The great debate
Ah, the eternal debate between “just start writing” and “design the whole thing.” Let’s see what the debate is all about.
The design issue is actually a scale. On one end of the scale is organic, just start writing or “seat of the pants” (called pantsing). Near the other end of the scale is a full outline down to the scene level. Steve Manning - Write a Book Now advocates an even higher level in which the scene or partial scene (at least 2/3 of a page) gets designed before you write the first word of the first draft.
So here’s what it looks like:
The numbering does not imply any “good” or “bad.”
The position of the organic writers is that they have complete artistic freedom; often the characters “take over and do what they want.” The plot develops as the characters take over and run the show.
The outline end says you need much more design. This is the premise many fiction-writing teachers advocate. It allows you to get in the 3-Act/4-Part story structure before you start the actual writing and you will always be working in a known atmosphere. Larry Brooks, Randy Ingermanson, et. al., advocate this.
The outliners claim that the organic writers have to write several (5, 10, lots) of drafts to get a sellable story, since the 3-Act/4-Part structure is what the editors (and readers) expect and demand. Eventually, an organic writer will have to end up with the proper structure to be commercially viable (Print or Publish).
Steven King is said to be an organic writer. On the other hand, when you’ve written as many successful novels (called best-sellers) as he has, you too can be a successful organic writer. He probably has the structure so ingrained that he can “let it rip” and still control the characters/plot, etc., enough to get the structure in possibly only a couple drafts.
What do I recommend for new Tech Writers/Analysts/Programmers and other nerds? You guessed it – either full outlining or full blueprint. I think full blueprint is the “best.”
The Sorcerer Novels
I’m proud to say I wrote the first four novels with the full blueprint.
Okay, okay, okay.
Actually, I didn’t know Jack about fiction writing when I started in February 2005. I only knew I could do a better technical (grammar, etc.) and emotional rendering than most of the stories on storiesonline.net.
I started with a single scene I'd thought up, twisted it around – it ended up as backstory - and backfilled the plot. From the original scene, I went forward to where I wanted the book to end. Defined a starting point, filled in the holes and away I went. I’d say the first novel was about 3 on the above graphic. You can see the original story, Sorcerer: The Inner Circle, at Bjohn on storiesonline.net. The first chapter of Inner Circle went out in October, 2005, to SOL.
From there, it grew. I know where I wanted to end (at least for then). I had enough characters and continuity issues that I developed spreadsheets. Since they appeared in first-person with dates, about the third novel I started dumping in week dates with notes on what needed to appear in that time period. It’s pretty awkward to get a lady pregnant then have her deliver 11 months later with no issues. Take that up to maybe a 5.
These were serial novels which were posted one chapter a week on SOL. I had Inner Circle completely done before I started posting; the second one was maybe a third done.
After the second novel, I started two new novels (same universe/storyworld) named Best Girl and Interesting Times. After Best Girl caught up with The Clann (timewise), I alternated posting chapters between the two. I wrote and posted one chapter per week; the last chapter of Best Girl went out in October 2007. Each post went out just after midnight (East Coast time) on Friday. In those two years, I missed only one deadline and that was by a half day.
When I decided the series was ready for print on Lulu.com, I merged Best Girl and Interesting Times then edited them a lot.
Lots better. It took me 964,000 words (after edits) to get from the first meeting in Inner Circle to the final, em, climax in Very Interesting.
Structure? What structure? I just tried to end most of the chapters on somewhat of a cliff-hanger and to create a logical sequence from the first meeting of a high-school-senior couple to the penetration of a 65-million-year-old galactic conspiracy.
Did it “sell”? Yes and no. There are many more authors on SOL who had more downloads (=faithful readers who liked it and hung out to the end), but I’ve got 1,600+ readers who downloaded the complete Sorcerer: The Inner Circle. The readership dropped off after that to maybe 1,000 who hung in to the last chapters of Best Girl/Interesting Times.
I’ve done lots of proof edits (including my anal Super-Honors-English brother) for the current versions on this site. Just having this blog up and minimal promotion I’ve had 29 visits from SOL and 107 from Larry Brooks - storyfix.com, etc. Since I first got this blog up (August 2009) 7 readers invested in the full 4-novel package and 9 in partial packages – usually novels 2-4. From Lulu.com, it appears that readers got 26 hard-copies; that may be high since I had a PDF option up for the first year.
Since October 2005, I’ve gotten 2 anonymous emails from SOL (“turned into a stroke story” and “no conflict”) and at least 100 “love it, can’t wait for the next chapter.” A couple emails had philosophical questions so we had a decent email discussion.
Cut to the chase
All right, Johnson, quit babbling.
What this comes down to is that any “commercial” success I’ve had, I attribute to skill in some of the technical parts (grammar, writing style, audience, etc.), having a high concept (the human spirit being free from the body) and a link from storiesonline.net. Sure and it wasn’t from having Larry’s Core Competencies in place.
Am I going to rewrite these four novels to fit the Six Core Competencies? You betcha!
If… I’m on step 3 of Smith - Heinlein’s Business Rules. If some mainstream-publisher wants to pick me up and wants re-writes (for $), I’ll do it. Otherwise, I’ll keep promoting (actually start promoting) and let it roll. On the other hand, if I get enough Real Life time and figure it is worth it, I'll do a complete structured rewrite from the ground up. If I do that, I'll offer the "updates" to those who invested in the electronic versions -- at no cost. I've done one set of revisions to the ebooks and set up .pub version and offered it to my investors. Several were interested -- no cost and it took me maybe a minute to send an email with links to the updated versions of all four novels (I'm a programmer, too, so it better happen fast).
Okay, readers, you’ve hopefully read this series so far. What’s your gut feeling on where you want to operate or are operating on the organic to blueprint scale?