Monday, October 8, 2012

Wordcraft -- The myriad paths to a novel, part II

“Literature, and novel writing in particular, is about perspective,” science fiction author Karl Schroeder assured his audience at the recent FenCon workshop in Dallas. And after last Monday’s pause to consider the phenomenon of book censorship, you may conclude that reading them is all about perspective as well.

The job -- and the joy -- of the writer, Schroeder said, “is not to experience the novel exactly the way the reader may experience it. The joy of writing is discovering the pleasure of creating the story.”

And despite the tools he added to our novel writing kits, he cautioned, “the misuse or overuse of all these techniques is the bed of Procrustes,” the mythical giant who stretched or shortened his unwilling guests to match the size of his bedstead.

And with that caveat, he introduced us to a design process intended to save us, perhaps, from ourselves. This is a cyclical process, probably to be repeated multiple times for a single novel.

It goes like this: envisioning -- disposition -- drafting -- editing -- re-envisioning. Or as Schroeder said in another context, “rinse and repeat.” But arrange the terms in a circle instead of a straight line.

“Envisioning” is the “idea” stage. “Disposition” is Schroeder’s term for “when you actually start putting your great ideas together, when a lot of outlining gets done.”

“Drafting” is the stage at which, as Schroeder says, “you actually write the damn thing.” It’s followed by editing, which may be done either by the writer or by someone else. Are we through? Not yet. Editing leads to “re-envisioning,” where the cycle starts again. Hang on for the ride and enjoy the process.

Schroeder’s hope was that the notion of design process would free writers from the fear that each turn must result in a perfected product, even suggesting “writing multiple versions of a story as a version of outlining.”

“The first few times you go through the cycle,” Schroeder cautioned, “you’re probably addressing the wrong problem. You may be addressing a scene setting instead of telling your story.”

A google of “design process” turned up dozens of sample designs following Schroeder’s general outline. You may want to download a few to find one that speaks to you. I loved spending much too much time looking at circular and spiral images on the internet, such as the wheeling galaxy whose picture illustrates this post, from

Feel free to jot scenes on post-it notes, to doodle, to fill a wall or a corkboard with reminders. They’re part of what Schroeder called the “exomind” -- physical items that speak to him more directly than computer files.

Schroeder also discussed just how many ways good novels can go wrong, but while I’m thinking about his exomind concept, I’ll offer an example next Monday, from another recent workshop -- the mind map.

And for more novel writing techniques, see editor Lou Anders’ suggestions from a previous FenCon workshop, “Bones of a novel, part I,” Oct. 12, 2011; “The bones of a novel, part II,” Oct. 19, 2011; and “Bones of a novel, part III,” Nov. 23, 2011, at this site.

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