I’m in Minneapolis right now in a hotel lobby hooked up to the wireless network and hoping to get this blog out before I turn into a pumpkin. I’ll answer a few questions and then Cindy will answer a few questions.
If anybody else is interested in going for the First Chapter writing contest, I’ll post the url, but only with Randy’s okay on that.
Randy sez: Yes, go right ahead. It’s fine to post URLs on this blog. My blogging software is set up (I think) to put all comments with a URL into moderation. Then I can decide whether it’s spam or not. (You’d be amazed how many spam comments I get on this blog, but not one has ever appeared here, because my spam filter is set pretty tight.)
Randy is a logical, sequential thinker (I mean, c’mon, the guy’s a physicist!).
Randy sez: LOL, I actually think in pictures. I wrote my Ph.D. thesis on the strength of a picture which flashed into my mind while I was walking through the library at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory. Most of the scientific ideas and computational methods I’ve created in my career were based on pictures that I saw in a flash, and then took months to work out the details. So yeah, I can do the logical/linear thinking, but without those occasional flashes of pictures, I’d never have accomplished much. And the Snowflake is popular in part because it’s a pictorial metaphor for a very complicated process.
I got an email from Cindy today with responses to some of your comments, so I’m going to paste that in here.
First of all, wow, I love this great group! And one thing I’ve realized, is that I love to write/talk about writing – which I knew, but now discover I want to write and write so many things to all of you. But I’ll try to shave it down.
Answers to Gerhard:
First Question about Endings: Once I get a general sense of story, I also get the general destination (end) of a work, but it might be very vague like: Someone must die, not everything will be resolved, and I want a character to discover something profound and unexpected, be it physical or spiritual or….
Or there are times when I know, “Wow, that’s what the ending will be!” and it hits me with such profound knowing that I want to jump up and kiss someone or run outside and dance on the top of my car. Sometimes I do make odd cheering displays but my family ignores me since they’re pretty used to it. Other times, the discovery of an ending is more subtle, or the ending I thought of improves or the real “Wow, I know the ending!” comes later. I try not to obsess over getting it though. Once I didn’t know the key, climatic “thing” until 2 weeks before deadline and literally as I wrote the scene (the characters were in an underwater cave)! I was so freaked out, but then, I did the cheering once it came.
Randy breaks in to comment: When John Olson and I were writing OXYGEN, we knew the ending stunk pretty bad. We figured our editor would give us some ideas on how to fix it. He did. He said, “The ending is lame. Fix it.” So then we worked like mad dogs to do our revisions and kept putting off the ending, hoping that inspiration would strike. But it didn’t. Finally, it was the last day before the final revised manuscript was due. John and I talked on the phone all day, trying to come up with an ending. We tried several, and none worked. Around 11:15 that night, John came up with an idea. It was “right.” We knew it. I slammed out a few hundred words in fifteen minutes, emailed it to John, and went to bed. John worked it over till about 3 AM and then sent it in. And it was right. You just never know when that inspiration is going to flash for you.
Returning to Cindy:
I’ve never had a scene surprise me as being “the end.” A scene may surprise me by being the beginning (like a revision of chapter 2 because it’s a better hook or maybe I find it’s stronger to start from another POV as happened with Orchid House), but the end is always somewhat known. That final piece fits, and I think writers know when it does (like the final piece of a puzzle). This is true with dramatic, subtle, or even those ending that sort of drop off and anger us as readers. I think the author probably believed this was the end of his story. Though of course, writers fail and books get published without the story fully crafted.
For the Second Questions (see, I like to talk about these things!), I’ll go into more detail as we go through the steps of the Puzzle Method, but here’s a preview:
No, I don’t analyze and draw up a list of missing scenes – that sounds like something Randy would do (I may not even have full scenes. Sometimes I have a sentence that I like and know should be there, or a description of something of part of a dialogue – imagine the list of missing parts then!). BUT for those who are a mix between Snowflakes and Puzzles that might be a great idea.
Randy interrupts again: Right, I have to have a list of scenes, or I can’t really get rolling. Once I have that list, though, I can write pretty fast.
Cindy resists urge to punch Randy for interrupting:
This is one of the Puzzle steps, so spoiler warning. There is a certain time in the writing (usually when I have about 50,000-70,000 words) when I print the mess out and start putting it in order. I often storyboard, literally cutting and moving things around on my floor – putting the pieces in sections (beginning, middle, end). Then I go to the computer and I move those pieces into sections. When I then start writing my chapters, the connecting scenes come easily (some pieces get tossed too).
What never fails to amaze me is how much easier it is to finish one portion of a scene or a chapter and how it connects to another when I use this method. I wrote much slower, with less passion and a lot more drudgery when I went from page 1 to page 2…. More on all of this in a few days.
Thanks for all the warm welcomes and great comments. I’m very impressed with this group!
Randy sez: OK, we’ll pick up again with more on the Puzzle Method on Monday. See ya then!
Cindy, How exciting – I just noticed you will be teaching this at Mount Hermon. I’ll be sure to take your workshop!
Ann Isik says
I certainly believe that you get a lot of spam Randy! I use a company to filter mine out or I’d be swamped! Okay, with your permission, here’s the url for the contest to write a first chapter of a novel: http://www.thewritehelper.com
I feel honour bound to say that I found out about the contest from First Writer.com – http://www.firstwriter.com. For a small fee they send me daily automatic emailings of writing contests and other outlets, services, etc.
I hope you haven’t turned into a pumpkin!
Charlotte Babb says
I know about the appearance of an ending…I got the end of the current WIP when I was proctoring an exam for an English class. I wrote most of it on the back of a test as that was the only paper I had handy.
…didn’t get to dance though…
Hey, I do the 50-70K thing too! Except, I put mine through a lie-detector test. Just sit down with the ole clunker and start reading with a tablet in hand–I write down everything I see that’s true (what jumps out at me) and mark what’s blatantly false (most everything else). Amazing how much junk I throw in just because it is handy at the time! When I find the truth behind the mask of my behemoth, that’s when the pieces start falling into place.
Lynn Squire says
Cindy, I love your idea of storyboarding. I can see myself doing that – if I had space. However, I confess, I’m very a very linear thinker, and the reason the storyboarding idea impresses me is because I’m also very visual. Seeing it on the floor or on the wall I think would help me “fill in the blanks”. I think I’d be able to develop the subplots better and see places where I could use more character-developing scenes.
I’m looking forward to seeing you at Mount Hermon as well (and you too Randy).
M.L. Eqatin says
Randy, have you ever read ‘Thinking in Pictures’ by Temple Grandin? It was an eye-opener to me. But your method sounds much like what she describes, although she is probably less verbal than most people who think pictorially.
I think in text. Literally. As I age, it’s gotten so that I can hardly focus on a movie unless the text is running across the bottom of the screen. How weird is that?
bonne friesen says
I do the ol’ writing scene synopses on big recipe cards to help me work out the order. I’m the flashback queen and it’s hard for me to find the most effective order because I want to put the exciting hook stuff in, but sooner or later things need to get explained.
Freshman foible – I’m hoping to grow out of it.
Sorry, I had to come back. I just saw an article about Karen Kingsbury on Novel Journey. She said she writes 10k words per day, 24k was her best day. That’s thousand. Here’s an excerpt of what she said:
“For me, writing has always been like seeing a movie play out in my head, and then capturing it on the page. I’m not sure that all writers have this experience, but when I’m writing a novel I feel like I’m taking dictation on this moving picture playing in my mind. I rarely feel like a writer, but more like a reader – my hands flying as fast as they can across the keyboard.”
She attribut this phenomenal ability to God’s gifting.
I wanted to leave a comment and ask if she ever snowflakes or puzzles, because it doesn’t sound like she does either. But the Novel Journey site has a bug right now. Hmmph. Anybody ever talk to her and find out how much prewriting or preplanning she does?
Wow! How different people are. I couldn’t possibly begin without knowing the final scene. It’s the goal I’m working toward.
Thanks so much, Cindy for sharing this method!
I’ve tried, without any luck, to line up my scenes in order as I write, but I’ve always written scenes that popped into my head, not ones that followed an order. Now I can stop stressing about the perfect order and get back to just writing again. I’ll figure out how it fits at the end!
M.L. — I have read Temple Grandin. I have twin sons with autism, and I think in pictures, so it was a great read for me. I don’t have autism, but I have always, always thought in pictures. I have the most vivid dreams, too — I actually feel, and taste, and see all kinds of colors. However, while you think in words, I do sometimes find myself “typing” what people say to me. LOL. Yeah, I’m an odd one.
Randy — I stand corrected about your linear thinking. Still, while you may get a “flash” in pictures — a “flash” is not the same as seeing EVERYTHING and working EVERYTHING out in pictures. Although, I will concur that the snowflake is an awesome visual. So now, I’m perplexed at how your mind really works. Me thinks it’s probably a scary place. . .
Camille — I love Kingsbury. Thanks SO MUCH for sharing that quote.
Cindy — I love this method. It’s how I do it, too. I type all kinds of notes and scenes and conversations and conflict ideas and then I print it out and cut it out, and mark it and paste it and draw maps, etc. I didn’t know this was what real writers did — I just thought I was inept! LOL. BUT, I’m trying to learn from Randy how to put more layers in. I think that’s why the snowflake helps me so much. Talk about Randy’s mind being scary. . .now I’m scaring myself.
Randy and Cindy — I am horrible with endings. I have all the beginnings and middles and the message, but I suppose the one reason I have not yet published is that my endings escape me so I don’t ever finish completely. I have about 6 novels sitting here that I have no endings for. I don’t know if it’s because I’m so in love with the story I just can’t let it go or what. I would love some tips on how to write a good ending!!
I am so jealous of those going to Mt. Hermon! I want to go! Pack me in your luggage, please!
Louis Wilberger says
Characters grab me and before I know it, I’ve done two chapters on him of her. I have trouble sometimes remembering bit player’s names. Wouldn’t it be great to have a cast of characters window to pop up when you need it.
Gerhard J van Vuuren says
Thanks for the answers. I was wondering whether you used a hybrid system (like a lot of people seem to do) or stick to the puzzle system. It seems as if you stick to it.
Personally I think that every one of us have a system of our own. One of our main jobs is to figure out what our system is so that we don’t get sidetracked by what works for other people and not for us. The way we figure it out is to try other people’s systems and then to keep the parts that work for us.
I have ideas for what my system is and how it works but I can only say it works when I get that first novel done. I have done with a term paper what you talk about in terms of printing the mess and laying it out on the floor. I ended up with a scroll after I stapled everything together sequentially.
It worked well for a 20 page paper but I’m not sure if I could cope with it in terms of a novel size work.
Pam Halter says
I do the cheering thing, too. 😉 I also laugh out loud, weep and heave dramatic sighs.
3 more days to Mt. Hermon – for me anyway, because I’m traveling from NJ, so I’m getting there a day early. It’s my first time to the west coast, so I’m totally jazzed. Hope to catch up with you and say hi!
Bonnie R. Schutzman says
Cindy, thanks so much for sharing this method. I write the same way, only I never thought of calling it a system. I’ve spent most of the last several years trying to FIX it.