People write in lots of different ways. Generally these can be described as ‘freefall’ writers (called ‘pantsers’ as in ‘seat of your pants’ in the NaNoWriMo crowd) and outliners or plotters. For the most part I’ve been a plotter — which is suitable since I mostly write genre fiction — science fiction and mysteries where plot is essential to hold the whole thing together. But I’ve also been a bit of a freefall writer in my time — which was required to win the 3-day novel writing competition. I had a vague idea of what the novel would look like but for the most part, I just sat down and wrote.
So lately I’ve been experimenting with a new approach that combines the two. In part it’s inspired by these ten minute sessions and in part by a lack of concentrated writing time. I come up with an idea — usually a main character, a setting, and the main character’s central problem. Then I sit down and write the opening scene. Sometimes it is only a few hundred words, sometimes as much as a thousand. I do it without worrying too much about how it contributes to the overall story. I just let the ideas play around in my head and the words come out.
Then I stop and set it aside for a while. This gives me time to think about the story, figure out what plot points will best serve the theme. Before I go back to the writing, I’ll draft an outline. Essentially I wind up with a rough 3-act structure (if that seems to serve the story) and a scene by scene description of the events, leading to a possible satisfying conclusion.
From there I simply start to write. Since I haven’t spent too much time on world building — I only research enough or plan enough to create a surface consistency and avoid glaring logic errors — I get to discover elements of the world as I go along. Even the physical descriptions of characters or, in some cases, alien races, are all invented on the fly. Plot points emerge and are either pursued or discarded.
Eventually, I finish the story. Because I have no preconceptions, I really don’t know how long the story needs to be or even what belongs or doesn’t belong until I reach the end.
What I’ve discovered is that my stories have gotten much longer. Whereas when I was a strict plotter, they ran 4000 or 5000 words now they finish at 7000 to (most recently) 11000. They are, frankly, a bloated mess. But the material inside them is deeper, more imaginative and, in many ways, more satisfying.
Then the process of fixing them begins. Trimming extra words, correcting plot inconsistencies, reducing complex descriptions to the telling detail. All of this helps push the iceberg underwater and create a story with just the right words to tell it.
I can’t tell if it’s working yet. I’ve only been trying this for the last few stories I’ve written. But I’m liking the process and I’m getting to use the skills I’ve developed editing other people’s work on my own writing. And that’s a good thing.
But that’s ten minutes.