Monday, October 03, 2011

Be Prepared

It isn't that I don't like the idea of planning. I do. I admire, albeit oddly grudgingly, people who take the time to think out and methodically plan their every action. It's just, basically, planning takes time and I have precious little enough of that as it is, so I generally don't do it. If I'm at a point where I want to begin a project and I have the choice between just getting to it or spending the time to plan out every possible detail and contingency, the choice is clear: the time involved in planning something takes time away from actually doing it. It also, I think, takes some of the fun out of it, at least for me. I've mentioned several times that I never plan out my books (or, as you may rightly suspect, my blogs) before I start them. I get an idea and I go with it. It may not be the way most people do things, and sometimes I'm sure it shows, but it works for me.

I have literally dozens of begun-but-never-finished blogs in my "Blogs" folder. I get an idea, start writing, and run out of steam or thoughts a few paragraphs into it, and abandon it. I don't just delete it, though, in case I might want to go back and finish it someday. This is quite different than writing a book. I admit that with a book, the initial idea usually includes the theme, the method of murder, the motive, and tentatively whodunnit, though the actual killer frequently turns out to be someone other than I first intended, depending on how the story progresses.

When it comes to planning and its consequences, writing has overwhelming advantages over real life, the primary one being the ability to go back and rewrite what has been written. Probably that is also one of the reasons I so dislike reality. Life does not allow rewrites. Once a moment in real life has passed, it cannot be changed or altered. Say something you should not have said, do something you should not have--or wish you had not--done, and you're stuck with it forever. For all the planning you may have done in real life, changing the outcome is not possible.

One of the many joys in writing, for me, is in being able to, in effect, just read the story as it unfolds on the screen in front of me. This pleasure would be lost were I to have carefully plotted out exactly what was going to happen exactly where in the story. My mind simply could not allow such confinement, and I honestly cannot comprehend how those who do meticulously plot in advance can do it.

Of course I am not totally uninvolved in the progression of my stories; just as one has to make changes and adjustments and decisions and process new information in the course of everyday life, so it is, for me, with the process of writing--though with far more flexibility than real life affords. If, in the course of working on a book, I have to figure out how Dick or Elliott might come by a some piece of information, I can go back into the story and plant a clue or a introduce a character from whom the information might logically be obtained. With luck, the reader will never be aware that it was done, which is exactly the way it should be. Deus ex machina--just having something appear out of nowhere, with absolutely no advanced preparation for the reader is, for me, the ultimate cop-out and the kiss of death for a book, story, tv show, or movie.

For most people and in most instances, "Preparation" more frequently involves the mental process than any physical things that must be done before the event, and too easily "preparation" becomes a euphemism for "pointless fretting." Preparation implies that some specific actions can be taken prior to the event to positively affect what is being prepared for. Too much of what people consider "preparation" is in effect, busy work prompted by worry. I generally consider the degree of preparation required to be largely dependent upon the importance of what is being prepared for. I am really trying to prepare for my anticipated trip to Europe next year, for example, but I'm limiting it to laying the groundwork, without micromanaging every detail in advance.

Of course, as I read over what I've just written (since—surprise!—I didn't prepare what I was going to say in advance), I realize that it could, with some justification, be considered my attempt to rationalize the simple fact that I am just plain lazy, and not preparing for things is my way of taking the path of least resistance. I do hope I'm not taken to court over the issue, for I fear I would lose.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back. And please take a moment to check out for information on Dorien's Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs.


Nikolaos said...

I found that when I blocked out a whole novel, I lost interest in it -- and stopped writing it.

It's only fun to write if I don't know what's going to happen, so that the story is as interesting to me as it is (I hope) to my readers.

Dorien/Roger said...

Exactly! Though I have never even tried to block anything out beforehand. Unfortunately, that carries over into my personal life and has caused me innumerable problems.