Thursday, December 8, 2011

Big picture thinking

The second half of this year has been an experiment in big picture thinking.

It started with my discovery of John Truby's The Anatomy of Story. Then I attempted to plan out Project Fun, going so far as a scene-by-scene outline. Now I'm back to work on Project Demo, and once again employing some big picture thinking.

I've worked this way before, but never systematically. You see, I'm a total writer nerd. When faced with an overwhelming life problem, I tend to journal solutions. And I approach my novels the same way. When something isn't working, I find myself thinking, "What if I just wrote it better?" So I rewrite, and rewrite, and rewrite some more. I try to revise a novel by making each line poetic and concise, streamlining description, conveying characters' motivations and personalities more strongly. But some things can't be fixed by better writing. What if a character is acting out of character? What if some plot point just can't happen the way I've described it? Better writing, though it does make my text pretty, won't save my novel. No matter how hard I try.

So lately I've made a scene by scene outline of Project Demo. I've summarized my main character's changing emotions from scene to scene. I've made a list of all the magical elements, from beginning to end. It's time consuming setting up these outlines, but I can do it while watching football. The time-saving part is then working from the outline to figure out what problems lie in the text. Much easier with a line or two than a whole chapter. Plus, I can use the outlines to check overall story arcs, transitions, plot. Only once I have clarified my text's problem, and developed a solution, do I allow myself to rewrite.

Am I saving time? I'm not sure. But the writing feels more systematic and efficient, and less like fumbling around in the dark. Returning to Project Demo, I've discovered the most complex and lengthy novel I've ever written. I do believe in it again, but I think I need to try some new tricks to pull it all together.

What revision techniques do you employ? Or do you somehow manage to hold everything in your head and just write?


  1. So funny--it sounds like more work on the one hand that could make the writing seem less creative, BUT I'm betting it allows you to be more creative in each scene, since you know what you have to do and have all the freedom to do it. I am becoming convinced of detailed outlining myself.

    Best of all, sounds like you're enjoying Project Demo!!

  2. Kiperoo: Exactly! I think for me the creative part comes in thinking about what will happen next, not the actual writing. And I can do the thinking bit whether I'm outlining or writing. And I can do much better writing when I know what I'm doing!

  3. I haven’t figured out the right ‘technique’ for revisions, save putting it away for a bit, having certain Beta readers, and some technical words to be found & replaced sort of stuff. I enjoyed reading about your search for a system that is productive and good for you.

  4. Storing it all in my head, doesn't work for me. I just can't hold that many ideas without leaking.

    Your scene-by-scene plan is what I've done. I haven't examined them with as much precision as you describe, but that's my intention.

    Thanks for opening up about your process again.

  5. Mirka: Honestly, I'm not sure there is a right technique, even for one individual, but we find the things that help us at any given point, for any given book. At the moment outlining is working for me. Give me a few years and I may very well be back to pantsing! ;)

    Bridgette: Yeah, that's what I've found, too. My head just isn't big enough! I find I have to keep forcing myself to step back, ask questions like, what's the point of this scene, and what is this character feeling here? to keep myself focused on that bigger picture.

  6. I'm definitely guilty of this too: trying to fix things by making the writing more flowing, the descriptions more poetic, the rhythm more felicitous. I've also forced characters into situations that work for ME, but are not at all in keeping with their own personalities. When I finally realized I was doing that (with help from beta readers and critique partners), it was painful, but it was also a huge breakthrough.

    Now I constantly ask myself if so-and-so would do such a thing and if so, why? It's hard keeping track of so many characters and how they ought to behave and react, but it's definitely worth it.

  7. Mary: Yes, I find that really hard, too. Like trying too coordinate a big party and making sure everyone is comfortable, enjoying the food, and having a good time. How exciting that that was such a huge breakthrough for you, even if it was a painful one.

  8. I'm a plotter and I re-do parts of the outline before I revise, as well as creating revision notes for myself.

    I'm always wondering about my efficiency.

  9. Medeia: Honestly, I don't think there's any good way to be efficient as a writer. Creativity isn't efficient. But I do often wonder if I could be at least a LITTLE more efficient! I'm anxious to see if this whole plotting thing works on my next book, too.

    I like the idea that you revise your outline before you jump in again. I may have to try that with Project Fun. Thanks!


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.