George R R Martin talks about two archetypes for writers: Gardeners and Architects. The architect will plan and plot their story, knowing what happens to who from beginning to end before ever writing a single word. The gardener however will go in blind, knowing only the barest of details and discover the story as the write.
In truth, most writers sit somewhere between these two polar opposites. But the approaches are so vastly different that people usually identify with one extreme or the other.
I’ve always thought myself a gardener, although one that does a lot of thinking. I will have a good idea of the milestones of the story and the overall arcs of both character and story, but anything inbetween is up for grabs.
Back in November I decided try an experiment in discovery writing, where I would attempt to write a novel I had only the most basic of ideas about and see if I could flesh it out as I went along.
The book, Gods of the Old Frontier went relatively well. Despite it being quite a tumultuous time, I kept plodding away at it on and off. The problem was that I wrote the piece I knew and then promptly veered into a massive flashback. As that flashback passed 20,000 words and approached 30,000 with no sign of ending I became increasingly worried. I could see the flashback’s relevance to the character but not to the story. It became more and more likely that the flashback would be cut… and that seemed like an awful waste of time and effort.
There was also the little thing how my environment kept making changes to the story. Real life was getting in the way but you really want to stop it from changing the course of the story. In discovery writing I felt that more than ever where I could see tone and themes changing before my eyes.
With a new job and a new move looming, I put the project of nearly 60,000 words on the shelf. I hated doing it, I still love the concept but felt the writing process was all wrong. It needs more work done before I start writing it. But still, it was an experiment for me to conduct whilst shipping my completed novel to agents.
The process has also made me more aware of discovery writing in novels. There’s something about the change in the story beats that signal it to me, and I’ve come to realise that in general I’m not a big fan of discovery novels. That’s going to be put to the test soon as a novel I’ve been really looking forward to, a novel by a friend no less, makes use of it. So I guess I’ll get to see how general my dislike of the process is.
For me, my next project will be planned out. I’m probably wanting to go too much the other way, but I wrote Refugee with a very strict plan so I know what I’m letting myself in for.