Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Tactician Writer - Seeing a Few Moves Ahead

In the last few writing related posts I had some very interesting comments. What I found to be most interesting was how we almost all differ in our writing techniques: some are very plot oriented, some character driven, some spend months building a world, others spend months creating a detailed outline, while others yet simply take the pen (or sit at their computer) and start writing. I loved, for example, how Pat categorized herself as a "method writer."

Well, I need to tell you something else about me first. I play chess. Not very well, but I try. As a chess player though, I've learnt the importance of seeing a few moves ahead. The more moves you can see the better player you are.

Same goes for my writing. I can't categorize myself using any of the above techniques. Depending on what I'm working on I have different methods I use. However, there is one thing I always strive for and that one thing is to know/have, at the very least, a few scenes ahead in my head.

So there you have it, I present a new method - tactical writer. And as always, I'm probably not the first to write about this or mention this, but who has any "first" ideas these days?

Any chess lovers out there by the way?

Categories: , ,


Paul Darcy said...

Hate to say it, but I find chess - boring. To each his or her own.

However, when it comes to writing I need a plot established, although for some of my shorter pieces sometimes all I need is an idea or ending and away I go.

I think you will find that what works for you works almost exclusively for you (minor variations with some others) and that a lot of established authors have vastly different techniques for writing.

We are all individuals after all, and writing is a pretty unique expression of one's self.


erin said...

I agree with Paul. That said, I'm fascinated by the chess analogy.

When I have to stop writing for a session or for the day and the story's not done, I try to stop somewhere strategic -- where I have a good sense of what's next, and I'm still looking forward to writing it and finding out about all the things I don't know yet. It can be awkward cutting myself off mid-scene, but it really does work for me.

Maybe it's the equivalent of saying to my 'opponent': "Here...take 12 hours to look at everything I've put on the table...I'll be back later to keep the game going.."

melly said...

Hiya Paul, other than the chess part we seem to agree :)
Writers defintely have varying techniques for writing, I only mentioned about six of them but there are way more.

Erin, that's a great way of looking at it. I love the way you put it. Thanks.

Cavan said...

I'm definitely the same way - I like to have planned at least two or three scenes ahead at all times.

When that doesn't work out, my writing tends to become monotonous and exceedingly dull.

I also like to have a general idea of where the plot will be going (though that tends to change several times over the course of the novel) and I hate to go into a project without an ending in mind.

P.S. I love chess, but really suck at it. My roommate during my first year of university and I used to play constantly. Actually, he could beat me even when he was drunk.

ME Strauss said...

I always say I'm just a writer who works for a living. But yeah, I'm always looking for what's next, What's now and what's next and of course, and then what?

Great post, Melly. Fresh new look on how we do things.

Anonymous said...

I am writing toward an end. I know the end of my novel by the road to get there has had some scenes planned out while others just sprung up out of nowhere. I never really know which turn the story is going to take. Some of the best parts of my novel just popped up out of no where. I keep asking myself, "Okay, what is the most interesting thing that can happen next." Hopefully, it will all come together in the end!

rdl said...

Glad to see you back today, i was beinning to worry that i wouldn't be seeing much of my fav's now with nanowrimo(sounds like a natural disaster or flu). My technique if I have one is the last one on yr. list. Simply take the pen or sit at the computer and write. While it works for me for blogging, journal writing and poetry it has never worked for writing a story. I don't know how many beginning paragraphs/pages I've started and abandoned. anyway i'm glad that you haven't abandoned us.

Anonymous said...

I never could learn to see ahead, so no chess for me but I admire the game and the mental alacrity it takes to play. Do you know where this is headed? lol...I wirte that way too, just sit and put words together until I run out of steam. Not very writerly is it?

redchurch said...

Because I didn't finish my outline before Nanowrimo started, I've found myself using exactly what you describe Mel... as long as I can see a few scenes ahead, I'm ok.

I keep referring back to my story structure chart to make sure I don't go off into strange intangible territory.

Patry Francis said...

Oh, this is inspiring, Melly. I definitely need to become more tactical. I tend to plan very little and just spurt ahead--which is fun for a while, but eventually it leads to an impasse, and then days of regrouping.

Ronn said...

If we’re defining a tactical writer as one who needs to see a few scenes in advance of the current writing, I guess I’d fall into that category. I plot it out at least two scenes ahead of what I’m working on most times so that I know where I’m going and have an idea as to how I’m going to get there. My writing lives and dies on my outline.

Oh, and I’m a lousy chess player, but I do enjoy playing the game and trying to be good.

Benjamin Solah said...

I like that theory a lot. Maybe it would work for my non-nano novel. I tried to write with just one scene in my head, which was at the beginning. Then 31,000 words later, I'm fighting block after block not knowing where this thing is going. Then, when I'm dedicating all writing time to nano, it comes to me, lol.

p.s. Thanks for stopping by my blog.

Eric Mutta said...

[Raises hand as a fan of something that might as well be chess: software optimisation. In this black art, having a crystal ball to see the future is crucial since a mistake you make 30mins from now could invalidate the work you spent the last 6 hours doing].

Pat Kirby said...

Chess. I can be tactical but not for long stretches of time because the attention span poops out.

I can hold my own against the husband for a while and then I start to get bored. At which point he starts to slaughter me and I give up. (I know the rules but call the pieces "horsies" and "castles.")

Writing. I have a good idea of how the story will end but again, much of it is driven by character-driven issues. I always use this weird analogy. It's like I'm writing Empire Strikes Back. I know that Luke's father issues will culminate with the discovery that Darth is his dad. But I don't know how I'll get there.

Because plot is my weakness, I rely on my plot-driven husband for help in that area. It's fun to see how our different approaches to story telling (and reading) complement each other.

Hope you're getting loads written.

Melly said...

Cavan, I too find that knowing the ending is crucial. I may not know how to get there yet, but at least I know where I want to get.
(Sounds like we're about the same level in chess ;)

Liz, great way of looking at it. Not only what's next in terms of the process of writing, but also interms of what project I'll tackle next.

Fred, I think that as long as the ending is known you can't really stray too much. I'm pretty much the same.

rdl, I'm here, just still with very limited internet access time. Thanks for noticing. Yes, for story telling it's pretty important to have a direction, an ending, something. But I can see how it could work well in poetry.

Melly said...

Easywriter, what works for you is the right thing. If it works, it simply can't be the wrong thing, no?
While I don't know your aspirations and what you do with them, I know that from what I see it sure is working for you :)

Redchurch, seems we're on the same boat here. And absolutely, so important not to go on a tangent. It tends to be one of my weak points and then I have to hack off entire chapters.

Thanks Patry. Yes, I think we're all familiar with that impasse and I think it does tend to happen to me when I don't think much before but simply sit and write.

Ronn, hi. Seems you're the ultimate tactician :)
I hear what you say about the outline, although I've managed to surprise myself once or twice with spurts, although only in shorts.
As for chess - we're very similar.

Melly said...

Benjamin, I was happy to stop by your place, and especially to hear about warm places (who am I kidding? I was jealous! :)
Yes, that block or impasse as Patry put it comes when the direction isn't clear. But even with an outline it sometimes happen to me. I may not like the original layout, or it doens't work anymore. But I agree with you, it sure is better with an outline than without.

Eric, how do you always manage to do this, even in this rather straight forward subject you manage to make me laugh.
So... can you tell the future?

LOL Pat. I love my horsies and my castles, although I do call them by their proper name. I now I feel like such a boring person...
You're so lucky you can talk about it with hubby and that he can actually help. I once talked about a story with a friend who likes witch craft and all that, and she took the plot to such weird directions I never talked to her about my writing again.

dog1net said...

For me I think the writing process is just plain messy. I do most of my initial work on yellow lined paper. Often times I start with a sense of something, an idea, or perception I have of something, and begin writing in response to that. Sometimes I'll go with associations of something, something that evokes strong feelings. Sometimes the writing will come fast and furious; sometimes slow and tortured. I'm not a chess player per say, but I've written essays where I've moved my last paragraph to the first, and my fourth paragraph to the last. I even move sentences in paragraphs that way, too. Ideas are not easy things to work with. What sometimes might seem understood can prove to be little understood, but what we finally arrive at surprises us in ways never expected.
Thanks for stopping by today. I appreciate your thoughtfulness and encouragement in response to my writing. It is good to be in your company.

Eric Mutta said...

Melly:>Eric, how do you always manage to do this, even in this rather straight forward subject you manage to make me laugh.

You get a lot of serious and smart folk around here, so someone has to do the comic relief :-)

Melly:>So...can you tell the future?

With software, yes, definately, otherwise my buh-hind would be seriously broke.

With people, I can tell only the immediate future. E.g if the missus fumes into the room and stands on the spot ancient maps used to label "here be dragons", I can tell that I'll be sleeping on the couch that night.

With life in general, I can tell the future simply because I intend to create it. E.g in the year 2015 people will work from 10am instead of 9am because my employees will do so. People will copy me because I'm going to be rich and famous, and I'm going to be rich and famous because...darn, crystal ball just suffered a system overload, so I'll get back to you on that one!

Thundering Wind said...

Hi Ric!

Remember me??? LOL

Writing can take on so many expressions. Writing can be a moody muse. Writing flows and ebbs. Writing is confessions of expressions.


Melly said...

Hi Scot, thanks (you should see the red color I have on my face now...) I'm blushing.
I loved the way you described your writing process. You seem to be so intuned with your writer self.
It happened to me so often that I started something, nearly 100% sure of myself only to find out I either know nothing about the subject I'm writing or that I changed my views 180 degrees.
Write and learn? ;)
Good to have you here always :)

Eric - Please always remain our comic relief. It's an invaluable asset.
And anything me or the mama can do to help that future come to life - just say the word ;)

Hi there Anna - amazing: you just took it all and summed it up poetically. Thanks :)

Deborah said...

Whenever I write a new story, I tend to come up with the character first. Then comes then ending. Finally, I try to maneuver him/her/them to that ending.

I enjoy chess, although I don't play it as often as I used to. My youngest loves it.

melly said...

I like this strategy Deborah. I really do. It's a hybrid of being very character oriented vs. being plot oriented.
Chess is awesome for kids, do you play with him?

Gone Away said...

The chess analogy is exactly right for me. There was a time when I got too much into chess and had to make a decision as to whether to pursue it seriously. I opted for real life (hmm, don't seem to have managed to make that decision regarding the internet as yet). And I write in the same way that chess is played. I know the story before I ever start writing and you could call this my strategy. But I allow the details to fill themselves in as I go along, so that events may take place that I had never envisaged in the first place. You could say that this is the tactical element.

melly said...

Gone, ummm... life? What's that?

You talk of strategy and it makes me wish I was more strategic. Having a strategy sounds like a wonderful thing to have in almost everything in life...

deadliner said...

Tactical writing sounds good to me. But my massive issue is always turning off the inner critic, and that means that too much foresight kills the writing stone dead before I even get it saved.

Starting Nanowrimo 7 days late has proved fun. I'm a deadliner, plain and simple. With a gun to the head, anyone can milk a cow, I say.

My own blog is an effort to stick that gun somewhere uncomfortable and make unreasonable demands of myself. Come over and have a look if you get a free minute between computer crashes and Nano-novelling.

Best of luck with it,


Melly said...

Sorry for the long time it took me to reply, Deadliner.

Don't feel bad about NaNo. I'm starting it with 10 days to go. So...
I'll come visit you soon.

Trent said...

I love chess and have a similar approach to writing, at least on a semi-concious level, that you describe. Perhaps I'll find out who plays chess at the next InkDwellers meeting and see if those that share the love have similar writing approaches :)

Melly said...

Let me know what you come up with then, Trent. It would be fun to make this little study :)

Trent said...

I missed the last meeting, but I'll be going to the next barring fatal catastrophe :)

I'll keep you informed

Melly said...

Thanks Trent.
I'm waiting to hear :)