Tuesday, 7 August 2012

To Plan or Not to Plan, and the Rule of Cool

This post is dedicated to Lisbeth, the first person to comment on my blog without being coerced into it.

After last week’s adventures with the terror that is the Snowflake method, I continued trying to plan the poor story which I subjected to it. As it turns out, without the goal of writing a blog post about it, I have zero motivation to do such detailed, formulaic planning. On the other hand, I feel like I’m doing it wrong if I plan half the novel using the Snowflake method, and the other half in whatever strange way I see fit. Which has left this story at great risk of being abandoned altogether. This leads me to the question: Was it worth sacrificing the idea for research into the Snowflake method?

A lot of people say that if they try to plan a novel, they exhaust the idea, and never start actually writing it. Which is pretty much the current problem with my poor, Snowflaked story. Similarly, a few other stories I’ve planned recently, where I’ve gotten so caught up in the plan, that by the time I’ve finished it, I have no inclination to write the actual novel. I think part of the problem here might be that planning stifles characters – if you plot a character’s every move, they have no space to do anything interesting. It’s especially true if you start planning before you’ve actually got a good idea of your novel or characters – they become a vehicle for plot, which is by far the worst way to destroy a character, in my opinion.

On the other hand, the story I’m having most fun writing at the moment – something ridiculous about insanely talented Mary Sue teenagers at a performing arts boarding school – was not only planned before I wrote it, but the characters were created using a table with insightful headings such as hair colour, height and skill level. I developed the plot basically by listing all the things that might happen in the setting, and then ordering them in the most likely fashion. And it worked. Amazingly well – every time I sit down to write, I consult this handy-dandy list of plot points, and I know exactly what I’m doing. And strangely enough, the characters from that terrible table have personalities, and realistic interactions (and totally unrealistic levels of talent and angst), and my sister is a ridiculously enthusiastic fan. (On the other hand, she has always been a sucker for angsting teenage super-talented pianists.) So the question is: Why did this work, when planning so often has failed me?

My theory is that it’s because when I plan things, usually, I start taking the story too seriously. I start trying to close plot holes, and have a cohesive plot that makes sense, and all those other (very useful) things which detract from making things gratuitously awesome. Rule of Cool always wins. In order to write about the performing arts teenagers, I basically decided they would be ridiculously talented, and then threw every plot point I could at them. And it was fun. I don’t expect it to be brilliant, because it’s gratuitous as, but nonetheless, I can’t deny the effectiveness (so long as you’re not looking to write anything deep and literary) of plotting your story by thinking of awesome things, and writing about them.


  1. On a sidenote: Something tells me you're familiar with the website tvtropes. ^^
    Anyway to the point: I believe every writer has his/her own level of planning that he or she is absolutely fine with. As a comment to your last paragraph I personally don't believe that you necessarily have to plan a lot to write a deep novel or plan little to write a gratuitous one. We all have our own methods of writing.
    I have enjoyed reading your blog so far and do look forward to your future posts.

  2. 'Tis true that when it comes to novel writing, it is very much each-to-their-own. Personally, though, I can't think of anything I've ever planned, not gotten bored of and then subsequently finished. So I have drawn the correllation between planning and boredom. On second thoughts, there may not be causality here...
    Thank you for reading. =)