No, not THAT kind of flake.
Well, I guess…yes, that kind of flake. Sometimes. But that’s not what I’m talking about this time. I’m talking about software for writers.
Because what’s better than finding software that gives you an excuse to
procrastinate wallow, develop, and otherwise play with the story?
Actually, I’ve never gotten into the whole “build your book” software thing. Or before that, the endless systems advised for same. Oh, you know. The index cards, the character interviews, the systems, and the navel-gazing, self-important, overly righteous exercises by which one is supposed to build a book.
(“Gosh, Doranna, tell us how you really feel!”)
And every time someone suggested such things, whether they came by way of book, seminar, or software, my muse made a retching noise and slammed the door between us. After all, she’s been writing books since she was twelve, a native pantser who learned to plan ahead by about a third of a book at a time while holding the entire big picture in her (MY) head.
Well, a retching muse is hard to ignore. (I want you to know I looked for a graphic for this spot, but had a sudden attack of class.) And since writing as a pro also means coming up with proposals, which means coming up with detailed synopses, I just did it her way–which is to say, lots of hand-waving. “So there’s this cool set-up, and then [hand-waving] something cool happens that raises the stakes! And then [hand-waving] another something cool happens that raises the stakes even more!”
I always knew what I wanted to accomplish at any given point in the story, but I never knew quite how it would happen or what threads would be weaving through what point of the book. And that works for me, but still…
I do like to be organized. And I like to wallow and play in the worlds of my mind; I just generally do it without writing anything down.
In recent years I’ve stumbled through a lot of non-bloatware software. There was the one that had a Save File” bug (unannounced) that ATE MY CHAPTER. There was this other one that was waaaaay too complicated (see above, navel-gazing) and looked like nothing more than a great big fat excuse to Never Write Again. There was one that was close, but not quite flexible enough. There’s Scrivener, which I’m actually using for first draft, but have found the compile feature to be a major-league PITA/FAIL and the backups to create a dizzying number of hard-to-access folders and files, so I don’t like to do anything but the most primary and simplest work that way. There are features I love and I’ve written 18 months of fiction on it, so it’ll likely stay my drafting software. But.
I don’t even remember how I came across Snowflake, by Randy Ingermanson. I was following my nose in the search for drafting software, and stumbled onto it.
Muse: OMG. OMG. This is IT! This is how I think! GET IT FOR ME! GET IT GET IT GETITRIGHTNOW!
So I did.
And lo, it has changed much about the way I develop books. Even if I don’t put a story or book through the system, I have it in mind as I’m pulling the story elements together, and it gives me direction. And confidence. And besides, it’s FUN.
The Snowflake system is called that because like snowflakes, its story-building process is fractal–not linear. It starts with the very basic one-sentence summary of your story–the simplest level of complexity–and adds layers. And it’s totally flexible–you can skip steps that don’t work for you, and the whole process still works just fine. Or you can mutate the steps slightly to suit your needs, which I’ve done from the start. I also recently started treating story threads as characters–that’s where it fits in the system–and that works juuuust fine.
Anyway. I can well imagine that this system wouldn’t work for everyone (shoot, just look how many approaches not only didn’t work for me, but were actively antithetical to the way I work). And it’s not a system that will teach you how to write–you have to know how to tell a story going into the thing. In fact, most of the criticism I see about the method is aimed at the fact that while it does create a plot, it won’t automatically result in storytelling.
Well, no. Not much does, does it? There aren’t any shortcuts for that. You have to put the story into the planning your ownself. So far I haven’t had any trouble doing that with this method. It’s all in the way you expand from sentence to paragraph to synopsis–which, except for short pieces, is as far as I go. If you want, you can write scene to scene, but that’s not for me. Doesn’t matter, though–after all, the tool is there for me to use–I’m not there for the tool to use!
Muse: No one is the boss of me!
There’s a really good description of the process here, and here’s how someone else felt about it–but it takes me a heck of a lot less time to go through the process than is posited in these discussions. A tenth of the time, maybe? A fifteenth? Maybe because I don’t get stuck on the final step with the scenes, or maybe because I have a pretty solid thing of my own going already. Here’s another conversation about it–this echoes my experience a little more closely, except the part about getting bogged down.
In fact, this is a process that un-bogs me, should I be floundering a bit. That’s the whole point. But I think it’s necessary to have a sense of when you’re doing the exercise in a truly constructive way and when you start doing it for the sake of doing the exercise.
Anyway, I’m currently snowflaking the third Reckoners book and having a blast. I’m happy, the muse is happy…what’s not to love?
Or do you have a different book development software/process that makes this one inspire your muse to slam the door?