September 29, 2015
When you sit down to write a book, it's just you and the book.
I don't know what your process is. Maybe you create an outline first or jot down some notes. The book you write comes from your ideas and experiences. Sometimes you don't know where an idea came from - but something you saw or thought about triggered the moment you capture and share.
Television writing is completely different.
OK - I don't know that from personal experience, but from what I've gathered from the wonderful Children of Tendu podcast as well as from the Nerdist Writer's Panel and Scriptnotes podcasts, television writing often centers around a room.
The show runner presides over a writers room. In some rooms the writers may pitch or be given a story that they go away and write. In other rooms, the writers work together to break a story. They collaborate on the shape of the episode. They identify the important moments. They determine the act breaks and sketch how the story is architected to support all of this.
Next, the room might identify the beats. These are all of the moments in the story. Each beat might be a scene. What is happening at that moment? What is changing? What is important enough to keep that moment in the story?
I once submitted a question to Javi Grillo-Marxuach asking how they approach beating out a story.
He began by explaining that he couldn't really answer that question and then he proceeded to describe his process in a very helpful way. The beats are the skeleton or the outline of the story.
When I write books for programmers, I do the same thing with example projects and playgrounds. I start by identifying what I want to teach then I drill in and find the code that I'll use to illustrate this. The prose is the easy part at the end.
You'll hear television writers talk about this as well. Once the story has been completely broken, the writing goes pretty quickly. Not that there isn't a lot of work left to be done - it's just that breaking the story is a separate activity from telling the story.
What happens when you are in the process of telling the story and it isn't working? Sometimes when you lay in characters and things are coming to life, you realize that the story needs to be re-broken.
Re-break it. Stop writing and fix the story.
I write books.
My writers room is in my own head.
My process involves considerably more snack breaks than professional rooms seem to.
I've always wanted to try to apply this writers room process to my own books. Toward the end of my last book ("A Swift Kickstart"), I realized I'd written myself into a corner and I had to "re-break" the story.
I moved this section there and removed this other section and decided to motivate this pivotal section in a whole new way.
Suddenly, my book was working better than it had been.
For my next book - not the kids book - the intermediate book in Swift Programming, I want to create a writers room and break the story. I want to find the beats.
I've created a private mail list and I'm going to invite some folks to help me shape the book.
I have no idea if this is going to work out or not.
Just like every other book.