Just wanted to share this very cool Q&A session with one of my students, Meg (with her permission, of course). Meg is writing a fantasy trilogy. I thought the way she analyzed the situation was awesome, and her savvy questions show the kind of thinking workflow-aware artists develop.
I also think it’s a great showcase for how the workflow lingo makes it easy for one creative to explain what she’s going through, and for another creative to make workflow suggestions.
Here’s the conversation.
I think I need some advice. As I’ve told you before, I’m writing a fantasy trilogy (it’s taking many years but I’m learning a lot).
I’m currently working on book 1. I have a concept for the whole trilogy, but I don’t really have a pre-make for it yet; so I’m actually thinking about my current work through book 1 as part of a huge exploring phase.
For book 1 I already have this:
– A concept: one paragraph long.
– A premake: a seven pages long plot summary
– The whole book blocked: a fifteen pages long chapter by chapter summary
I’ve finished writing the prologue but it was really hard and it took me a lot of time. Now that I’m writing chapter 1 it is still hard, so I decided to stop, take a step back and find the reason.
Seeing each chapter as a mini-project, I revised the summary I had for chapter 1 and thought of it as the concept. But then I just faked my pre-make for chapter 1 and went straight into the making phase (which was a disaster and felt like a real struggle). Now I’m going back to the exploring phase of chapter 1 in order to make a genuine premake, so I would like to know if you have any specific advice or tips you could give me here.
I also would like to know how you would approach (in the macro-level) a big project like writing a fantasy trilogy. What do you think about my decision of thinking about my current work through book 1 as part of a huge exploration phase of the whole trilogy? How would you go about developing the premake of a fantasy trilogy?
First, let me say that this is a fantastic analysis of the situation. The way you’re looking at it all is EXACTLY right. So that’s already a big win, I think.
A few thoughts:
1. Seven pages is quite long for a premake. Not saying it’s impossible, but consider creating a more concise premake that you can take in more-or-less at a glance. A single page, say, and maybe some visuals. Something you can basically put on your wall for quick reference.
2. You did well by stopping and taking a step back when you realized the process feels too hard/takes too long. If you skipped the explore (=vision) stage and went from concept straight to “make” (=production), that could definitely be part of the problem. A few other things to consider once you get back to the production phase:
– Are you trying to achieve too much in a single pass? Each pass should be a small and very simple step forward. Many small simple steps will usually get you to the satisfying result faster (and with lass anxiety) than a smaller number of large steps.
– Is it overwhelming? Perhaps a full chapter is still too much to handle in regular passes. You might need to either LAYER it or SLICE it to simplify things.
3. The question you asked (tips about exploring) is pretty broad, especially knowing you did the EXPLORE (=Vision) course. Can you direct me a bit? Also, do have a look at the “at a glance” summary from the book – perhaps that’ll help:
Vision – at a glance (More summaries can be found here).
4. Some things just take time – and that’s absolutely fine! It takes a heck of a lot of time to go from 70% to 99%, and that ratio of work-to-quality can be frustrating if you don’t expect it. Plan your work and set clear time frames for the steps ahead, so that your time expectations are realistic.
5. Treating book #1 as an exploration: I’m not sure I buy that, to be honest. The whole idea of the EXOPLRE/STUDY part is to try options and experiment knowing you’re OFF STAGE – that it’s all a throwaway thing. That gives you the ‘licence’ to loosen up and be adventurous with your solutions, and also to be very quick and crude when trying out stuff. So I don’t see how writing a whole book, start to finish, can count as an study phase.
Hope that makes sense…. let me know if you have more questions!
1. With this you reminded me of a creative-writing teacher I had last year. He always said that it is better when the plot summary is as short as possible. This way we can see the story more clearly. So I’ll take note of this point and reduce the plot summary to one page 😉
2. Yeah, I think I’m still struggling with making each pass really simple (it’s hard to think right when I have a deadline to hand in my progress to my current teacher –> I’m studying at a creative writing program for novelists). Yeah, I also think a full chapter may be too much to handle in regular passes. I need to figure out the best way to chunk it.
3. The summary actually helped a lot. Thanks for the links!
4. I have about three weeks before I have to hand in my progress again. I don’t know how much I can do in that time. But it is good to know those percentages so that I can set my expectations at a more realistic level.
5. What you say makes sense.
Maybe it would be better to see things like this? A trilogy is a big project so, with a concept in hand, what I’m actually doing is dividing it into three big chunks (the three books). Each chunk/book is its own project, so it needs to go through all the stages (Dream, Explore, Make). So, instead of making a Premake for the whole trilogy, I just need to make sure that all three books are in line with the global concept for the trilogy.
What do you thing about this way of seeing things?
I think my plan for now will be like this: 1) explore the chapter until I get a clear vision of it. 2) Capture the chapter’s vision in a Premake. 3) Using the Premake as a guide, chuck the chapter in smaller parts and treat them as micro-projects.
I still need to think about the time-frames though.
This all sounds really good. As for your point #5, yes that sounds exactly right.