Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Welcome Guest Blogger: Lexxie Couper!!

Flying Into The Mist Or…

Help! I Can’t See My Plot For The Fog!

by Lexxie Couper

I think I’ve bought just about every writer’s guide on the market. If there’s a book out there about writing, I’ve bought it. I read every one. At the end of every one I feel inspired, determined… and then I begin the first step each of these wonderful guides strongly suggest and I falter. Actually, that’s probably an understatement. I freeze up, my fingers refuse to move and my muse catches a bus to Splitsville (a lonely, isolated and depressing little berg just south of Dumpsville and down the road from Whoop-Whoop).

What is this hideous technique so thoroughly and comprehensively endorsed by so many writers guides that brings all my dreams and creative aspirations to a screaming halt? Pre-plotting. Knowing everything that is going to happen chapter-by-chapter – and, in one particular guide, page-by-page! (Boy, did that How To book make me feel like a failure!) According to just about every guide I’ve read, pre-plotting is vital to writing a book. No, not just vital… vital! With italics. And double exclamation marks!(!) I’ve tried pre-plotting, I truly have, but when it comes to writing, me and pre-plotting don’t mix.

I get bored with the story, or so bogged down in the details of each scene that I lose focus of the story (a writer’s equivalent of not seeing the forest for the trees, I guess). Or, worse still, the excitement of the idea is lost by the time I’ve finished planning and what I write is dry, lifeless and stale.

So, what is the alternative? What other dangerous, rebellious, reckless option is there?

Not pre-plotting. Just sitting down to the computer/legal pad/café napkin with a seed of an idea and letting the words flow, without any real idea where those words will take you. The multi-published author, Jo Beverley calls it Flying Into The Mist. I only learnt this phrase last year, but I think it describes the technique (and I have to use that term loosely) very well.

What is mist? Mist is a phenomenon of small droplets suspended in air. It can occur as part of natural weather or volcanic activity, and is common in cold air above warmer water, in exhaled air in the cold, and in a steam room of a sauna. While not completely opaque (does one use the “word” opaque to describe anything else apart from stockings, I wonder?), mist does prevent things being seen clearly. It hides detail, it conceals objects. When writing, mist hides your characters’ actions, and therefore, your plot. It means you don’t really know what your characters are going to do. They may very well surprise you and suddenly refuse, point-blank, to apologise to their boss for being late and will punch the insufferable snob in the nose instead. When flying into the mist, it doesn’t matter what you thought may be important for character motivation – say, that enormous broken heart you decided your hero needed for backstory from a previous relationship – because your hero will abruptly take a-hold of the joystick and point you straight for a barely visible child-hood fear, telling you that’s what’s really important, that’s why he can’t commit to your heroine who, while you haven’t been paying attention, has decided she wants this sweet story of unconditional love to be a spicy tale of intrigue and mayhem, with maybe a spot of midnight skinny-dipping thrown in for good measure. Flying into the mist is fun. It’s surprising, mysterious and, at times, frightening – but in a good way. It’s when the mist becomes fog that you need to be careful.

The only difference between mist and fog is visibility. Fog is defined as cloud which reduces visibility to less than 1 kilometer. Mist is that which reduces visibility to less than 2 km. It is remarkable what that extra kilometre of “whiteness” conceals. The risks are inherent. Fog blocks out the creative sun and that small seed of an idea you started with begins to grow twisted and misshapen.

I’ve flown into the fog more than once. Four chapters in and I realise I’m flying in completely the wrong direction. My light, witty editor-requested contemporary romance has turned into a somewhat disturbing investigation into the power-plays of a relationship. Hmmmm. Here’s the thing though (and my advice to anyone who likes to fly into the mist – “flimmers”, Jo Beverly calls us) – despite the hours spent lost in the fog, they’re not wasted minutes. No word written is a wasted word. Even if you delete every one, you haven’t wasted them. They have been filed deep in the drawers of your subconsciousness, the well-source of your creativity. Those “wrong-way” words, even those deleted words, may reveal all sorts of things you didn’t know about your characters, or they may revel glimpses of the next flight you will take, a mysterious trajectory through a misty sky. OK, I’m getting a little carried away with the whole flight metaphor here, but you get my drift (can you tell I’m flying into the mist with this blog? *grin*)

I guess, what I’m saying is this…. It’s totally OK to not plot. It’s totally OK to see where the words take you as they come, to follow the flight-path regardless of the cloud concealing the way. If you ask me, it’s more than OK. It’s scary, mysterious, at times frustration, but lots of fun too, and really, isn’t that what writing’s all about?

Lexxie Couper is an award-winning, multi-published author of paranormal romance (both sensual and erotica). She is also a proud Aussie, a wife, mother and dog owner, and ridiculously afraid of flying. Visit her at her website.


Ceri said...

Flying into the mist. I like that very much and it describes how I prefer to write, cocktail napkin and all (not that I drink many cocktails while writing-but come to think of it, it may help).

My first How To book had me feeling very down, thinking I had to take about a million steps before I was even allowed to start writing. The only thing I did get out of it was ideas on how to set up a perfect writing space (which I still don't have)

Great blog Lexxie! Good way to start my day!

anno said...

Your metaphor explains exactly how I feel every time I see a blank page -- perfectly said!

Judy Thomas said...

Lexxie, great job. And you are not alone. Stephen King says, "...plotting and the reasl spontaneity of real creation aren't basic belief about the making of stories is that they pretty much make themselves."

When I read those words, it gave me the freedom to write the way I write. Of course, I'm still working on his other advice... be in your "writing space" at a certain time EVERY DAY and stay there until you've met your goal for the day, no matter how long that takes. Life just gets in the way and I need to take my writing seriously if I want to be a serious writer. (Yeah, I'm nagging at myself... I have a business partner who does it for me, but I thought maybe she needed a break!)

Amy Addison said...

"opaque" is often used when describing the color of snot to a doctor over the phone. As in, "Well, it's not's clear, but it's not opaque. It's semi-opaque."

As a confirmed plotter, the idea of flimming scares the ever-livin' daylights out of me. I might write in the dark, but I always carry a flashlight. The one time I didn't, it was a MESS.

There are different levels of pre-plotting though. I know one gal who calls herself a pantser, but three chapters in, stops to do an idea board for the rest of the book. Placing sticky-notes in quadrants for what happens in the rest of Act 1, Act 2, &c. It's not a formal outline, but it certainly isn't flimming, either.

Thanks for the post. I love stuff that gets me thinking about process.

Brandy said...

I am so enjoying reading of the different process' that authors take. Thank you for sharing!

Melissa said...

Nice post! I'm a combo. I know the beginning and the end. Everything in between is a mystery and where I fly into the fog and often crash head first into a mountain.

Lexxie Couper said...

hi everyone,

it's 4am in Australia and i have a very sick baby daughter on my lap (high fever and opaque snot - thanks, amy). as soon as it's daylight and my little girl is feeling better i'll be back. promise.


Diane Craver said...

Great post, Lexxie! I actually mentioned a writing book on my blog today and how it discouraged me as a writer. And love the term Flying into the Mist. I jot down big scenes and have a good idea of my story line, but really the characters take over and I many times take a different journey.

Thanks for sharing how you write.

Chris M. said...

Wonderful post, Lexxie. I have to say that it's nice to know I'm not the only one who doesn't know HOW my characters will get where I know they are going. It's nice to see how other writers... well write!

I hope your baby girl feels better soon. Seems like it's going around the world! My kids were all just sick recently... then I caught it.

Dru said...

very interesting. I like how writers all have different degrees of getting their stories together.

groovyoldlady said...

I am SO not a plotter. I think I first figured this out in Jr. High when they forced us to use the notecard system to prepare for writing a research report.

Hated it.

I like my notes here and there on random scraps of paper and on the margins of other "works". My characters tend to grab the story and take over. Since they already know where they want to go, why should I wear myself out beforehand?

Dena said...

Hi Lexxie, I thought about writing a book several years ago but when I learned a little about what is involved; outlines, proposels. Nothing like getting all the books. I just thought about writing a book, not doing other things to get it seen by a publisher. A few months ago on Bertrice Small's website I learned she just writes a story and submits it, I'm sure with edits etc. I figured she can do that because she is a well established writer. Then this past week I learned from a new to me author Donna Grant she does the same thing! Anyways I would definitely be a writer that just seen where the words take me if I decided to write too. Have a great day.