The ‘adobe’ method of story writing

muddy boot
We’ve all got our own way of doing things — a little idiosyncrasy when it comes to putting that story, whether long or short, on the page. There are the planners who meticulously account for every scene and every nuance before even putting pen to page. And on the other side of the coin, there’s the chaos merchants, who take the character or the situation and just run with it. Usually I fall somewhere in the middle, using that first, seductive scene to lily-pad my way across the pond from beginning to end, with just a few key scenes in mind, and almost always the final scene, drawing me on. But lately, and maybe it’s a comment about my frame of my mind, I’ve been using what I call the adobe method (nothing to do with a certain software firm, rest assured), so named (however inaccurately) because it amounts to throwing mud at a wall and seeing what sticks.

While it sure is fun mixing the stuff and flinging it willy nilly, the end result is far from pretty. There’s a lot of wastage, and it can be hard to get it out from under the nails. It amounts to taking a character or two, and just letting them run with it: a mud fight of scenes and characters, often contradictory, some even overlaying previous scenes like a big stack of pancakes with different toppings. Somewhere in there, I hope a story starts to emerge. That some connections might emerge that suggest there’s actually some kind of structure in there.

I’ve found a handy tool to help with this process, whether an 8000 word short story made up of vignettes or what will eventually be a novel. Simon Haynes as kindly made his yWriter free on his website, and while I’m using about a tenth of its features, it sure is an easy way of keeping track of the swirling scenes. Being able to drag and drop scenes is so much easier than cutting and pasting inside a Word file, and being able to see them all on the one screen helps the patterns emerge — much easier than my former method of keeping a spreadsheet. There’s an automatic word count, as well. And once the order is in place, one click exports the piece as an rtf with scene breaks in place — neat. For the adobe story builder, it’s a damn fine fit.

Writing space – a QWC blog tour

I consider myself to be a full-time Melburnian since November, when the move into my fiancee’s rental had been accomplished and my car was parked in the driveway.

At the end of November, we were given notice that our house was to be sold and we’d need a new abode. The nest, so recently feathered, was to be torn down, figuratively if not literally.

So it’s apt that the Queensland Writers Centre has asked me to profile my writing space as part of a blog tour: a little slice of space and time, recorded on the interwebs. This is the workroom. It’s a shared office, poor Kirstyn having surrendered her haven in my favour, so that I could set up the desktop. The result is a gloriously messy meld of her stuff and mine.

jason nahrung's writing desk

Some of the features:

The desktop PC. I don’t mind writing on a laptop, but I prefer the solidity of the PC, especially for editing. It’s got everything on it — email and old files and a bunch of RAM — and a full-size keyboard with all the keys in the right place. Stuck to its side is a picture I took of a sunset over the farm on which I grew up — my heart’s home.

The CD player. I love writing with music playing. It’s part mood-maker, part white noise generator. The caveat is that it must, for the most part, be familiar, so it can indeed fade into the background once I’ve got the groove.

Sekhmet and friends. One of the things Kirstyn didn’t have to move in the office when I merged in was her Egyptian stuff. I’ve always been interested in the ancient place, with a special affinity for Sekhmet (especially since a visit to Karnak). I’ve got a couple of figurines of her and the great scribe Thoth watching over the keyboard.

The screen saver. This changes, but this one is a picture of New Orleans’ French Quarter, taken from the Algiers ferry. If the farm is my heart’s home, the Vieux Carre could well be my soul’s home. It’s my most favourite of cities.

So that’s the den. But there’s more to writing space than where the words hit the page.

park gates

Our abode, about to be vacated, is near several small parks that have provided much-needed respite from the four walls and screen. One has these amazing gateposts and a leafy path, the other is an ‘urban forest’: an overly sculpted strip of scrub flanked by houses on both sides, with a couple of muddy ponds supporting ducks and a bunch of other birdlife. To stretch the knees, feel the breeze and the sun or, occasionally, the coming rain wet on the wind, and allow the ideas and characters to jumble around in free-thought has become one of my favourite parts of the process.

duck pond

Now there’s a new park to be explored and a new desk waiting bound in cardboard in the garage. We’re hoping to have room enough for both of us to have our own dedicated writing space in the new house. For now, though, I’d better go make use of this one while I can.

This post is part of the Queensland Writers Centre blog tour, happening February to April 2010. To follow the tour, visit Queensland Writers Centre’s blog.