Camp NaNo and Pantsing

Today is the midpoint of Camp NaNo, and I thus far give myself a resounding “eh”.  I’m not at the halfway point of what I wanted to write this month, and am likely to fall further behind instead of pushing to catch up.  That may change, but if not I won’t be too disappointed – I’ve still gotten a lot of writing done this month, and a lot of story out.

More importantly, though, I’ve had a Realization.

I’ve never been much of a planner, though I have tried.  It isn’t the thinking up of lots of information beforehand, as that I can do.  It’s not even getting a basic idea of how I want the novel to progress, of plotting it out on a higher level (though I fear detailed planning may be beyond me).  It’s organizing that information that is difficult for me.

I’ve tried lots of different solutions.  A notebook, a wiki, post-it notes, text files, as well as both yWriter and Scrivener’s solutions.  They’ve all had their pluses and minuses, but none has ever been ~*wonderful*~.  Worse, none have helped me tackle at all The Plotting Problem.

I don’t conceptualize a story at one “level”.  I don’t see it chapter by chapter, or scene by scene, not at first.  I can get there, but it takes time, and tracking all the higher-level items.  I may start with “Beginning-Middle-End”, and then break those down to add key events, and then move forward and backwards from there, and then fit those into scenes and chapters, and then re-arrange for balance and such.

And right now, no organizing tool I have does that well.  Scrivener comes closest, but it’s still too rigid.  I can have a folder hierarchy, with text files inside them, and that’s not bad, but still rather rigidly defined in terms of levels and such.  I end up catering my thinking to the tools, and since I am an intuitive/subconscious writer, that can be bad.

Also, this has no notion of sequentiality (apparently, that is not a word, but I like it so it stays).  I can have many files in a folder, but there is no clear “this THEN that THEN this other thing”.  Order, I guess, but then everything has to be in sequence, and maybe I have unorganized thoughts, or supporting files (maps or other references) that aren’t really scenes.

So instead, I say fuck it and write as fast as possible, so that I can keep all my ideas in my head and not forget any.  And it works, sometimes, but it means that I tend to be rather streak-y as a writer.  If I lose the thread, I’ve lost the novel, and that’s bad.

Really bad.

I wish that I had something of a silver-bullet solution here, but I don’t.  The closest that I can describe what I want is:  like an outline (nested items), except without having to focus on/see every level at once, with a stronger ordering to it, along with space for supporting information.

I think that, if I had that, I would be able to better plan out my novels, and better track information.  It would fit my thinking, which is a big plus.  To my knowledge, nothing like that exists, at least not yet.

And, since it’s me, and I’m unusually skilled as both a desktop/UI programmer AND a writer, it means that this is now A Project.  I want to write something that helps me write.  How meta!  And for extra meta, I’m starting with a proof-of-concept for the user interaction/heirarchy organization that will be an improved version of a to-do list, that will help me write the program to help me write.

But enough about me; let’s talk about YOU for a second.  How do you go about organizing the sea of ideas that go into your novels?  I mean this from the character building, world building, and planning/plotting standpoints.

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2 Responses to Camp NaNo and Pantsing

  1. racquelin says:

    As long as I have a theme and a premise (however vague), the characters will develop immediately. It’s almost like a chemical reaction. After that, I might have a general idea of what I want to say (courtesy of the theme), and I’ll dive in and meander my way there. Maybe have a couple particularly cinematic scenes I’ll want to hit that I’ll scribble a summary of, but other than that, no more planning. Too much planning ruins the magic.

    World building depends on how complicated it is. If it’s reasonably earth-like, I won’t pay much attention at all. If I’m building from scratch, like I did with my pantheon series, hours and hours go into sorting out what’s important. I don’t like those super detailed surveys (who cares about economy?) because it’s a lot of fluff. Maybe if the place is poor or racked with inflation, that matters, but generally speaking, your focus is limited to characters who have a Thing that they have to do… and that Thing is not chatting on message boards about foreign politics, you know? I only figure out what’s plot-specific. The rest can fall by the wayside. I also find that if I have too many details, I’m more inclined to pointless drivel and exposition because I want to show off my hard work.

    So I am basically very much a heathen minimalist.

    • cosmato says:

      I\’ve looked at a few of the super-surveys, but there are parts that just don\’t interest me much. Most of the time, it won\’t even make that much of a difference. As I\’m reading more fantasy, though, I\’m seeing that the world can be a rather active character, and I\’m beginning to appreciate how much world-building can add to the story, provided that it shows up correctly.

      I still have trouble planning out what will happen, but it\’s something I\’m at least willing to try, if not in the first draft (where everything is rough) at least in the second and later ones.

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