High Altitude View

Friday, May 7, 2010

Technology is a pretty cool thing.  I am writing this post 35,000 feet over the Eastern seaboard, as I fly down to Atlanta enroute to San Antonio.  Onboard wi-fi is rocking!  What'll they think of next?

Staring out the window, all the fields and towns look tiny, and there are patterns there that are not visible except from this height.  It is a pretty amazing view, and I find myself mulling things over in my WIP.

As I get further into my story, I am starting to consider the structure of the scenes, the pacing, the way certain bits of information are shared with the reader.  I think I've posted before that I tend to write extremely messy first drafts that go all over the map--so there is a definite need to take all that content and pair it with a structure that keeps my novel from sagging in the middle, or dragging at the end.  In my mind, good structure really is about balance between the different parts of the story.

Creating and applying a structure to accomplish these goals can be tricky.  It's a bit like the Nazca lines down in Peru.  If you haven't heard about these fascinating lines, I'll share a little history.  For hundreds of years, the locals and then the Europeans who arrived in the area near Lima, Peru knew that there were strange man-made rock formations out in the desert.  They had no clue what they were for or who put them there.  In the early twentieth century, when the airplane was invented and people started flying over the area, they realized that the strange formations were actually symbols, visible only for the air.

There's an important lesson here, I think, and as I dig into my WIP, I am realizing that the ground-view, page level vantage point isn't going to cut the mustard.  I need to look at things from 35,000 feet.

In my playwrighting days, I had several tricks that I would deploy to evaluate and tweak structure.  For one, I'd place each scene on an index card, then lay all the index cards out on the floor and move them around to explore different structures to determine what works best.  This also sometimes helps to identify scenes that can be combined or cut.

I also sometimes write an outline or treatment which serves the same purpose: to ensure that each scene performs it's function and fits into the larger inciting incident-rising action--climax--denouement framework.

What about you?  What do you do to get a strategic view of your WIP?

11 bolts from the blue:

SM Schmidt said...

Whiteboards are amazing. I wip out my big ole whiteboard and cover it with as many colored pens as I need for each important character arc, individual & overall plot points, time scale, etc. Then when I was done I'd take a picture and go about editing said whiteboard to make sure all the pegs fell neatly in a row.

Lola Sharp said...

Ummmm. I wing it. Sad but true.

After my first draft I usually put it away for a little while. Eventually I go back to it and commence tweaking until I'm sick of it and ready to set fire to the mess. Then I let smarter people than I have a look and I trust their fresh eyes to let me know what needs help.

I wish I could operate from a more organized place, but it ruins the fun of that first draft for me. I really enjoy writing the first draft, getting to know my characters and letting them take me for their ride. Of course this does lead me to lengthy revisions...which I do not particularly love.

Have a safe flight, and a wonderful weekend back home with your girls.

Jenna Wallace said...

I'm off to San Antonio airport to pick up my husband in a few hours. Maybe I'll see you there. If you see a tall woman in jeans and a blue stripey sleeveless shirt, it's me. Say hello!

I am an outliner. Before I start my first draft, I have to know where I'm going. In Word, I give each chapter a bullet point. Then I set up a page per chapter where I outline setting, characters, conflict, plot points and outcome. I print it all out and put it in a 3-ring binder. I can move chapters around if I need to or add and delete as I see fit. It's usually obsolete by the time I get to the end of the first draft, but it gets me started.

Lydia Kang said...

I actually find that writing a query give me a bird's-eye view of my WIP. The themes, the larger stakes at hand.

Tara said...

Uh, ditto to Lola...

Missed Periods said...

I like that analogy a lot. I don't know, however, if I will ever be able to see the bird's eye view of my work on my own. Thank god for my writer's group.

Meghan Ward said...

The best way for me to get a good view of my WIP is to take a break from it - a couple of months at least - and then to sit down and read it straight through. Difficult to do, though, when you're anxious to get it done!

SKIZO said...

In your honour and in the honour of wall the Writwrs and Poets, I published an ilustration.

Christine H said...

Really cool post. I have no guidance on this. I just keep writing and rewriting until I can get a handle on the flow.

However, I am also a statistician, so I have a very orderly, analytical mind and am used to finding patterns in huge, messy piles of information. So that may have something to do with it. I am also a so called "abstract-sequential" personality type, which means "someone who does it all in their head."

Brian Keaney said...

My advice is write a detailed outline (about 10% length of final product). Of course nobody wants to do it but it really improves the quality of the final manuscript.

Anne Tyler Lord said...

I really like your post and relating to the view - it can be very inspiring to us as writers to see such amazing beauty. You must see so much from 35,000 feet. Really great pic.

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