Experimentation Gone Wrong

Producing Cold Reboot
Iron Horses Can't Be Broken Finishes Its Audio Run

I’ve been writing novels professionally for four-and-a-half years now, and I’m constantly trying new things to improve my craft. Sometimes this means a new sort of project, like the audio drama adaptations I produce through Burning Brigid Media. Sometimes it’s a new process. Sometimes these experiments result in a smoother workflow, and sometimes… not so much.

Generally speaking I do a lot of planning before I start writing, drilling down to the scene-by-scene level, plotting out the story in minutia. I’ve never been able to write a novel by the seat of my pants. I get lost and confused, huddling into the corner until a friendly adult comes to find me.

Hypothesis

Still, I’ve often wondered if the degree of planning I had to do was a genuine part of my creative process, or a crutch that was keeping me back.

Procedure

NetworkProtocolPreviewWhen embarking on Network Protocol, sequel to the cyberpunk thriller Cold Reboot, I decided to take a slightly looser structure, planning chapter-by-chapter instead of scene-by-scene.

Now, I usually don’t even think about chapters until the last round of revisions. To me they’re less a unit of storytelling than a tool to control a reader’s pacing. Something to make it difficult for someone to put the book down. Readers don’t like to stop reading mid-chapter, so if your chapters end on a crisis point with high tension, they might talk themselves into reading just a little bit more.

However, in the interest of science, I decided to use the chapters as the smallest unit of planning, writing 2-3 chapters in my outline to describe what happened in each.

Results

No matter how I chose to envision the story while plotting, scenes still exist. I still had to write them, only I approached them without a clear idea of what I was going to write. This is, I believe, what they call “pantsing.”

It… did not go well.

fail

While there were a few moments that provided me with delightful “in the moment” sort of surprises, in general I found that I entered each scene without any tactical sense of what the characters were going to do. I had to make it up as I went along, and ended up with some irrational plans and illogical outcomes.

Or, in other words, scenes that I will have to completely re-write when I do my revisions. Easy to fix, but time consuming, extending the time it’ll take me to finish Network Protocol by 200-300%.

So. What have we learned?

Conclusion

I can’t pants. Scene-by-scene plotting is just part of the way I work, and I don’t need to worry too much about trying to evolve past this. If it happens, it happens, but what I do is effective, and I should stick to that.

For now.

How about you? What have you tried and failed, and what has it taught you? Answer in the comments below.

Michael Coorlim

Michael Coorlim is a teller of strange stories for stranger people. He collects them, the oddballs. The mystics and fire-spinners, the sages and tricksters. He curates their tales, combines their elements and lets them rattle around inside his rock-tumbler skull until they gleam, then spills them loose onto the page for like-minded readers to enjoy.
Michael Coorlim

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Producing Cold Reboot
Iron Horses Can't Be Broken Finishes Its Audio Run

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