planting, not planning

One of my excellent beta readers is working her way through the Jan Sleet mystery stories one by one, sending me comments after she reads each story. This is particularly useful since two other beta readers have read the whole book from beginning to end and sent me comments as if it were a novel (which it also is, so it's important to get both types of feedback).

But there are times that I feel like I might be giving the wrong impression, since quite often a new character or situation is introduced in a story and I tell her, "Oh, yes, that pays off in three more stories."

Which gives the impression that I have a plan. As I've mentioned before, I usually start each story without any idea how the story will end, let alone what will happen three stories later.

So, if what I'm doing is not planning, what is it?

It's planting. I plant things for later, and some of them grow and some don't. I think, "Hey, maybe it will be useful to have an xxxx character later on. Let me introduce one now and see what happens." And, for various reasons, it often does work out that an xxxxx character does prove useful later on. And if some of them don't get used again, well, that just makes it more realistic. As I've said before, some things need to pay off, but it gets pretty predictable if everything does.

This is what makes it difficult to split up the mystery stories; they all depend on each other. Oh well. That's why they're also chapters in a novel.

In other news, Al Schroeder, the artist and writer of the webcomic Mindmistress, has put the series on hold, at least for now. I've talked before (usually in my anniversary posts) about how inspired I've been by Al's persistance (and, related to that, how much his art has improved compared to when he started – if you want to get better at something, do it every day for ten years and then compare).

But you also have to know when to stop, or at least take a break. If it stops being fun, the work will suffer. And what's the point of being non-professional if you can't stop when you want to? So, I'd like to raise a glass (or, at least, a mug of tea) to Al for the last ten years. I look forward to more stories, in whatever form (personally, I'm hoping he picks up with Flickerflame again – that story had some potential, I always thought...).

More of Stevie One is posted. This is the end of Part Six. There will be one more part, called (appropriately) "The Solution."

In case you missed it, I did another post a couple of days ago, about my attempt to see the movie Prometheus.

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4 Responses to planting, not planning

  1. sonje says:

    The main reason I wanted to finish the drafts for all four books in my series before publishing any of them was because I’m not smart enough to plant things as I write them. I wanted to go back and plant as if I’d had a plan all along! I like to make myself look smarter than I am!

  2. It’s interesting that you use this metaphor. I’ve heard now several references to an alternate dichotomy of writers to supplant “Planners and Pantsers” to call them “Architects and Gardeners”, respectively, and the metaphors inherent in this alternate dichotomy fit pretty well with what how you’re thinking about your work.

  3. Sonje: Well, I must say that sounds like a very rational approach. I’m not sure my approach is a sign of intelligence, though. 🙂

    Stephen: I think any of these either/or these paradigms are of only limited usefulness without more explanation. Architect/Gardner at least has the value of both options sounding equally respectable. 🙂

    “Gardner” does appeal to me in one specific way, though, since most of what I write is set in the same plot of land. Something planted in one story might grow in another. 🙂

  4. I’m watching Firefly (catching up since I liked Serenity so much), and in the commentary Joss Whedon says that he planted things in the pilot for later episodes, though he didn’t always know what he was planting them for or how they would pay off.

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