Monday, December 7, 2015

Château Soleil Update 10: Constraints

Current word count: 101,325
Chapters done: 31/52
Projected length: 169,965 words

I've finally cross the 100,000 word point, which means this is officially the longest single project I've ever written. I've already blogged about process, but I wanted to talk about one aspect of my process that probably makes the least sense: artificial constraints.

They're awesome. And terrible. But mostly awesome. Here's why: blank pages are intimidating. When you can do absolutely everything, it's hard to do anything. When I'm handed an open-ended opportunity to write something, I tend to just spin my wheels. If I want to actually get something done, I constrain myself. By defining the borders of the story, I force myself to make decisions about what story I'm going to tell. This gets the creative juices flowing and helps me work things out.

I got a lot of practice at this during my Friday Flash Fiction years. And since I was writing very short stories, I could try some very bizarre and extreme constraints. Write a story as a single sentence. Write a story that is just a list of objects. Write a story as low-brow bathroom-humor poetry. Write a completely self-referential story. Or whatever struck my fancy. Half the fun was in trying to challenge myself and then finding ways to meet those challenges.

It wasn't easy to translate these same sensibilities to a longer-form work, but I found a system that worked for me. I didn't start writing this book until I had an outline finished with a high-level overview of every single chapter, including POV character, major plot points, and target word counts. This chapter will be between three and four thousand words and will be told exclusively by one pre-determined character. Since I write the chapters in sequence, I know what the tone of the previous chapter was and I know the overall shape of the story. Therefore I know what the tone of this one needs to be. Also, plot points A, B, and C need to happen. And it needs to be interesting. Then, writing becomes an exercise in meeting those constraints. It becomes a problem to solve, which is much easier to attack than "write a chapter in this epic saga you're staging" would be.

This does occasionally backfire. I've had projects stall out because I'd constrained myself into a corner. But so far this one hasn't run out of steam, and I'm in the part of the story where holy-cow-all-the-stuff-is-happening.

Next post should have me around the 2/3rds mark. Talk to you then.


No comments: