26. March 2013
last week, Patrick Rothfuss, who is most famous for his novel “The Name of the Wind”, posted a new blog entry on his website. That in itself is nothing unusual – he’s frequently updating with long, well thought out articles. Hopefully one day soon I will get there.
However, one paragraph surprised me. The blog dealt with planescape torment and the current kickstarter campaign for its spiritual successor. This was not the point of contention. Nevertheless, here are a few words on that kickstarter campaign: I think it is odd that Guido Henkel, the producer of planescape torment, is not on board. In an interview, he stated that he is not even keeping tabs on the project. This is speculation on my part, but perhaps he’s simply too busy with his own projects. Be that as it may, the kickstarter campaign looks interesting and I for one will pay attention to it. Hopefully it reaches the stretch goal “Pat Rothfuss joins the design team!”
Back on topic, here is an excerpt of what Patrick Rothfuss wrote on his blog:
[…] most of the time, writing is a generative process. The story comes into being as it’s being written. It’s about discovery. Assuming you have to know what happens before you sit down to write is a rookie mistake. […]”
I actually do want to know what’s roughly going to happen in a scene, before I sit down to write it. Then again, I am a rookie, so it would make sense that I am in fact making a rookie mistake. I am not really in a position to argue with Patrick Rothfuss, even though I do not share his view that this is a mistake.
However, I am not alone in my view. Rachel Aaron, who has published multiple books (off the top of my head I can think of five) and who has written many more, is by no means a rookie. In her excellent blog post “How I Went From Writing 2,000 Words a Day to 10,000 Words a Day” she states: “If you want to write faster, the first step is to know what you’re writing before you write it.”
Of course, writing faster does not rule out that you are making a rookie mistake. If I understand her correctly, Rachel does not see this as a mere exercise to write faster. It is about writing more quality words in a given time span than you normally would. Thus, it is safe to argue that she does not consider this to be a rookie mistake.
Despite disagreeing with the premise, there are aspects I agree with:
1. Danger of overplanning – If you know everything beforehand, it may kill your desire to write the scene. Furthermore, if you are stuck in the planning stage, you may never get to the writing.
2. There is no one way to write a novel. The amount of planning varies from writer to writer. It may very well be that a rookie mistake for one writer could be a valid method for another.
3. Discovery is indeed important. As I said, I like to have an idea of what I am going to write. However, nothing I’ve pre planned is set in stone. There are many examples from my current work in progress where I wrote a scene, then realized that I omitted the inner workings as to why certain events transpired. When I thought about the solution, I came up with something that not only provided an answer, but was internally consistent and strengthened some of my characters. I had to go back and change things that didn’t exist in the original plan, so this element of discovery certainly shouldn’t be smothered by prior plans. Here is a simple example from my submission to the 2004 Wizards of the Coast War-torn open call. The protagonist was captured by a mad tinkerer. In my original plan, he was supposed to just break the chains that bound him. There is nothing special, nothing magical about overcoming that obstacle, not to mention that it is implausible. Instead, I came up with the universal tool – since Eberron is a fantasy world with magic, I figured that some tinker would have access to magical tools. Rather than carrying a heavy tool box, he just had one tool that he could reshape into another one, for example transforming a file into a hammer, by saying the name of the desired piece of equipment. At some point he is leaving it on his work bench and when the protagonist is alone, he commands the tool to repeatedly change shape, thereby causing it to essentially crawl across the work bench until he can reach for it. This new version of his escape makes more sense, shows some of the magic in the world and doesn’t feel as cheap as the original. Damn, now I want to revisit that story – perhaps at some point I will, although I need to strip all of the proprietary parts. It’s something to keep in mind, after the Sword and Laser Anthology submission is done and after finalising “Age of Torridan”.
So in a nutshell, some points I agree with, but I still disagree that prior knowledge is a mistake. It’ll be interesting to see whether I maintain this view or whether I have an epiphany once I’m not a rookie anymore.
In the unlikely event that a professional author happens to drop by, what is your opinion on this matter? Of course, everybody else is most welcome to chime in as well :)
Until the next time,
Edit: I’ve fixed a few typos, added a poll and made the headline less confrontational.