Friday, 3 February 2012

What Duvet Covers Have To Do With Writing

Changing the duvet cover yesterday led to the same old argument as to the best method - I'm a 'feed the ends in, hold tight, then shake it down' person, my other half is an 'inside out and flip it over' afficionado. It struck me this is a little like writing a novel. Do you plan extensively, or simply go with the flow?

Each method has staunch supporters. I once read an article about Ken Follett that said each novel started with a full synopsis - full being about 300 pages. Stephen King, on the other hand says that he sets out with an idea and sees where it leads him. I'm somewhere in the middle. I like to know a few key moments that I can aim for - woman falls in love, woman falls out of love, for example - but the how and the why and the what are all mysteries to be solved along the way.

I've only once tried fully planning a novel, and the result was that, although I loved all the planning and plotting, I never actually wrote it up. It lurks in all its colour coded wonder at the back of the writing cupboard, having absorbed all my writing inspiration into its perfect plan. For me, extensive planning was a substitute for actually writing a novel.

Other authors can't imagine embarking on writing a story, let alone a novel, without having it plotted out in great detail. I remember when I was speaking at my first writing conference and talking about my non-plotting approach, immensely successful romantic novelist Kate Walker - who was also on the panel - was amazed with my levels of re-writing. She didn't have time for all that faffing around, she was too busy with the story telling.

My method does take time, but there you are - it's my method and so far it seems to be working out. In the end, it doesn't really matter how you change the duvet cover, so long as the bed gets made.


Philip C James said...

Duvets, the more the better, are on everyone and everone's minds during this cold snap so a very topical choice of metaphor, Sarah.

I'm finding the minimum I need to do when allowing the words to flow is to plan the characters and note their roles, looks, personalities and last but not least, names!

I find naming characters is so hard but necessary to avoid too many XXXXX, YYYYY and ZZZZZ placeholders littering the text!

Think I'll write a short story about QQQQQ who after growing up realises his fate is to be a minor comic character in a spy novel...

Giles Diggle said...

I start with a character in a landscape and a vague notion of a plot.I watch what they do, who they meet, how they react and where they go. I tell their story to myself, finding it as I go. A nervy experience sometimes. I then sort things out in the second & third draft.

But as you say, we're all different. As soon as I try to plan, I abandon it after four bullet points and start to write. Discovery comes that way. What is important is to recognise the shape of the novel amongst all the drafting.

Victoria said...

How does compiling a 300-page 'full synopsis' differ from writing a first draft? Or am I missing something?

Sally Zigmond said...

Victoria: I'll be interested to hear how Sarah answers your question. My take on it is that a first draft is a mess where you throw ideas down--not necessarily in the right order--and get the vague shape of the finished novel so you can chip away or add accordingly in subsequent drafts. That's how I work.

A 'full synopsis' (not the same thing as a submission synopsis, by the way) is clear on plot line and motivation and the events are in the right order with all the ups and downs planned meticulously.

I suppose it's the difference between a crude lump of stone before the sculptor gets out his hammer and chisel and an architect's accurate blueprint which the builder follows exactly and does not deviate.

Victoria said...

Thanks, Sally. That's quite revealing. I wonder what mental gyrations the schematic Follett-type writers perform if/when their characters start to flex their muscles and wander off-piste?

Sarah Duncan said...

Phil - as I have a cold, duvets are much on my mind. I find naming characters hard too. I always end up changing them, but you need to call them something to get it written.

Giles - your way of working sounds not dissimilar to mine, except I don't even have a landscape to work with.

Victoria - I can't speak for Ken Follett, the info came from an interview with him, but as I understand it his finished novels are about 600 pages, so the full synopsis is pretty much as Sally describes - having worked everything down in incredible detail he just fleshes it out a bit.

Sally - thanks for putting up the explanation of a full synopsis so succinctly, you said it so much better than I would have done.