Working on first drafts always leads to periods of silent contemplation up in t’garret, because considering how first drafts come to be written is far easier than actually writing them.
I came up with the phrase ‘fractal storytelling’ during one such unfocused-cloud-staring-session; however, cool though it sounds, it’s not entirely accurate. I’ve settled instead on ‘fractal quilting’ as a way of describing how I make stories. And now, having come up with this pretentious and somewhat opaque phrase, I should really try to explain what I mean by it.
The trick is to start with a big picture, then focus down to fill in the blanks. I suspect this is the way many writers work; perhaps the main difference between a ‘panster’ and a ‘plotter’ is how deep into the pattern the author goes before starting on chapter one.
For myself, I begin with a concept and some characters (and usually a title – which is of course subject to change). For example, Bringer of Light has two main plot threads, with two main characters; the story as they see it can be summarised (in a hopefully non-spoilerish fashion) as: ‘get a shiftspace beacon to the lost world I found’ and ‘stop the culture I’ve accidentally ended up ruling from falling apart’.
I then need to expand on this basic summary. I need to know who else might turn up – for Bringer of Light I already had a basic cast list thanks to the previous Hidden Empire books but some interesting new characters have turned up as the story has unfolded. I also need an idea of the kind of places our heroes might find themselves. In Bringer of Light this is limited for the second plot thread, as most of the action takes place in one city, but for the ‘beacon’ plot the story involves a visit to a really weird and interesting place which I didn’t even know existed this time last year. I also begin to accumulate notes on odd bits of tech, likely events, or possible plot paths. I start to have some idea how the book might end, though I know better than to hold anyone to that.
And then, at some point, quite often while I’m half asleep or doing something unrelated to writing, the first scene arrives …
… to be continued.