Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Planning Permission

I plan my novels much like I plan my outfits. Here's roughly how I plan an outfit:

Decide outfit absolutely must consist of these particular earrings or this particular bag. Sigh with relief that I'm off the starting block. Reward self by doing something completely different, carrying around in the back of my mind a fuzzy image of the final outfit with that one clear detail. Realise it's the night before the outfit is needed. Panic. Moan to fellow outfit-planners. Berate self for not planning a shopping trip, or for starting with such a small detail and expecting the entire outfit to effortlessly make sense around it. Panic more. Try on lots of things - take them off and throw them to the ground, wailing that they'd look perfect on someone else but not on me. Sit and sulk. Put on earrings, decide everything is hopeless. Pouting, open wardrobe door one last time - realise outfit has been sitting there all along. Pat self on back for being so clever. Tell self again that planning is for wimps.

And so it was going for my current work-in-progress, because part of the thrill of writing - for me at any rate - is watching the story unfold from my own fingers. Having that element of surprise when you sit down for a writing session - you might know roughly where you are headed, but your own characters can surprise you - is the bit I love. I suppose that's writing like a reader...wanting the thrill of creation without giving up all those things you love about reading a book for the first time. I know I'm not alone in handling my first drafts this way. Sometimes I might buy myself a packet of post-it notes with the intention of creating a wonderfully handy planning wall (I've heard other authors rave about such things). I never open the packet. That's just not me - but you know what? That's okay! It's allowed. Hooray.

On the other hand...ugh, damn that other hand...when you're writing a mystery (a funny kind of teen girl lit mystery with a bit of romance and some issues...mental note: might need to work on that) writing like a reader has to stop suddenly. You can't close your eyes and feel your way through the first draft - you might step on something squishy, or worse still get to the end and find there's No Way Back.

So I had to get strict with myself this weekend and work out exactly who or what is at the centre of this mystery. I was determined to write like a writer; I was also petrified that I wouldn't be able to do it. Took myself out of the house so I could concentrate; ordered a strong coffee and rolled up my sleeves, expecting to wrestle with the mystery all day.

And then I opened my notebook. I flicked back to the original notes I'd made about the book, stunned at how different some of the details are now that I've reached the third-of-the-way mark. And of course there it was: the answer to the mystery. I'd scrawled it down months ago on a page that also says Eggs, Babywipes, Marscapone. I'm pretty sure I forgot the marscapone, too.

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8 comments:

Sasch said...

:-) Love it. And you. xx

CarolineG said...

Oh I can really identify with all of that...although I never magically find the right outfit at the end! I do know what you mean though about answers staring you in the face all along...

sophiabennett said...

Did that for book 3 ... Just finished book 2 (again) and ruminating on how it feels like coming to the end of a great train journey (scenery was good, enjoyed the ride, now sad to be in the station ...). Going from train journeys to outfits was a bit of a wrench, but I prefer your version!

Debs Riccio said...

So true,Emily. When we were told at school (centuries ago) to plan first and then write our essay - I used to leave a gap and put the plan in afterwards - can't do it - characters have minds of their own and they should be free to explore their lovely fictional world - after all, anything REALLY IS possible!

Emmanuella Dekonor said...

Hey! Long time no see. I'm with you on the not-planning stuff. But then failure comes as a complete surprise! Mystery teen lit sounds good.

Emily Gale said...

Hi everyone, thanks for stopping by. Glad my "technique" (ahem, big name for a haphazard process) resonates.

E.

Geraldine Ryan said...

Loved it!

Emily Gale said...

Thanks, Geri :)