There is something reassuring about the administration and housekeeping that comes with the first lecture of a class. It reminds me of all the classes I sat in, week one, and hoped to learn all sorts of things I had never dreamed of knowing. Though, I will admit I have an idea what I hope to learn. Story craft. Lots, and lots of story craft.
I am doing this lecture series with a couple of friends, and as we’re not able to dedicate our lives to this project in the way we would like to if we were studying, we’re posting chapters every two weeks instead of each week. It seems much more appropriate to the demands on my time and energy, so I’m comfortable with that.
Today’s lecture, apart from housekeeping, was about what sort of writer Sanderson is. To say he’s a planner is like saying Warwick Schiller is a horse trainer. It’s true, but it doesn’t quite encapsulate the level of detail or thought that goes into the process. But the level of the planning will come out in later lectures, this is just getting your toes in the water, so to speak.
Sanderson talks about the differences in the natural skills of the two main types of writers; Outliners/Architects and Discovery/Gardeners.
These are the planners. They build worlds and stories, craft the outlines and structure of the story, and then writes it. The big problems these writers face are characters who are wooden, because they’re doing what they need to for the story so can seem a little stiff, and never wanting to revise. This is, theoretically, because so much was worked out in the pre-writing stage that once the book is done, they’ve already written and rewritten it in their heads a lot. And they probably have other projects they’re planning which seems much more exciting than revising and editing.
These are the pansters, as NaNoWriMo would call them. They write as they feel it, with vibrant characters, and are often heard to be surprised by something the characters did. The issues for these writers often lies in going back to the beginning and re-writing before getting to the end at all, so they end up writing the same part of the story over and over and over again. If they do get to the ends, the is a higher chance of the ending being unsatisfying, especially in contrast to the way they’ve done the characters.
Is there any other kind of writer? Sure is! There is one that Sanderson refers to as the ‘Points on a Map’ writer. This writer plans points in the story. They have an idea where it starts, probably how it ends, and key scenes to get there. But how the characters get there is a discovery. I like to think of it like a road-trip using Google-maps. You know where you start from, and where you’re going, but how you’re going to get there is a bit of an adventure.
I am, without a doubt at all, a Discovery/Gardener. Which is somewhat awkward, because I could recognise the flaws quite clearly in my own work. It’s one of the reasons I did NaNoWriMo with the sole objective of getting something finished. And I am thankful to Phil the Goblin for bumbling along on his accidental transition into being a little bit of a hero. And to Hurg, the Orc, who went with him and was very helpful. It was that NaNoWriMo win that made it possible to do the writing I needed to in order to get the first vomit copy of my Proper Novel done. I am going to have a lot to learn to even get to be a Road-Trip Writer, but I’m prepared to work and see what I can do.
The other key thing Sanderson said, apart from that he’d prefer if we worked on a brand new piece, is that stories start with a problem to solve.
As I sat there, trying to think of what could be my 35k sized problem, I felt stuck. So I worked through some ‘things I like/things I don’t’ exercises, and got the basics of my story.
Set in what is probably erroneously called ‘medieval-fantasy’ world, Kessa is a travelling merchant, of sorts. She travels the routes her father established, and keeps up the family traditional side business of message delivery. Which is why, when her brother Felix appears in the middle of a storm in the dead of night, Kessa knows there is something more going on than he’s telling her. Especially when he asks her to let him accompany her to Westfort, while holding up a small circular letter tube on a leather necklace.
I’m going to go write that chapter, and see what else I discover in the process.