Details Don’t Work

Whining Wednesday: Details Don't Work
Image provided by Nathan Congleton
https://www.flickr.com/photos/nathancongleton/

How much detail should go into the preliminary work of a story?

As profound and desirable as it may be, the way Jessica Fletcher, the main character in Murder She Wrote, could whip out her manuscripts on a word processor just is not going to happen in the world outside of the “boob tube”. Diversely, Jacqui Murray, blogger of WordDreams and author of numerous books for students, has spent years collecting her research and developing her most recent book, BUILDING A MIDSHIPMAN.

If I gave heed to the multitude of blogs giving advice on the craft of writing, I would probably have chosen, after consideration, to fall somewhere in between the fictional Jessica and Jacqui, more plausibly favoring Jacqui’s way of attacking her writing projects. Yet, as of late, I’ve come to recognize how much and how often my writing slouches when I make the severe attempts to use the constructed fundamental step of the development sheets and the outlines of the scenes. Somehow I lose my way and scramble to find the essence of the story I’m so perilously striving to pen. Moreover, all of the work going into the preparedness is forestalling the task I feel compelled to perform, writing something of substance.

Some may counter with the belief that the preliminary labor is just as valid. For those who honestly affirm this approach to their end, perhaps the work is necessary, if for no other reason than to give them the little boost of self-confidence that many writers lack—including myself. I’ve been told that the planning of the story and the development of the characters put these elements firmly in the mind so that the need to backtrack for information isn’t as prevalent. Okay, the plotters may have one up on me in this area.

Despite the obvious lack of assurance I suffer from, I prefer to be like the bull in a china shop, diving into the thick of my undertaking, not giving much caution to whether I’m stick to any original plan I made. The mere muse of conceiving worlds, characters, and scenes, to weave all about the crux of the story as I compose it is enthralling to me. When the words begin to appear on the screen or paper in front of me, the theme of the tale stays near the forefront of my mind. For me, it is absolutely riveting.

No. After hours of inward scrutiny and past desperate efforts to apply the mounts of groundwork that are not necessary for each and every story or writer, I’ve come to the conviction that such detailing doesn’t work for me.

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It is necessary to write, if the days are not to slip emptily by. How else, indeed, to clap the net over the butterfly of the moment? For the moment passes, it is forgotten; the mood is gone; life itself is gone. That is where the writer scores over his fellows: he catches the changes of his mind on the hop. ~Vita Sackville-West

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9 Replies to “Details Don’t Work”

  1. This is an interesting train of thought. I like taking time to plan out my manuscript and do my research. But like you, I reckon I’m somewhere in between too. With the current book I am writing, I spent a whole month planning and thinking up the chapters and where I want my story to go – and how do I get the message across. My book is essentially a memoir about living Asian in Australia, non-fiction. Now I’m in the editing stage of my book, I realise it needs a lot of reworking, and again, been spending quite a lot of time planning before I make any changes.

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    1. I don’t do even half the planning that you do. I do a story summary, setting outlines, sketches for the major characters, and summaries for the scenes. That’s it. Moreover, the sketches are skimpy and I fill them out a little more as I write the story. I’m much closer to the middle of the pendulum, but I could never do the Jessica Fletcher way.

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  2. I think of myself as a pantser – and then look back at the numerous files, thousands of words, background notes created before I began writing the story. My style is an amalgam of thoroughly researched topics and inking directly from my bones. I don’t promote it to others but it works for me – as your style works for you.

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    1. I had to look up the word you used to describe your writing process. Amalgam — a conglomeration of whatever. I think the reason I have never come across this word is because it has so much to do with science, my worst subject.

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  3. You may feel like the bull in the china shop. There are too many times, I feel I carry mine with me (to misquote Winston Churchill). But I’ve come to accept those times as growth opportunities. Often, they end up guiding me.

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    1. As I write from the hip, all pieces of the story unfold before me. Yes, sometimes a little troublesome, but I don’t feel confined, which seems to be the secret for me to keep the joy in this craft.

      Growth? At this moment, I suspect the books I’m reading are helping more because I’ve begun to read them in a different frame of mind. It’s a little unexpected from what I’ve assumed before.

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  4. I always love to read about how each person’s process differs. It took me a long time to concede that the editor in me makes for a writer who functions much better with a chapter-by-chapter outline in place. It’s not necessarily detailed, but if I don’t have main points in place beforehand I write way too much that ends up getting deleted. There’s nothing wrong with killing a few darlings, but I tend to massacre much more than that when I don’t do sufficeint planning.

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    1. I think what happens to me, Jeri, is I end up being too concise with my story when I do all that planning beforehand, which is just the opposite of you. With all of those walls to keep me in place, I don’t extend and develop the story enough. My draft becomes just a summary of the preliminary work I’ve done, nothing more.

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