I am still writing fanfiction, and up until Sunday, was working on a fan fiction piece for Camp NaNoWriMo, which is a month-long writing challenge. You can set your own goal unlike the main NaNoWriMo, which happens in November. I decided on 62,000 words because July has thirty-one days, so that came to 2,000 words per day. I ended the month with 64,414 so that was a success! I never have problems getting much higher word counts in November, but Camps — well, I tend to “lose” them more than win (though, I do hold with the philosophy that the only true loss is not writing at all, so I still consider my other Camps wins). I also usually do editing/revision, but even the times I’ve done new fiction, I tend not to have the same level of motivation in July that I have in November, and I also tend not to set aside as much non-writing stuff as I do in November (such as cooking — I do a lot of food prep/freezing in October, but not June — and work — I often take off several days in November for extra writing time). Anyway, very happy with the success, even though the story is not done. It actually is probably going to end up being split, too, so I guess I finished one and started the next – I am just to Scene 16, and very much near the beginning.
Optional Monthly Question
August 4 question – What is your favorite writing craft book? Think of a book that every time you read it you learn something or you are inspired to write or try the new technique. And why?
I don’t actually have a book like that. I tend not to reread my fiction writing books, and lately, haven’t even finished them. I spend more time on Holly Lisle’s writing classes, and review them a lot, so probably the most useful of those is How To Revise Your Novel, which is a huge class and really, really hard, but so many of my epitomes in writing have come from that class, such as finally understanding, what, exactly, a subplot is. It is so obvious now that I don’t know why other explanations didn’t work, but they didn’t.
The Snowball Method
What I really want to talk about today, though, is a new understanding of my own planning/first draft writing practice, which came to me last week. I realized that I could call my approach the Snowball Method.
I wasn’t deliberately trying to compare it to the Snowflake Method, which is a very well-known plotting method, but once I came up with the term, I realized how well it fits.
The idea is that you start with just a small ball of snow, pack it into a small snowball, and then send it down the mountain where it develops momentum and becomes huge, or, in the case of novel-writing, a whole, complete novel.
So, first, you need the mountain. That, to me, is the setting. I need to build up the setting before I begin. I need to know how the world works. What things people normally do in the world. This can involve research if I am working in the real world, as well as an understanding of how magic and fantasy creatures behave if there is any type of fantastical element.
Next, you need the snow. The snow, in my conception, is the characters. This typically involves the protagonist, the antagonist, and maybe one or two other characters. In mystery novels, I typically don’t like to know who really did it, so “antagonist” ends up being at least five different people. The victim counts as an antagonist because they have the answers that the detective needs, and then I develop at least four different suspects. I give all four (or more) the means, motive, and opportunity for killing the victim. So, for a mystery, I usually have one protagonist (the detective), plus the victim, plus at least four suspects.
Once you have a snowy mountain, then, you need to do some shaping. This can be as minimal as just starting your first scene, or it can be more detailed. I often put up occasional sign posts to pass – major events that I know I want to happen. Sometimes I plan in more detail, so it ends up looking more like a slalom course. For some time now, I have realized that it is pointless for me to outline the second half of the book in much detail because by the time it gets to that point, none of my plans are at all relevant, and I am too lazy to rework my outline, as some writers do.
I do do a fair amount of planning-as-I go. I use the scene template from another Holly Lisle class: How to Write A Novel, which is extremely useful for scene planning. She recommends planning about 3-5 scenes in advance, but I usually end up with more like 1-3. I find that the further out I go (so the third scene in that list) the less I know about what I actually need, so those end up being 3-5 scenes on their own because as I am writing, I realize I cannot quite jump to the end I had planned without a couple of other “ends” before that.
And sometimes, if the writing is just flowing, I don’t even bother doing scene planning.
I also will come up with ideas while writing for parts MUCH later in the book. And so at the bottom of my document (I write in one long document in FocusWriter when drafting), I often have a list of things I want to remember to add in at later points in the story.
So, these are the gate posts that the snowball needs to roll through.
But the key ingredient in this method is momentum. The more I write, the more momentum I have, and this is the reason that I write in one long document, even though I break it up with stars to indicate scene breaks. Rereading is crucial for me, even if it is only the last paragraph of the previous scene. Sometimes, I actually reread quite extensively. Some people can’t do this without being bogged down in editing. Thankfully, I use the [FIX THIS LATER] brackets, so I can just get what I need from the reread. I do occasionally correct easy-to-fix things like grammar or typos, or if I get a new idea that bridges to a scene I wrote later, I might add that. I don’t delete anything, though, because it’s all snow… And who knows, I might need to put it back on the snowball at a later point.
Anyway, so that’s it – the Snowball Method! Hopefully, it will be of use to someone.