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)  
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The Most Amazing Massage Clinic In The World – or Why I Became a Travelling Massage Therapist

tablebrookI first chose to become a travelling RMT because of two words – clinic rent. But the job quickly became more than just a way to save money. It became the most amazing and fascinating and challenging career I could have dreamed of. That’s why I ran Vancouver’s Mobile Massage Therapy for 12 years.

Travelling massage therapy is working on the cheap. Sort of. Maybe. True, you don’t have to pay clinic rent to somebody else. Instead you get to deduct your car, your gas, and your home office at income tax time. Of course, you also have to pay for your car and your gas. You get to be the receptionist, and the laundry lady, and the bookkeeper. You have to spend unpaid time travelling, and some of your patient time is spent messing with your table. You end up paying in time instead of money. So I answered my own phone, and learned the fastest ways around Vancouver, and got my table setup down to a reflex. I could live with that.

A travelling massage therapist is a minimalist. You don’t get to have heating pads, charts on the wall, incense and subdued lighting and soft music. You get your table, your oil bottle, and your hands. You work in your patient’s living room or bedroom or kitchen or back yard, to the soothing sounds of silence or screaming kids or Led Zeppelin or Oprah. You get supper smells or cigarettes or a lilac forest or eau de hospital. You get an infinite variety of circumstances to work with; and within it all, you and your hands get to do somebody some good.

I loved it all. Aside from my constantly changing office view, I had the opportunity to see inside my patients’ lives. I got to see where their stress, and sometimes their disease, came from. Sometimes it helped me inform my treatment plans. Always it broadened my own personal experience, and widened my worldview.

And then there were the clients themselves. Mobile massage therapy introduces you to a variety of patients you’d never see in a clinic setting. I was called to the homes of the elderly, the disabled, the comatose, and the dying. I worked with MS and Lupus and arthritis and strokes and spinal cord injury and every other condition that pins people to their beds. The conditions and situations I encountered in my practice shocked, scared, humbled, challenged and fascinated me. They sent me back to the books. Time and time again I was pushed to see what I could do. I rose to the challenges, and often I was able to do some good.

Travelling massage introduced me to so many unique and amazing people and situations. The young man in the throes of his very first MS attack, his entire family in turmoil after their doctor had told him to go home and live with it. The single mother of newborn twins who was so grateful because she had no time for a clinic visit for her aching back. The more than a handful of famous people who didn’t want to be seen. The man with the back spasm on his living room floor, only able to reach his phone. The homes where I was kept busy for a day massaging the entire family.

I’ve given sessions on a boat, in a park, in back yards and on balconies. I’ve worked on canopy beds and hospital beds. I’ve seen the inside of every health care facility and major hotel in Vancouver. I’ve been in mansions and hovels, from the British Properties to the Downtown East Side. I have helped all manner of people, and the experiences have made me rich. That is why I worked as a travelling massage therapist for as long as I did. That is why, for the right therapist – young, strong, independent, eager to be pushed – I highly recommend it.