Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Novel Party Planning

This past few days I have mostly been distracted from writing thinking about how planning a novel is a little bit like planning a party...

First there's the guest list. I always want to invite everyone (just like I have lots of characters I'd like to include in my novel) but there are limits to what one modest house or narrative can take and it's important to have a little order at this point! Invites are usually based on why we're having a party in the first place. For us, this is usually about an opportunity to get people together but which people? 

Who to leave out of a party or a novel is a tough decision!

We usually have 'key characters'; visiting relatives, friends we haven't seen for a long time; an older family member who's feeling a little cut off from people, younger family members who we haven't seen in a while, (any excuse!) and once this is clear we know who else we can invite which makes leaving some people out more bearable. 

Remembering details about people and how they interact with others helps. An aunt who is uncomfortable around small children won't thank you for gathering the great nieces and nephews in her honour! A balance is required to secure a successful narrative!

Setting is crucial of course. For most of the parties we have planned the venue has been our home (we don't really do 'formal') but the setting has changed as we've moved house and the 'setting' can be different depending on the time of year. Although we'd have to be VERY optimistic to think we can get away with having a complete party outside, we often find it useful to plan some outside activities; a walk in the woods, build a snow man competition, a huddle round the chimenea with a hot toddy. 

In this way the setting and the atmosphere take shape and then it's time to consider the way the plot might unfold.

Planning the food and drink of a party are a bit like planning the main plot of a novel. The kind of food and drink we serve and the way in which we serve it will, to an extent, determine the ways in which the characters will interact with each other and the story unfold. A sit down dinner with the adults in the dining room, the kids in the study and those unfortunate not enough to grab a seat quickly enough perched in the kitchen will give different opportunities for interaction than a free for all buffet! Wine, beer, cocktails, champagne? All add their own flavour and of course we shouldn't forget the soft drink option (this is always my downfall and usually involves somebody being dispatched for supplies at some point!).

As much as I absolutely love having a house full of guests eating and drinking and making memories, I also always like to have something of an exit strategy. It's important to anticipate how things might come to an end; when and how people will take their leave going away fuller, happier and a little bit changed by the experience?

Party or novel, careful planning is important. We don't want to leave anyone out or, worse still, lose them once they're here. Ultimately though the planned elements have to be flexible and allow the narrative to unfold, it's the unexpected happenings that people will remember most. 

I'm very new to this novel planning business but I am good at planning parties - we've had some great ones over at ours. I love the bit in the party where you step back and watch it all happening. I think that's where I'm coming unstuck with my writing - I've made LOTS of plans and I think I keep hoping they'll all just get on with it now!

Monday, 7 May 2012

confounded by conflict...

This past few days I have mostly been distracted from writing thinking about conflict ...

I'm VERY new to this writing 'thing'... I do know that, in order to develop myself as a writer, I need to read a lot (which is the BEST bit) and write everyday (which is sometimes more of a challenge). By way of combining the two I have established 'advanced study' bursts where I read about writing and make notes about what I read which is how I came to realise what has been blocking the development of my work in progress. 


I now realise that establishing and developing conflict are absolutely essential to developing an engaging narrative (I did say I am VERY new to this). I also realise that this absolutely goes against the grain of my essential nature. 

My day job (and my life's mission) is to prevent conflict. Anticipating conflict and defusing it before it grabs a hold is basically what the 'real' world pay me to do. 

I'm very much a 'prevention is better than cure' person. This mean that much of my 'work' is invisible, it's based on what doesn't happen but I'm quite good at it and it saves a lot of time and energy for everyone in which the real work (that other people do) can happen. It ensures a (relatively) peaceful existence but it does not make a gripping narrative. 

Clearly I need to adopt a very different approach in my writing. 

I need to establish conflict for my characters and run with it. My default strategy to intercept and deactivate at the earliest opportunity with the minimum fuss is really not going to help me. 

This is SO obvious now, I really do wonder what else I'm missing!

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Perception is nine tenths of the truth...

This past few days (weeks/months/years) I have mostly been distracted from writing ... trying to improve my leadership skills. I'd rather be writing, obviously, but this pays (some of) the bills and the two things do complement each other. 

The key to leading well is understanding people and the key to understanding people lies in understanding yourself. Recognising your weaknesses as well as your strengths, allows you to make the most of both.

 Good leaders learn their specific personal strengths and weaknesses, especially in dealing with other people, then build on the strengths and correct the weaknesses.
Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan
Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done

We've done lots of questionnaires to categorise ourselves with varying levels of insight but most recently we did a personality test. The Enneagram Institute test. If you ever get the chance to do it then I'd advise you to have a go but be prepared to deal with the consequences of the report it throws at you! 

The very purpose of existence is to reconcile the glowing opinion we hold of ourselves with the appalling things that other people think about us.
Quentin Crisp

Delving into your hidden depths to recognise what makes you tick equips you to acknowledge your prejudices and better appreciate the perspective of others. Which kind of makes sense but not always comfortable reading!

I came out as a Type 2. The Helper - generally caring, empathetic, thoughtful .... All quite lovely! Indeed, listening to the first couple of minutes of the audio streamed feedback I was really quite taken with myself. Then ... 'Twos get into conflict by being people-pleasing, ingratiating, clingy' CLINGY! POSSESSIVE? SELF IMPORTANT!!! Not all good then... There follows nine pages of in-depth analysis to (weep over) read in order to gain insight into your type and learn how to grow and develop. It is absolutely critical to remember, throughout all of this, that there is no 'right' type YEAH RIGHT! Seriously, the most basic and the most difficult thing about all this lies in accepting there is no right or wrong, just different perspectives. 

I'm not the only one who has struggled with this. As if it needed any further emphasis our leader asked us all to close our eyes and instructed us to point north. Obviously I pointed up. We then had to hold our points and open our eyes - you wouldn't believe the pointing of some people! 

There are twelve of us in the group and we are all senior leaders in education. I knew and respected most members of the group before starting the course and have got to know and respect the others during it. We have grown into an open, trusting, trustworthy group. We are supportive of each other, patient with each other and (usually) kind to each other. We have been known to gang up on the Course Leader when we disagree with her - she is not 'in education'; she is very patient with us. Despite this cohesion, we all think we're right and we have all struggled to reconcile this when we have explored and clarified how we are different. Most of the tests have categorised us into one of three or four groups - it's been easy to find the people in the group you're aligned with and sympathise with all the others who got it wrong! The Enneagram is much more complex and in-depth, and although there are a couple of categories that are not represented in our group the range is wide and the complexities within each leave no room for anyone to walk away thinking they're right and what a shame for everyone else! 

There's a WHOLE load more for me to learn about this but my summary thus far:
Perception is nine tenths of the truth; the version of the truth we each formulate which determines how we think and behave. Lets hope the other tenth is the cracks through which we can escape from ourselves to begin to understand the perceptions and perspectives of others...