Daily Archives: November 19, 2008

Getting schooled: a writer prepares (for the worst)

Despite all his talk about writing from the unconscious, Butler believes a writer should prepare before sitting down to write a novel.

So, does he want you to outline?


Brainstorm, do character sheets?


Plot boards, Excel spreadsheets, synopses?


He wants you to dreamstorm your novel. Yes. You’ve heard it here first. (Well, unless you’ve read Butler’s book, in which case, you heard it there first.)

It goes something like this:

  • Dreamstorm a scene from something sensual, by making a list of words, having some sort of sense impression attached to it with the briefest identifier of that scene. Do this for a whole bunch of scenes. It doesn’t matter at this point if two scenes contradict each other.
  • After eight to twelve weeks (yes, really), Butler suggests the next stage is to write a phrase identifying the scene on a 3 X 5 card.
  • Then orchestrate the scenes, embracing the randomness in creating the sequence, but looking for continuity. (No, I don’t know what this means.)
  • Look for the first good scene, the best point of attack, to begin the flow of sensual moments. (This, however, makes more sense.)

Butler believes in the natural sequence. (I don’t know if this is like natural selection or not.)

Actually, what he means is the scenes will eventually fall into an order that works for the story. You start with the best point of attack, Then select a few more follow-up scenes to write. after you write those scenes, you look at the remaining ones. You may need to rearrange or dreamstorm new scenes based on what you’ve written.

He doesn’t like the idea of writing out of order. If you start writing a scene without any previous context, he believes you’ll lose the unconscious aspect of it. You end up creating ideas as to why the scene is happening rather than dreamstorming them.

At some point you type: The End.

In all seriousness, I am all over the index card idea. You can do anything with index cards. Miss B can create a whole cityscape with inhabitants and pets with index cards. The very least I can do is write a novel.

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