Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Dark Side Addendum

Hmmm...that could be a good title for a novel, couldn't it?

Back to the point, though. I had a few more thoughts about my last post, and realized that the question of when to "tool up" is a lot more subtle than I may have suggested.

I focused a lot on the opposite ends of the spectrum - plotters versus pantsers - and I may have implied that you can only be one or the other. You either lay your full toolkit out right at the start, like a surgeon embarking on a quadruple bypass, or resort to it only when you've gone off the rails and are trying to rescue a train wreck of a novel.

No! That wasn't the idea at all.

Let me repeat a key sentence from last time: the beauty of most of the tools I've talked about is that they can be used at any stage of the writing process.

That means before, after, during, or in any combination.

Think about a simple example: the humble character sheet. Some folks are likely to start these off right at the outset. Like putting on clean underwear before leaving the house, it's an ingrained habit. But some folks may go through the whole story without making any kind of character notes at all. Erm, no, I don't think I'll extend the analogy.

Me? I've never felt the need for full-blown character sheets, not yet anyway, but I do make character notes constantly throughout the writing as details about the characters emerge. I don't do much up front, but nor do I wait until I need to rescue myself from trouble.

The point is, the same tool can often be used at different times, in different ways, and for different purposes.

In this example, the outcome I seek is usually simple consistency: I jot down details as I invent them so I can use them consistently later. I know I'll get into a muddle if I don't, so that's how I work.

And, to complicate matters, the same writer might use different tools at different stages of the game. It's not an all or nothing deal. So even a devoted plotter may only bring out certain standard favorites before setting pen to paper (character sheets...check, outline...check, ...), maybe bringing other tools to bear at later stages of the writing, and keeping others in reserve for use only when needed.

There is no light and dark; we are all shades of grey.


  1. Still loving your toolbox series. All great stuff. I have been playing with yWriter5 lately, and it seems to do a good job at providing a lot of these tools in one combined place. It has also started helping me find weak scenes in my story (future blog post coming on that).

    Not trying to sound like a fanboy or anything, but it is a pretty useful tool to throw in the box.



  2. Thanks for the encouragement, Andrew. I think the potential benefit of writing software is exactly that they combine a lot of useful tools in one place. It is for each of us to find the combination that works best for us.

  3. It reminds me of Tales from the Darkside. :) The character sheet is so useful...I didn't wise up and start one until I had finished my first book. Luckily, I got to know my characters. I do that too, jot down details or keep unused paragraphs for later. There's always a use for them. We are definitely all shades of grey. Wow, how do you keep six cats?

  4. Hello Laila, six cats isn't much more difficult than one really. It helps that they are indoor/outdoor cats so they mostly look after themselves. They even remind us when it's feeding time. How helpful ;)


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