Wednesday, December 1, 2010


After a few weeks banging out a certified Ingermanson fractally/geometrically-analogous literary snowflake, I've got the nitty-gritties for novel production: character outlines, plot synopses, and a big old honkin' spreadsheet with Acts, Scenes, and Chapters spelled out in concrete, easy-to-perform actionable item reports.

The Koch curve (fractal snowflake).
Yessir, the snowflake method makes it easy to do the writing. I finished the first chapter of my new sci-fi novel (which, sadly, lacks spaceships) in record time, and it's a pretty root-tootin' piece of work. I can feel the bones under the flesh I've tippy-tappied; all that background work really does make for a meaty story.

But it's also kind of killed the inherent desire to write. Once I get underway, sure, it's tons of fun, and it's easy. But since I've "partly" "written" the story - by configuring all its locutions - there's less motivation to actually... do it. Although there is discovery involved, there's considerably less than - y'know - discovery writing when you're working off a snowflake.

I guess it's the difference between programming a computer game and running an executable file.

Of course, I've never been a programmer and I like playing games, so that analogy makes no sense. Still, the problem remains: once you know how the story goes, isn't it, sort of, in your head at least... already told?

On the bright side, this is mostly a problem of motivation for me. Once I get into the story, it's fun. But it's a lot harder to get into, because I look at my spreadsheet, then look at the blank page, and think: "Well... I mean... I mean, uh, yeah."

I guess I'll see how it turns out. At least I know it will flow smoothly to the end with the proper foreshadowing, three acts of tension, tries and fails, character development, crises, and et cetera. Still, there's something to be said for creating a wacky idea and rolling with it - see David Barron for that more mystical approach to writing.

Back to work. Computer? Run file writesciencefictionnovel.exe. Then... run makelotsofmoneyposthaste.exe. So far, so good... wait, what's that? Runtime errors? God damn it...



  1. Yeah, for me I've had to try finding a good balance between planning and discovering for my books. If I plan way too much, I'm usually not very excited to write the story, but if I don't plan at all, I sometimes end up with 28 words on the screen after three hours.
    I also think different types books call for different ratios of planning and discovering... The more "deep" your story is I think a bit more planning is useful, for example. Inversely, I think comedy can kind of fall flat if you plan out too much.

  2. I agree. It's tough finding that balance, and figuring out what works better on the fly.

    The thing I find is that I come up with really fantastic ideas when I discovery write, except that the ideas aren't meshed into a good or cohesive framework. I'm thinking about, at some point, extricating some of those "great ideas" from those "failed novels" of mine and using them in something a little more planned.

  3. I'm about 2/3 of the way through my novel now, with minimal planning. I was hoping to do another novel that would be totally outlined so I could compare how I feel about them, but that's probably going to be pushed back several months at least. I am (mostly) enjoying figuring this one out as I go along, though we've yet to see how it all comes together in the end. My husband, on the other hand, can't work without an outline. In fact, he gets most nervous while outlining because that's when he's really "writing" the story.

  4. In my defense I, like all good mystics, am insane: yet not so insane as to post a strangely addictive animated .GIF. It's like The Ring, but fractal.

  5. Eileen,

    I've greatly enjoyed writing novels with minimal outlining - I did three that way not too long ago. But, alas, they all crashed and burned toward the end for me. One of the issues was "epic scope" and an inability on my part to usher that through to a cognizable conclusion; another was that I just didn't have the arcs in mind nor any real background, so that my characters and plots just sort of flopped around (albeit with enormous robotic explosions and cybernetic undead warriors).

    But, that said, I had a ton of fun writing those stories!

    Good luck with your novel!

  6. David,

    I have this really great book on chaos theory. That's where I first encountered said snowflake/curve. The book must be thirty years out of date at this point; my grandpa had it snuggled away in his cottage for a long time before it came down to me. But I cling to the revelations of thirty-year-old fractal geometry and the Butterfly Effect as though they were the Absolute Truth of the Demiurges.

    In other words, that's not just a .GIF. It's an animated encapsulation of the entire universe.