An interesting factoid about moi:
When I was in film school, my dreams all took place in 4 x 3 aspect ratio, and when the dream lost its narrative track, I'd wind it back on the Moviola and try again.
This is relevant to my thoughts on brainstorming and plotting, below the update.
ROW80 Update For The Day After Mardi Gras
Sunday Day 49 - 60 minutes. Had some great dim sum, went to see Arrietty, played with a desperately bored cat. Uh. Not much else. Got more brainstorming in.
Monday Day 50 - 141 minutes. A little short, but not bad. I did only brainstorming today. An hour on The Man Who Stepped Up, in which I got myself a killer motive, and then an hour and some on Devil in a Blue Bustle, where I have wrestled with the various clue and knowledge threads and have finally woven them together. Casey is unhappy with me because there's not enough shootin'. Not sure how I can please her. I guess I'll just have to work some major shoot outs into A Dark and Dusty Night (a graveyard should be a good place for that). And I may also combine Big Gun for a Little Lady with Girl Gunslinger (the series back story) to give her a shot at some real outlawing. That's a ways off, though.
I also did an hour or so of drawing, on a picture of Leslie Howard. So I may talk about The Scarlet Pimpernel (and possibly The Petrified Forest) for Friday Favorites this week.
Tuesday Day 51 - 62 minutes. I had a disrupted morning, and I have to get up very very early tomorrow (and stay really late at work) so I ended up mostly catching up with some blogging, and eating the wrong food. I did finally finish up the new outline that I started last night for Devil in a Blue Bustle. Lots of tasty morsels ready and waiting for me to get to them.
Brainstorming, Plotting, Pantsing and Writing
A lightbulb might have gone on over my head today. I think I'm using the wrong parts of my brain to do the wrong tasks. And as a result, I may (after 35 years of writing) have figured out something important about the writing/brainstorming mix, and how to manage it.
I'm using the term "brainstorming" loosely here. When you use that word, most people imagine a high-energy think-fest -- with lists and charts and post it notes, or maybe those kinds of exercises where you come up with 100 euphemisms for the word "mouse" before the clock runs out. And yes, I do some of that sometimes. (It can be fun, like a game.)
But the meat and potatoes (or fish and rice, depending on your culture) of my brainstorming is something else: I run the story in my head. As on the above mentioned Moviola, sprockets rattling, images flickering, sound wa-ing and row-ing as the speed changes.... Well, okay, the Moviola and 16mm has faded away, and I'm seeing, feeling and hearing things more in a 3-D VR dream universe. But there are jump cuts and things can go back and forth and repeat.
This happens very very fast. And no, the characters don't talk like chipmunks, because it is almost entirely pre-verbal. Dialog is made up of sounds and body language, not letters, or necessarily even words. In order to write it down, it has to be translated into a verbal realm. At a much higher speed than I can even talk, let alone type.
Trying to write as this is happening would be rather like trying to capture a huge fast-moving battle, as it happens, without warning... in French.
And I tell you frankly that my French is not that good.
The saving grace here is that my brain is wired like a camera/moviola combo, and I can capture and replay this with some reasonable control. I can send back the cast of thousands to their mark, un-part the Red Sea and cue the Egyptian army one more time, and have everybody take a slightly different route so the camera can see them better next time. Maybe focus in on a different part of the crowd. (Eat your heart out Cecil B.)
Even then, it's really hard to write while doing it. It requires a lot of processing power, and still goes fast, and the verbal part of my brain is only allowed sufficient processing power to take some notes. Maybe.
So, when I'm actually writing, I'm only doing a modified version of this, with a story that has to stop and wait for me. The result is that the prose becomes wooden (from trying to keep up with the ideas) and the story is uninspired (because of reining in the process). And I get bored.
At the same time....
Like everyone else, I can't always tell where the big sweep of things should really go, even what the characters should do next, until I've nailed some things down and tasted the prose (i.e. written something in final form).
That Moviola in my head is way too flexible, and the non-verbal story is too nebulous. So if I don't fix something in place, the story is more prone to wander and lose its purpose and form. The way dreams do. (You know, you're on a staircase and you're climbing and climbing and then all of a sudden you're just not? You're in a parking garage and you have no shoes and you can't find your car. And a second ago you were Sherlock Holmes but now you're a ballerina. It's like that.)
So, because of that, it doesn't work so well to do all the plotting and dreaming first, and then do the writing. And it doesn't work at all to try to do them both at the same time, because of what I mentioned above. But when I look back at what I actually do, I wonder if what I have considered to be a lack of self-discipline is really the answer to everything.
Binge and Purge
When I get ready to write a new story, I let it simmer in the back of my head. I do the moviola thing, I also do exercises where I come up with 100 euphemisms for "mouse" - and there comes this point where the idea is ripe. It's not finished, but it is very well developed and there is energy behind it, and then I can start writing.
I know this works well to launch a story, but it never occurred to me to cycle through this repeatedly. To not just build time for brainstorming at the beginning of writing, and maybe do it again after a layoff, but to build it right into the schedule itself. Don't just take a few days off to get back on track, jump right in there and BINGE on it.
This current non-verbal binge is lasting longer than I expected. I'm going to take a gamble and let it run this time. When I fell the need to nail something down, I'll switch into writing mode. I have a feeling that I will soon see a tipping point in this process, and then I'll be writing like a demon. (And then, when I've purged all the story out of my brain, I'll go back to plotting.)
So here's the big epiphany:
Because everybody claims that plotting and planning is so logical and orderly, I'm always doing it when I'm in a verbal/rational state of mind. And because actual writing is supposed to be so "creative" I try to do it when I'm in my mad artistic mode. Silly me. Plotting is irrational, and writing (working with words and grammar) is rational. D'oh!
So from now on (or until I change my mind) I'm going to work on doing the right thing at the right time. Let Og the Artist do the planning and plotting, and Miss Smartypants do the writing.
See you in the funny papers.