Neil Gaiman on Plotting and Handwriting Stories

by Mike Shea on 6 August 2006

I watched a video of an interesting talk by Neil Gaiman (requires IE...booo) who visted Microsoft's Research Labs to talk about Anansi Boys. He had this to say about plotting out stories:

"I have done it once, I did it many years ago with Black Orchid for DC Comics. And I wrote Black Orchid. I wrote a very very detailed outline because no one was going to let me do it unless I did and I wrote the thing to the very very detailed outline and it was kind of like reconstituting a dehidrated meal. As a writer, there wasn't any room to create anything and I loathed it."

"So more or less since then I tend to have a fairly loose approach to plotting in that I kind of know what I am doing but it's the kind of what you're doing if you're starting out in Seattle and you're going drive to New York in an old car and where you're probably going to stop on the way but you don't know everything that's going to happen you don't know where the car's going to die on you and you don't know whats going to happen with that hitch hiker. And so you try to put that stuff in and that makes it interesting."

"With Anansi Boys it went great making up with a sort of general plan until I got half way through and then something unexpected happened and I stopped for four months. Either I could throw out those last two pages in which something really interesting but unexpected happened that shocked even me or I could keep them and keep going but then everything had to change, it had to get deeper and darker and I liked the idea of the latter but it took four months of walking around, walking into walls, and having the kind of conversations with my assistant where she'd come over and say "I put a cup of tea in front of you." and I'd go "great.". All of my head was off somewhere figuring it all out."

"I love writing in longhand. Writing in longhand is a marvelous thing for a writer to do these days. If you have a notebook and a nice pen you can go off somewhere and write that's solar powered. You can drop it or get it wet and pretty much all of your work will continue to be there. If you suddenly decide to look up a word or check a reference you will not look up four hours later, blinking, finding yourself somehow in the middle of an Ebay auction you never had any plans to be part of."

"I love the discontinuity of an actual first draft and an actual second draft. The problem I find with a computer for me is that I get a sort of rolling improving first draft but there is no discontinuity."