Novel Writing Technique – Are You A Planner Or A Dreamer?

The DreamerIt’s one of the most fundamental discussions in all of novel writing – do you plot out your scenes, sketch your characters, and weave your subplots before actually sitting down to write the book? Or do you catch onto an inspiring moment in the story, sit down and see where it leads?

The answer for me became pretty obvious pretty quickly. I’m a dreamer who doesn’t have any time for wasted words. So I’m a planner. Sort of.

Of course, to judge from my early life I’ve been a dreamer since I got on this planet. I still love to just put my fingers to the keys and see what happens. One of my great revelations about the act of writing is how it gives voice to a part of my brain that normally has no voice – and that strange and unusual things can come from me that I never even knew were up there. That is the power of the dreamer, and of the dreaming path of writing. Take an inspiration, any inspiration, whether it be a fascinating character or an exciting conflict or a luscious setting, and put your fingers on the keys and get out of the way. With only the smallest amount of encouragement your dreaming half will eagerly take over and you literally will not know what is going to happen next until it shows up on your screen. There is no feeling like waiting with bated breath, perched on a moment of high drama, to find out what you yourself will write next. That is the very center of writing’s magic.

But dreaming’s very strength engenders a problem. Dreaming is in the moment. Dreaming cares not for the future. And that is no way to get a novel done in anything like a reasonable amount of time.

The planner starts with the same thing, an inspiration. He may even indulge in some freewheeling writing to enlarge on the theme, flesh things out a bit, set the inspiration so it doesn’t go flying off somewhere. But before long he starts answering some questions: what scenes are suggested by this inspiration? What characters are needed for these scenes? What are their drives, hopes, and fears? What subplots and additional conflicts do these bring to mind?

It is through questions and explorations that the planner builds a novel. By the time the planner is ready to actually write the scenes, he will have a good idea of what scenes are needed, in what order, and who will be in them and what they will be doing. He will have a good sense of his characters and be ready to step fully into them to bring each scene to life right from the start. Then he starts at page 1 and goes right through to The End.

Said like that, planning sounds dry and pedantic. Plodding. But the planner gets to dream, too. The planner accesses his right brain in the development of character, the discovery of plot, and in the actual writing. He always stays open to the unexpected new direction and the revelatory plot twist, or even the arrival of a totally new character. They just have to serve the work already in progress.

I came to writing late. I can’t afford to waste time. I swiftly discovered that the path of the dreamer involves a lot of characters, scenes, and entire plot lines that get left out of the final drafts. They may get used somewhere later, and they are always a pleasure to write, but the plain truth is they did not support or illuminate the novel. And that kind of wastage I just cannot afford.

So – for now, at least – I am a planner. I’m enthralled by the planning process used by Elizabeth George, which I’ll talk about another time. I still enjoy the wide open possibility of the dreamer, and I still look forward to the times when I can let my imagination go. But to further the story, to make sure that my work serves its intended purpose, I do my dreaming within the confines of a well-constructed plan.

Published in: on June 16, 2013 at 10:01 pm  Comments (3)  
Tags: , , , , ,

Massage Therapy Self Care – Energy Management 101

lightning hands Energy management is one of a massage therapist’s most vital skills, and one of the most undiscussed. I know it raised my eyebrows when my instructor first mentioned it. Wasn’t I at the best, most medically-oriented massage college in North America to learn the hard science behind massage therapy?

“Learn to stop your patient’s energy before it reaches your elbows,” the instructor said, pointing to a spot about mid-forearm. “That’s also a good place to stop your energy before it reaches them.”

Yeah, right. It made no sense to me at the time, new to the profession and with hardly any massages under my belt. We had all just come from classes in arteries and nerves and ligaments, and now we were talking about energy? But it didn’t take long before I saw the truth of what she said, and the bedrock wisdom behind it.

Doing It Right

People aren’t just arteries and bones and muscles. We are thoughts and feelings and attitudes, too, and in the close environment of a massage therapy session, those feelings and attitudes can be contagious. I first found that out by direct experience. Partway through a session one afternoon my thoughts started to wander. I began thinking about people who had done me wrong, and negative situations I’d been in, and I started getting angry. Visions of vengeance and righteous aggression began taking over the inside of my head, distracting me from my work. The feelings and imaginings got more and more intense.

They got so intense, in fact, that I couldn’t own them. I just wasn’t that angry, about anybody or anything. ‘Oh!’ I said to myself. ‘These feelings aren’t mine!’ Only then did I remember that I was working on a particularly angry young man. I was literally picking up my patient’s feelings as if they were my own. It was just like my instructor had warned us.

Now came the hard part – how to prevent this transference of emotion from happening. The skill took awhile to build, but it really was as simple as telling the energy to stop. I paid attention to my patient’s feelings. I trained myself to feel for the signs of my patient’s energy coming up my hands – it feels like a warmth, sometimes a tingle. Once it reached halfway up my forearms, I simply told it to stop.

I wasn’t always successful. Some massages left me feeling worse than I started – drained, angry, sad, lonely, a dozen other emotions that had no relation whatever to anything in my own life. But this happened less and less as I gained experience.

Wash It Awaysquirrel_sith_lightning

I developed a habit, after every massage, of washing my hands in cold water. Soap always took care of the oil removal and cleanliness required of the job, and the clean, cold  chill washed away any residual energy. I was left fresh and ready for the next massage.

So my instructor was right. I needed to learn energy management, or suffer the consequences. It was a skill I gained over time, like most skills in this business. But once I knew what needed to be done I rarely picked up – or passed on – an energetic charge after my first year.

Now you know, too.