Wednesday, 16 November 2011

The Writers Cheatsheet

Peter Halanz developed his Writers Cheatsheet when he was doing NaNoWriMo last year. He put everything he felt he needed to know onto one double sided sheet of A4. It's the distillation of things like The Hero's Journey, or Desmond Morris' 12 steps to intimacy, and is definitely worth downloading, especially as it's free.

My problem is that it's all very well reading lists such as Reaction Order (Cause, Emotional response, Action, Speech) but unless you understand them they remain just that: lists. You can follow the Seven Point System, and you might produce a novel, but it's still a system and novels are about so much more than systems.

Systems and lists are reductive. They make writing into a tick box process. But knowing that, for example, The healing/redemptive power of love, is one of the classic romantic plots won't make it any easier to write. Or, if it gets written, more satisfying to read.

Writing should be a creative process, not something that can be parcelled out in chunks like a time and motion study. I have a horrible feeling that sticking to a plan is a means of controlling the beast that is the novel, instead of letting it roam freely.

Part of the sheer joy of writing, in my opinion, is when one's subconscious pulls the proverbial rabbit from the hat and goes off-piste, or when suddenly a link occurs between two characters or situations, and the whole plot suddenly makes sense, like adding the right bit of the jigsaw puzzle.

Having said all that, I do think that using a ready-made structure such as 3 Act Structure can act as a useful security blanket when starting to write. Knowing the Male and Female Archetypes or the Six Virtues can give you a good place to start with character development. But as all children know, security blankets have to be ditched after a while.

So, use the Cheatsheet, and other systems to get you started. Just don't hang on to them for too long in case they stifle your creativity.


Philip C James said...

Impressive as the Cheat Sheet is, it reminds me of all those process-driven proposals of which the sub-text is, this person/group doesn't know what they're doing, only how they should be doing it.

If they've drawn a flowchart, which they OFTEN do, the boxes are essentially BLACK BOXES, i.e., do they know what goes in the box? Do they have the creativity to flesh them out? I guess that's the difference the reader etc is looking for...

[x] Undertake Procrastination activity

Sarah Duncan said...

It's a bit like jargon as a substitute for thinking I suppose. I once saw someone design a plan for a novel that looked like the wiring plan for a house. Very pretty it was too - but not a word got written.

womagwriter said...

Wow - that cheat sheet looks like an exercise to see how many words can be fitted onto a single side of A4! I have printed it off and will take a look later.

Sarah Duncan said...

LOL! It's fascinating how much is there, like a whole writing library precised.