Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Writing with a GPS

by Clare O'Donohue

Question: What was the most useless, destructive thing you ever learned in writing class (or in a writing craft book)?

I have no sense of direction. I get lost going pretty much everywhere. Seriously. I can't tell west from inside out, or up from turn left ahead. That's what directions sound like to me - nonsensical blather.

The invention of the GPS was, as the saying goes, the greatest thing since sliced bread. Although, if I can digress, what is so amazing about pre-sliced bread? Is drawing a knife through a loaf such a time suck that having it done for you is so wonderful it stands as the standard against which all inventions are measured?

See what happened there? I was making a point and I got lost.

Happens to me all the time. So the advice about "Know everything that will happen in your book before you sit down to write" seems like it was written for me. Know your characters, their backgrounds, their fears and hopes. Know the clues, the red herrings And most of all know which one is the killer.

Great, right? Without a plan, logic follows, I could start writing a murder mystery and end up with a cookbook. No one wants that.

And yet, that's absolutely awful advice. At least for me. I hear JK Rowling did a post-it for each scene of the Harry Potter books and they made a tidy profit, so it works for some people. But for me. Yuck.

Here's why. I write to find out who the characters are, their hopes and fears etc... I write to find out which one of them is most likely to have done the murder and then have my detective catch him. I write because I don't know where I'm going and I want to find out. If I already knew, then why bother with all the hard work of writing the book? The puzzle would have been solved.

Not knowing what I'm doing might mean I have a fair amount of changing and editing and "Oh crap, what have I done there" moments, but it keeps me involved in the story, keeps me plugging away until I finally reach the end.

So all those who outline their work, bravo to you. I'm sure it's a simple, straight forward journey from A to B. Nothing wrong with that. But for me, the worst advice ever.


Robin Spano said...

Great answer. I suck at road-mapping too, and I agree with you wholeheartedly.

Clare ODonohue said...

Thanks Robin - As is only give the reader what he needs to know, and Sue's advice about a body on page 1. It seems that for some writers and some types of books there is wisdom there. It's the Universal Rule aspect to it that gets it all wrong.