Finding your process as a writer is important. It takes time, though.
Do you know what your process is? For that matter, do you know what process is at all? It could probably mean a lot of things, but here’s my half-cocked definition: As a writer, your process is comprised of the steps you take in order to get a story on paper.
I still don’t know my process. Last Fall I had a great teacher that helped me explore some different ideas about process, but none of them ever really stuck. There’s a line buried somewhere between over-preparing and under-preparing, and none of my instrumentation can find it. So I either wind up with an overly elaborate 47 page outline, or a one paragraph summary that’s more of an idea than the actual bones of a story.
But there is something that I’ve toyed with a bit lately that feels right. It feels like it might be the first piece of my process.
I start with a screenplay. Not an outline, or a cluster of notes, or a bundle of note cards, or even a red-clay picture of myself devouring a bison, finger-painted on the interior wall of a damp cavern. (Most of my stories involve me devouring Bison.)
Trelby, if you’re a Linux person, as I am, or Scrivener, if you’re a Mac Person, which I also am, or Final Draft if you’re a Windows or Mac Person with a bundle of cash to burn, or CELTX, if you’re a cheapo on any of the three primary platforms are all good options.
Spoiler: I’ve used them all, and while Scrivener is the clear winner for novel-writing, and Final Draft is the industry standard for script writing, any of them will work fine. So, save yourself the cash and use Trelby or CELTX for now, then buy Scrivener later, and then when you’re a big-shit screenwriter in Hollywood, buy a copy of Final Draft.
There are a lot of formatting quirks in screen writing. Though I suppose they’re only quirks to me because I’m not a big-shit Hollywood screenwriter like you. Learn those quirks. Learn how to format and write a script. You probably needed a challenge anyway, so here it is. Learn to write a script.
Some advantages to this method:
- Scripts are divided neatly in to scenes. No need to concern yourself with working out how things bleed in to one another from scene to scene. Just end the bastard and start the next one.
- Action and dialogue are separated. The action occurs at the top of the Section, just after the Slug Line. Small bits can also be interspersed in the dialogue. This forces you to start thinking about your characters visually. What are they doing? Do you have all dialogue with no physical descriptions? Get in there and make those characters move.
- Scripts, by nature, can’t include things that can’t be seen. I can’t tell you that two Koalas are staring at one another with lust in their hearts; I’ve got to show you that lust because I can’t be there at the theater as you watch Koala Lust Part III, explaining the finer nuances of imperceptible Koala lust. So I’ve got to write it out. I’ve got to be CONCRETE. That’s important, concrete. That means you’re making strong images, using strong verbs, avoiding inappropriate abstractions, and generally keeping your reader stuck in the fiction wonderland of your words, rather than the mouldering sewer of confusion.
When everything is split apart like this, the story becomes a little easier to manage, I think. I’d imagine some other folks would agree. It certainly won’t save you the hard work of stringing everything together seamlessly later, but if we didn’t want to do that part, we wouldn’t be writers, right?
So go try it. Learn the formatting. It won’t take long. Maybe you buy a book, read for a couple of hours, get the basics, and off you go. Write a script of your novel, get it on paper, then write the novel.
Or maybe it doesn’t work for you at all, and you think “Jesus, what an asshole. I’ll never read another blog by this Pickles clown again, that’s for damn sure.”
But you’ll be back. You will. You’ll be back because I’ve got an idea for a story called Manigator Versus Crocadude, and you can’t resist. You need to hear about that, and you’ll come back every day until I give you the goods. And I will. For I am a benevolent blogger.