23 June 2008

“Some People Are Better for Making It Up as It Goes Along”

Last week Publishers Weekly ran an interview with Diana Wynne Jones on the occasion of the landing of House of Many Ways, the second sequel to Howl’s Moving Castle. She had some interesting comments on her working methods.

You’ve said you don’t start out with a thoroughly plotted-out book. What do you start out with, when you begin writing?

I start out with people very often. Also some very, very clear scenes from the middle of the book. And usually a notion of how it’s going to go in the end, but that isn’t always the case. But it’s the clear picture from the middle that’s the important bit, I think. In the case of House of Many Ways, it was the bit when Peter first comes in out of the rain into all the bubbles in the kitchen and Charmaine reaches out and shuts his mouth with a clop. Because that for some reason was a very enduring image and I knew that was in there somewhere. But as I say, the Lubbock, which came just before that, was completely uncharted.

When I used to go and visit schools I always used to shock the teachers because I used to tell the kids that I didn’t plan it out, I waited to see how we got from the beginning to the picture I’d got of the middle of the book, or somewhere into the book, anyway. They were always very shocked. Because they always insisted on all their kids planning it out in advance, and I did sort of plead with them that this was not always necessary. In fact, some people are better for making it up as it goes along.

If I try to plan anything out in that kind of detail it just goes completely blank on me. And I don’t understand what I’ve written as a plan. I just found a plan several weeks ago, actually, when I was looking through stuff to see what I’ve got. And I looked at this plan, and I knew it wasn’t any plan of any book that I’d actually written, and I could not understand a word of what I’d done.
I’m much more comfortable with an outline myself, but results are results.

Jones’s choice to name a villainous character after a city in Texas reminds me vaguely of a book that Douglas Adams published a few years ago.


Monica Edinger said...

Jennifer Armstrong and Nancy Werlin weighed in on this in the Horn Book a few years ago. That is, Jennifer wrote an article, "Blood From A Stone"(http://www.hbook.com/magazine/articles/2000/sep00_armstrong.asp)
and Nancy responded on the website. (http://www.hbook.com/resources/authorsartists/shoptalk/werlin.asp)

If the URLs don't take, these are from fall 2000.

Jay said...

I think stories are better when they're planned out. I've seen a few that just scream that the writer was "making it up," and frankly, I didn't care for them.

J. L. Bell said...

I think writers can do very well making up their stories as they write, as long as they go back and revise with an eye toward strengthening the story from the start. Similarly, some writers can start with deluxe descriptions of scenes while others need to add that sensory detail in a later draft.

J. L. Bell said...

For ease of clicking, here's Jennifer Armstrong's article and Nancy Werlin's reply. Thanks, Monica!

Glenn Ingersoll said...

I think stories are better when they're not all planned out. I've read lots of boring stories that tell me the writer couldn't make up a thing and, frankly, I didn't care for them.