Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Writing = Puzzles

I had the pleasure of going on a weekend writer's retreat with my fellow Toronto Romance Writer authors - JK Coi, Leah Braemel, Christing d'Abo and Kimber Chin. Much fun was had, words typed, brains stormed, wine drunk, chocolate consumed...

Over a week later and I'm still reflecting on how different we all worked, how we structure not only our writing time, but how our stories unfold.

While I write this, my son is sitting on the floor doing a puzzle. We usually do them together, me in the lead, so he follows my method: I begin with the four corners, then find all the edge pieces. Once those are in place, I like to sort the pieces by color so that I can quickly identify which part of the puzzle they belong. Then I start filling in the middle.
Left to his own devices, my five year old started from the bottom up.
The bottom up!!
Imagine that. It makes no sense to me, but he's plugging away and by the time I'm finished this post, I'm sure he'll be done.

Back to writing...
My method, what seems to work for me, anyway, is to get the four corners down, so within the rough outline (no, not synopsis... this is more of a mind dump) I identify the hero and heroine, their internal and external conflicts, how it affects them within the framework of the story.
Then I figure out how the hero and heroine meet, a few critical turning points and an ending (or at least a glimmer of an ending). Voila - my frame.
Then I begin - usually with 'Chapter One', but not always! I often write the critical scenes or turning points (the sorting of the colors) then go back and fill in or further flesh out the plot that lead to the critical scenes.

Other writers in the group write in a linear fashion -- from Chapter 1 to The End. Something like what my son is doing with his puzzle (he's finished, btw -- every little Spongebob piece in its perfect place). The beginning to end method makes the most sense, doesn't it? It's logical -- can't argue with that -- but this method doesn't work for me because if I come upon a part I don't know what to do with, I get paralyzed, unable to move past that point. (I know, I know, stubborn like mule.) I feel like I don't have an aim.
I'm strange like this. Y'know how some people go for a walk? "Hey - let's go for a walk, get some fresh air, some exercise."
This isn't me. I need a destination or it seems like a pointless task. Tell me to walk to the mailbox, to the store for a paper, to the closest Tim Hortons for a coffee, and hell ya! The fresh and exercise is a bonus. But just to go for a walk... uh un.
(I get it, btw, why people do, so don't misread this as me being judgemental --It's totally me being strange!!)

What works for you? Are you a corners and border first, a one end to the other, or a grap a piece and see where it fits?


Susan Helene Gottfried said...

I am very intrigued by this parallel you've drawn. I write from point A to point B, and then I figure I'll go back and fix what needs it. Likewise, when I puzzle, I try to do the edges first (we have one with an irregular border set up on the dining room table right now, so no edges first!) and then fill in as I figure out what goes where.

You might be onto something, you know.

Rene said...

Funny, I do puzzles the same way as you, but I am beyond linear when I write. I never, ever, ever, write out of order. Oddly enough, I'm not that linear in anything else. I bounce from one project to the next.

Leah Braemel said...

I'm discovering that every manuscript I write is done in a different manner (maybe that's why I struggle so much each time?)

I used to write completely linearly. Then I did a program that said if you get stuck jump to a scene somewhere else that does speak to you. That worked only so well - if my plot changed along the way, that scene ended up getting trashed.

I'm back to trying to write linearly again.

BUT what I've discovered is that if I don't intimately know my characters - know what they wanted the day before the story starts, and what's stopping them from getting their goal (or what goals they should want but are afraid to reach for, the story won't move at all.

As for puzzles? I'm a borders gal ... work the edge pieces first and then find all the pieces that are basically the same color or design and put them together, then fill in from there. Weird, huh?

Wylie Kinson said...

SHG - a puzzle without borders? I swear to GOD that my heart rate just doubled at the very thought. I couldn't! It breaks all the rules!!!

Leah - but the brainstorming session we did with the stickies... that was like the corner piece, non? That gives you something to aim for?
Interesting that you try a different methodology for each book. I'm sure that one of them will be your magic formula :)

Wylie Kinson said...

Rene - I'd like to know, though, do you plot first? Or do you dive right in and let the story unfold in your mind as it unfolds on the page.

Julia Smith said...

My husband is exactly the same as you about walks, Wylie. We have to be on a mission, or there's no point.

As for writing style, I'm a pantser, so I write from beginning to end as a natural thing. But I've started jumping ahead to an important scene if it's screaming to get out of me. I find this frees me up if I'm not impatiently slogging through to the point I've been waiting and waiting for.

Thomma Lyn said...

Ah, a shop talk post! I've got one up, too. :) Plotster vs. pantster -- well, I used to be 100% pantster, but with this latest novel, I've had to be more of a plotster, and I wrote a long, intricate outline. But now, with the actual writing, I'm pantsting within my plotsting. Har! Mainly because I have very strong-willed characters. But the foundation and structure of the story is intact -- rather, it's the decor of my story my characters are tweaking.

Fascinating analogy to puzzles. I work puzzles much the same way as you do.

H & P!

fast cuber said...

the puzzle i love the most is the rubix cube mainly because i can take it everywhere i go !