (a lot) and there’s no point pasting up wallpaper when there’s a good chance you’ll be knocking down the wall.
Then, when I have a first draft that makes good sense but reads terribly (it may not seem all that terrrible at the time, but I know it won't be anwhere good enough when I look at it again in a few weeks time so I just assume it needs to be better), I go to the first part and think: how can I make this more interesting, what would make it fun to tell someone about? By fun I mean attention grabbing, horrifying, exciting, in some way get a reaction. And I work on the scene until it has something in it that will catch the reader by surprise.
Now, it may be that I come up with something that doesn’t fit in with how I initially planned the rest of the scene (or the whole story) but that’s okay. I consider that a good thing (even though it means more work) and will either redo the outline or wing it (depending on my mood).
With the wing it method I go with the flow wherever that might take me. And then I will outline it. That may seem redundant, to outline a scene/story after you’ve written it. But it’s pretty easy to do (you already have the details in front of you) and it’s much easier to see if a story makes sense, if the way it develops is interconnected, when you have it broken down into easy to read bits.
When you write without pre-thinking, the logic in your own head isn’t always easy to follow for someone who isn’t you, and that’s now easier to spot. Also, those three pages on the seductive power of a Snickers bar becomes easier to judge as appropriate or not when seen in the context of the other story events. Then I can cut and edit (mostly cut) as I see fit.
Either way it's rather a pessimistic approach, I automatically consider the story doesn't say what I want it to say, in the way I want it to say it, even though part of me is squeaking away in the back of my head that it's fine, it sort of works, people will get what I mean, kind of. Most peopel talk about the voice that tells them they're writing isn't good enough. Mine tells me everything's okay, go have a sandwich and watch the telly. He's fooled me many a time.
I’m not sure if anyone writes like this, or indeed whether they should, my approach isn’t very consistent and depending on the route I take, the end result, even if it’s about the same premise, will come out very different. But knowing myself as a writer and knowing the pitfalls inherent in the ways I write, means it doesn’t matter which path I take, I can correct myself as I go. When I'm not eating a sandwich or watching the telly, that is.
Do you have any idiosyncratic methods to your madness?