Writers and gardens 1 — “In the garden”
Back when we were doing our first NaNoWriMo, Sherylyn’s first scene was a policeman sitting in his neighbour’s garden, talking to the neighbour. That’s all they were doing, sitting and talking.
Each night she would tell me, “They’re still in the garden.”
This went on for a week, but because it was a NaNo, she couldn’t go back and rewrite, she didn’t have the time. So she just kept writing, and finally wrote her way out of the scene, 10,000 words in.
When we got to read each other’s story at the end of the month, it was exactly as you’d expect. 10,000 words of two people telling, not showing.
Ever since, our shorthand for a long passage where characters sit around talking to each other, giving out information, has been known as ‘in the garden’.
Right now there’s an important scene in Linesman III that’s in the garden. Well, they’re not actually in the garden, they’re in an office, but the characters are telling each other things that the reader should learn otherwise.
It’s 4,000 words. I know I have to change it, but I’m not like Sherylyn, who can cut 10,000 words with one click. (“Save it, save it, you might be able to use it elsewhere.” But you never do. Reuse it, I mean.) I anguish over cutting big chunks like that. I know it has to go, but it will be there for a couple of days before I can finally bring myself to wield the knife that gets our protagonists out of the garden.
Writers and gardens 2 — Architects and gardeners
It was George R. R. Martin who first described writers as either gardeners or architects. I came across the term when watching the videos of Brandon Sanderson’s 2012 creative writing class at Brigham Young University.
It’s a variation on plotters and pantsers. Martin describes the architects as writers who:
Plan everything ahead of time, like an architect building a house. They know how many rooms are going to be in the house, what kind of roof they’re going to have, where the wires are going to run, what kind of plumbing there’s going to be. They have the whole thing designed and blueprinted out before they even nail the first board up.
While the gardeners:
Dig a hole, drop in a seed and water it. They kind of know what seed it is, they know if planted a fantasy seed or mystery seed or whatever. But as the plant comes up and they water it, they don’t know how many branches it’s going to have, they find out as it grows.
I like the gardeners/architects description better than plotters/pantsers, because for me, the way we write is a lot like gardening. Plant something here, watch it grow. Do a bit of weeding. If something dies, plant something else. Tidy up that section of the garden. Keep working on it, and so on, all around, until one day you stop to observe, smell the flowers, and realise that this truly is a beautiful garden, and it’s magic.