I realize I never put a cap on the Snowflake Method series I was writing. That’s largely because I’ve put the project on hold for a little while. As I got into the steps of the Snowflake Method, it became apparent to me that I didn’t really have a plot that I could outline, even in simple terms. I have a compelling (for me) premise, but my grasp on the world and the characters is rather weak.
In reading over the outline of the Snowflake Method, I mistakenly thought that this would come to me as I wrote. That was foolish hope, of course, but it was worth trying out. Through NaNoWriMo and the Snowflake Method, I’ve learned more about writing fiction than through all the schooling I’ve had. The most important thing I’ve learned: I’m not ready to write a novel just yet. If I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it right, not just fill pages with random words. A page of writing that has no intention of surviving edits is no better than a blank page.
As such, I decided to take a break and read a book I was supposed to read back in my first run through college, ten years ago: Story, by Robert McKee. It’s a book aimed at screenwriters, but writing fiction is writing fiction, and nearly all of the lessons contained within apply across the board. I won’t go into the specifics of what I took away from the book, with the exception of the final lesson.
Near the very end, McKee talks about the process of writing. What he recommends is almost exactly the same thing as the Snowflake Method, only laid out in broad strokes. He says start small, build an overall outline, an act by act outline, a scene by scene outline. When you’ve finished the outlines, you should be able to finish the screenplay incredibly quickly.
The trick, though, is that the work is all front-loaded. He says it may take only a month to write the outlines and the screenplay, but that’s preceded by five months of note-taking and napkin-scribbling about characters, plots and the world of the film. And that’s the part that I’m missing. I tried to skip straight to the outlines, not really considering that I might need a bit more preparation, thinking that everything would come together as I write. When McKee wrote about time spent taking notes and saying “Here’s a random idea. Here’s an interesting character. Here’s a piece of world. Here’s how things might happen midway,” a light when on above my head.
Here is a path I can follow. Here is what I was missing from NaNoWriMo and the Snowflake Method. So, I’m in note taking mode. I’ve got my NEO, for when long ideas strike me, and I’ve got a stack of index cards tossed in my bag for the small ideas. When my story is more coherent, and my world better formed in my mind, I’ll return to the outlines, and maybe I’ll get a novel (or possibly a screenplay) out of this premise yet.