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Posts Tagged ‘ebooks’

Paper vs pixels

Do you prefer to write with a pen or typewriter, or using a computer? And do you prefer to read a real book, or are you happy with an ebook reader?

Things change

I’ve written before about character development – I don’t agree that writers should start by knowing everything there is to know about their main characters. I’m not just being lazy, I tried it a couple of times and discovered that as I developed my story, the characters changed to fit the situation and the theme. And of course, the situation changed to fit the theme and journey, and the theme changed to fit the characters… you get the idea. So spending hours and hours getting into the mind and history and subconscious of my characters was a waste of time. Well, maybe not a waste, but it would have proceeded a lot more smoothly if I’d thought them all through at once.

The Waterfall Process is BAD

I have a horror of fixing things in stone that stems back to my days as a software developer. We used to follow the ‘waterfall process’ (in a vaguely uncontrolled way)…

  1. Write the business specification which describes what the client wants. Well, what they say they want.
  2. Write the analysis document which describes the functionality you plan to give the client. This is what you think the client wants – not necessarily the same as the business specification.
  3. Write the system design which describes how you’re going to provide the functionality. This never quite matches the analysis, and always moves further away from the business specification.
  4. Develop the software which usually provides a whole different set of functionality.
  5. Test the software against the business specification, to which it now bears no resemblance.
  6. Give it to clients and do a lot of fast talking to persuade them that it’s exactly what they need.

This model isn’t in favour much these days, but the issue of scope creep still rears its ugly head. It’s perfectly reasonable for developers to suggest improvements or make changes to work round problems, and it’s also reasonable for clients to have second (or third or fourth) thoughts about what they want. However, if developers don’t keep going back and changing all the documentation to match, you end up with a pissed off QA team. They keep raising bug reports only to be told, ‘Oh no, we changed that spec.’ And they get cross. As far as they’re concerned, your story isn’t consistent.

This explains my sense of deja vu when I realised my radio play didn’t meet the specification. I’d followed the process of developing my characters, identifying the theme and journey, writing the story summary, then getting on with the scenes. It didn’t work. I had fixed the characters and the story by writing them down in great detail, and I found myself writing scenes to conform to the work I’d done.

Once I let myself think outside those constraints, everything fell into place. All the story elements fed into each other, rather than trying to fit pre-cut jigsaw pieces together I was changing the shapes and smoothing the edges to make them connect effectively.

So I wrote a play that was internally consistent, flowed well, reflected the story I was trying to tell. And I was left with a character summary and story summary that didn’t match the final scenes – so I’m going to have to go back and change them for the portfolio. If I didn’t have to hand them in I’d just throw them away (same as we used to do with old analysis and system design documents).

Words are ephemeral, till you write them down

I was on a boring training course once. Can’t remember what it was about. I did what I always do in those situations – I doodled, and I found myself writing thoughts and ideas down. I watched the words forming on the page, and had a weird kind of out of body experience. Maybe it would be better described as an out of mind experience – it seemed as if the words were appearing from nowhere onto the page, becoming real. My thoughts were escaping to lead lives of their own.

Once you’ve written something down on paper, you can’t erase it completely without destroying the paper. If you type it into a document, it will appear on the screen but can be just as quickly removed, leaving no trace. Words made with pixels don’t exist in their own right. Words on paper do. Words in your head don’t really exist either. You’ll forget them if you don’t write them down, and you’ll be left hoping something will trigger their return.

The ephemeral representation of thoughts and ideas is exactly what I need to ‘plan’ my writing. If something sticks in my memory, it’s probably worth remembering. If it triggers lots of wild associations, so much the better. If it doesn’t work, I can rub it out without feeling guilty about wasting paper or destroying words. (I do have a horror of destroying written words that stems from my lifetime love affair with books.)

On the screen is even better. I can shuffle sentences and paragraphs around till they fit, I can create and destroy, I can delete the lot and start with a clean sheet if I need to. I can revert to a previous state of affairs, I can make global edits. I can flit around my document(s), working on whatever I feel like working on. I can create links between various aspects and make sure everything connects up.

What about reading?

When it comes to writing, I’m a pixel girl every time. Given the choice of a real proper book or an e-book, however, I’d go for the former. I do have a Sony e-book reader, which I raved about for a while, but I have to admit I’ve gone back to reading mostly printed books. Part of it is the limited availability of the books I want in e-book format, but much of it is the solid comfort of opening up a block of paper to find words that won’t change on pages I can feel. I guess when I go on holiday I’ll appreciate the reduction in volume of one Sony Reader compared to 10 hefty paperbacks, but otherwise I think I’ll probably stick with real books.

The permanence of words printed/written onto paper, which gives me such problems as a writer, reassures me as a reader. Isn’t that strange?

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