One of the things that I do a lot when I’m building a project in my head is writing scenes, and seeing where they are good and where they are bad. I have whole reams of computer files full of excess scenery and setting and character sketch for Dogsland.
Exchanging e-mails with someone about writing process stuff has got me thinking more in-depth about it.
As much as I love me some spreadsheet world-building this isn’t the first step, really. Or, at least it’s not the only first step. It’s part and parcel of an important thing that we writers must do that’s actually really fun. Open a computer file and try out an idea. Poke and prod at it, and see if it wiggles a little or if it is limp and dead. There was this scene where workmen dug up demon bones when digging canals in early journals, and it was not useful. But, it was useful in that it gave me a sense of space, and the cost of demonology. The scene had no characters at all of note. It was just nameless, faceless workers exposed to demon bones in the poor neighborhood of a city street. This was Dogsland before Dogsland. What did I do with that scene? Well, I shelved it. Hard. But, when I was spreadsheeting out the next book I wanted to write, I popped in a note about demonology, that when people encounter the demon flesh, it makes them violently ill.
Another sketch fleshes out some characters. It’s not in the book at all. It slips what’s good into the spreadsheet. Lather with whiskey, rinse with coffee, repeat before breakfast every day.
Different processes produce different results. I wrote all of my books and stories differently. I’ve noticed my short fiction is often just a thought or style experiment, to me. I’ve noticed that the process I use reflects that. I just write up the idea without pre-writing or worrying whether it works or not. Much of the more interesting stories I have that you’ve never heard of, fair reader, remain unpublished. (Jamcoi, Eurydice, King Basilisk’s Palace, Death Mask and Eulogy, and many, many more) They aren’t really stories in quite the same way my novels are stories in that the short stories are often written in one or two sittings very deliberately. They read that way, to me.
I guess I’m at that stage in my career where I’ve figured out one process that works, and I’m starting to think more about how process impacts results, and what I can do to change my process in small ways to stay fresh, innovative. I’m working on a story with an outline and nothing else — no world-building or anything, just a set of story beats to meet — with the understanding that I’ll go back over it and make it good later. I want to write this whole story in a spreadsheet and html. I want to stunt write.
Also, I want to stick with the process that works. I want to journal out scenes. Turn them into a spreadsheet of notes and ideas. Wrap that into a text. Wash over the text with care and caution over and over again, until good.
Also, I want to get back to it.