Friday, June 28, 2013

Tips on Experimenting With Writing

Matt sat down to the game I’ve been programming for fun last night. For as little work as I’ve gotten to do on it, there’s been a myriad of cool scripts and other gadgets I’ve been able to edit and plug in, which have made progress on its production easier. So much so, that I’ve started to get into programming the actual scenes of the story, in fact.

"Too much dialogue!" he said, and I agreed with him. I'm not a mind-blowing writer and I still draw far better than I write. But I am well-practiced and more importantly, I love learning. I write too long. Ask anyone who’s read my fanfiction. I had to learn to edit things down and to be okay with doing so, and a lot of my technique for writing today relies on typing every little thing down and tearing half of it out, later. I learned this through experiment -- writing things for fun and employing new practices that I hadn't tested yet.
Recall the series of posts that began here: Creative Writing From Start to Finish. To break it down, my writing technique looks something like this:
  • Get ideas
  • Turn ideas into breakdowns, character profiles and backdrops
  • Turn breakdowns into story beats
  • Turn story beats into a story
  • Inject themes and subtext
  • Edit the whole thing down
It's all well and good to follow this formula, but enjoying the process of writing would be impossible if I didn't switch things up once in a while and try new things. I get lots of enjoyment out of writing, but to turn the process into a formula can make for a very boring time, so I need to try new things and break some of my own rules once in a while.
Here then, are some new things I've been testing with fun-for-me projects like the aforementioned game, and some paid projects as well:
  • Working a plot around a theme without force. And the words 'without force' are the important ones, here. It's generally considered bad form to plot around a theme, because it doesn't feel natural. Indeed, your subtext should serve your plot and not the other way around. What's been working for me, however, is to write out enough of the story to know when a theme is beginning to rear its head, develop it, and not bend the plot out of shape if it's not a perfect fit. Tweaking a theme is far superior to tweaking a story, and can produce some satisfying results.
  • Inserting a plot device (or two) at random. This one is a bit tricky because it immediately registers a big fat "DON'T" from my brain when I try it. I've found that this is due, mostly, to my brain having not figured out what will come of the plot device and its intended purpose, when it shows up at a point that doesn't make any sense. But that's beautiful, too, because if I'm not expecting it then I hope my reader isn't either. I'm also forced to work with it and use ideas I hadn't been counting on using to reconcile it.
  • Writing towards one resolution and going an entirely different direction. I picked this up from Kevin Smith's experience directing Red State. In an interview I saw, he talked about having the story written to a point where the next thing to do in the progression seemed obvious, so it was decided to do something entirely different instead, to keep the audience on its toes. Like the randomly appearing plot device I talked about above, jerking your story around in new and surprising ways can be a frustrating but highly effective way to break out of your comfort zones as an author. Too, notice I didn't say 'opposite direction', here. If you do this, keep in mind that it's sometimes just as easy and therefore just as expected to take a story one way and do the exact opposite. Try to do something really wacky and off the beaten path, instead.

You may try some of these yourself, and indeed, you may try others. If you need help getting ideas, I suggest going back to my How to Write guides again and inspecting points where you can bend the rules a little (or a lot) and giving it a go.
It's important to note that when you experiment with your writing, any weird thing you're going to try has the potential to go very, very wrong. But that's okay -- this is a creative exercise, after all. You may feel more comfortable doing this type of work with your side projects, therefore.
Even if you're not getting paid to mess around with a story, it's important to take it seriously enough that it serves the highest purpose of writing: It makes for a good read.

No comments: