Macro vs. Micro Thinking

Hi Gang. Craig here, and you get me twice this week.

I was on vacation when I wrote this post. It will go live shortly after I return to my paycheck job. I’d just put in a decent day of writing (2000 words) when the topic came to me.

My way of writing a book isn’t for everyone, but I share here because it might work for some of you. I’ve detailed my storyboard way of outlining to death at Story Empire, but there really is more to it.

Storyboarding is the macro thought process. It involves the big turning points of my story, then breaks down into smaller accomplishments my heroes have to make to stick the landing.

I have index cards for each section, but those usually have one goal along the path. Everything else that happens I come up with while free writing. This is the micro thought process.

I hate to do this to you, but my most recent example is the best way I know to explain it. On the last index card, my pirates had to fail to gain any useful information, then escape from a storm powered by a monster, (who may actually be a god).

The next index card involves sailing to a mysterious island and actually gaining some of the information they failed to gather at the last place. That’s all the outline I have, and it’s time for some micro-thinking.

At the island of Kiriwina, they got into an altercation with the junior and senior members of the Fulminites. They experienced first-hand the horrors of the exploding monks, barely escaping into the looming storm. (That was the preceding card, and you can see that I fleshed things out a bit.)

They fled the monster/god storm for weeks, which I didn’t detail every moment of. I used this opportunity to heal the wounded, explore some of my main character’s personal history via a vision brought to him by St. Elmo’s fire, and cleared the decks of some marauding sea creatures. That’s micro-thinking. None of it was on my index cards.

Once they reached the floating island of Bungo Bungo, the only goal I have is to learn this tidbit of information that moves my plot along. However, Bungo Bungo is an interesting place and is worthy of its own adventure.

I decided it’s actually the floating skull of some long dead creature (Possibly another god who’s passed on). Because it floats, it’s populated by vegetation and creatures from all over the world. This gave me the chance for some fun world building (Important in a fantasy) and allowed me to do a kind of call back to a monster from volume one of the trilogy. It’s a neat stitch.

I introduced some cool creatures, including butterflies that are pure water. Bungo Bungo is high on magic, and it could have something to do with the dead creature whose skull is floating around. Fantasy needs small elements in it along with those gigantic monsters. Then I added some completely new creatures that are somewhat tribal. I hesitate to call them monsters, because they seem pretty benign right now.

My micro-thoughts have about five adventures that could happen on Bungo Bungo, but they need to flow properly. Some will wind up on the scrap room floor, no doubt, but others will make it into the book.

One of the fun things to do is assess how existing and well known characters will address this new stimulus. I have one who likes to see new things with almost childlike wonder, one who is likely to shoot first, and others who enjoy poking things with sticks and laughing about it. It’s my job to decide which ones will get a scene or two as they explore the island.

I stopped for the day right after the callback monster announced his presence. Micro-thinking deserves a bit of time, but now that I have some parameters established, and the end goal in mind, I can weave the other bits together.

These other bits add words, which I always need, and develop character along the way. As long as they eventually reach the cave (actually the interior of the skull) and learn the important plot piece, I can go anywhere I like with this.

The micro-thinking process is one of my favorite parts of being a writer. If you think about the index cards as mile markers along my route, the micro thinking is what you see out the windows along the way.

Do any of you write this way? Do you ever get distracted by side plots? I know some who have notebooks, others who free write, and still others with detailed outlines. How big of a role does micro-thinking play in your own stories? I’d love to hear from you, so leave me some comments.

44 thoughts on “Macro vs. Micro Thinking

  1. Very interesting post, Craig. You are certainly more organized than I!!

    I’ve tried outlining and hated it. It took all the fun out of writing for me. I’m not totally a pantser, either, as I do know where the tale should end up, namely happily for my main characters and not so much so for the bad guys. But that’s almost all I do know at the start. Everything else grows from what my characters say and do. I throw something at them and watch how they react and that leads me to the next scene.

    I do stop now and then to type up a note or two on a What-If sheet, especially when one of my characters is approaching a pivotal moment. I’ll ask myself, “What if this happens and causes such and such result? Or maybe this other thing happens, and it all goes this way, instead?” Usually two or three What-Ifs are all I need before one of them yells “Pick ME!.” And that’s the one I go with.

    Having typed all of this out for you, I have to admit, it looks like a silly, haphazard hot mess of a way to write. I think the only reason it seems to work is because I write about people I know. Not specifically, but in general. My characters are amalgams of people I’ve grown up around or lived near most of my life, and as they start to appear in my WIP, I have a fair idea of exactly how they are going to react in a given situation. They become real to me, and when I’m in doubt as to what happens next, I listen to what they tell me. It would seem they usually know best.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m a big believer in the “whatever works for you” method. The internet gives us all a way to share, and some of the tips will work while others don’t fit the individual. Sounds to me like your methods are working well for you.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I agree, Craig. One size does NOT fit all, no matter what they tell you when they hand out those tie-in-the-back hospital gowns! 😀

        I always think I should be more structured, and I’ve tried several different ways to make that happen, but I can’t get the hang of it. Then I get frustrated. So, I go my own way. So far. But I always like to see how other people are doing it, because it’s a chance to learn something new, and I might decide to go about it differently in the future. Changes are possible–I have the power! 😀

        One thing I know for sure. I never argue with success! The trick is finding the way that works the best for you, and it sounds to me like you’ve done an excellent job with that. Thanks for all the tips!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I write furiously to a vague outline, twisting and turning and letting things happen I might not have planned. Then I go away and think (usually in the shower) and plot and oversee things, then come back and add those thoughts to the hacked out first stream of consciousness. Not really a lot of planning involved but I guess there’s micro and macro thinking in this approach after a fashion.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I think I’m back tracking on my current books. I think I do things differently with every book just because they are unique in my perception. I probably need to settle on a specific process because she I wrote closest to that in The White Arrow I wrote faster, and tighter.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. All this sounds very logical and seems to take writing to a very disciplined level. I still layout the last three lines and work to get there. I guess it is a macro destination method with a series of micro-steps. Well done, Craig

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I love hearing how other writers work. It’s always intriguing how they develop their stories. Your storyboard sounds like it gives you a great foundation for the entire storyline and lots of ideas for how to fill it out. I use plot points, but each point has a macro goal and then several micro elements. I’ve used it for a long time, and it works for me, but it’s been interesting with the new straight mystery I’m working on. Every book is different, and I use a slightly different voice and tone in this one. It’s leaner. I’m going to have to tweak it for the Lux series. The basic idea works, but I need more macros for her books than for my others.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Like Joan, I’m a planters, but I’m trying to plot more a long the way. Things always go way off base whenever I write, and I normally have a jumbled mess at some point in the book I need to pull together. I use a notebook for what is probably micro-thinking. Your index card method makes a lot of sense, especially in that you can shuffle them around when needed.

    I’m at a point in my WIP where I need to start thinking about the next two chapters. I may try to approach them this way!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Never tried index cards, but that was due to space issues. I’ve typically been notebook and outline, which takes on a gradual growing situation. As far as side quest distractions, I haven’t had too big a problem. My most recent one might be the worst, but I’ve fit it into the plot. Helps that I see my stories as vehicles for the characters’ lives, so deviations are fairly natural.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I like this idea. You know I’m more of a planster, so my plots always seem to take detours. I imagine taking a story or character one way, and they have other ideas. Guess you could call that micro thinking.

    Another great post! I wish I could storyboard.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I am employing this macro-micro method in my current WIP, a trilogy set off-planet with lots of different characters to cover. It’s a new way of writing for me, but I’m enjoying this approach. I do sometimes get sidetracked, but I’ve learnt to set that aside in a separate file for later use, otherwise I’ll neve get the trilogy finished, lol. Thanks for a great example and a fun post, Craig.

    Reblogged this on: https://harmonykent.co.uk/macro-vs-micro-thinking/, with the comment: ‘Craig Boyack has a fun post today over on Story Empire all about writing >>>’

    Liked by 1 person

    • It won’t work for everyone. I need to know what those plot points are, with some vision of what the end will be. After that, it’s about developing character and world building between those points.

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