Monday, October 28, 2013

Can you SOAP a writing project?

Most people realize the medical profession is filled with lingo. Acronyms, vocab, cool-sounding abbreviations - us vets (MDs, too) love that stuff.
These tools make writing medical notes and prescriptions efficient and succinct. One acronym used frequently is SOAP. This is a tool used to make the process of examination and diagnosis more organized.

Standing for Subjective, Objective, Assessment, and Plan, "SOAPing" a patient is really what all doctors do mentally during and after an examination - this is just a way of writing it down in the medical file.

Subjective means just that - what are your subjective (unmeasureable) physical exam findings? Common terms to use here are BAR (bright, alert, responsive) or depressed.

Objective is where you record your measurements, such as heart rate, temperature, even bloodwork values.

Once you've gathered your S and O during the physical, you use these findings for A: Assessment. This is essentially when you put all the pieces together and formulate a working diagnosis list. Is George the 15 year old cat quiet and depressed, with no appetite, losing weight (only 7 lbs), with kidney values elevated on bloodwork? Your assessment might include chronic renal failure.
Poor George
P is for Plan. This is what you're actually going to do for the patient. This can include more diagnostics, medication, surgery - what are your next steps?

As I was thinking about SOAP the other day, I began to wonder if this type of planned thinking could apply to the sometimes seemingly chaotic world of creative writing. Can one SOAP a writing project?

Let's see...

Subjective: perhaps this would be how a character feels. Is your antagonist bitter? Vengeful? Sadistic? Rude? Totally clueless?

Objective: maybe this would be what actually happens in the story. Does your protagonist get hit by a car, fall into a coma, then wake up not even remembering her own name? Does the ship at sea wreck on the shoals of a coral reef and the survivors are forced to swim to a leper colony? Does the spaceship abduct the wrong person and make completely incorrect assumptions about the human race based on this bigot's behaviors and answers during interrogation?
Insert plot here
Assessment: Where are you going with the story? What do you want to accomplish with it? I see this as sort of a writer's "check in" as the story starts to fill out. You know how sometimes you set off writing the most brilliant piece ever imagined by a human brain but once the heat of the moment cools off you suddenly find yourself 5700 words in and then wonder what the hell is happening? Not that that's ever happened to me... But, preferably before that happens in a story, a writer could probably benefit from a step back to scrutinize the project and make sure it's going the direction he/she originally intended.

Plan: OK, we're in the home stretch. Perhaps the P in Plan could represent how you're going to wrap everything up. Don't forget about the blind daughter of the store clerk you mentioned in chapter two. And recall that the protagonist's best friend has a birthday in two weeks; surely that needs to fit in somewhere. Another way to see the P is like this: what is your plan after you've finished writing? Is this a novel that needs an agent or an article you need to query for a magazine? Basically, what needs to happen to this piece to get it to where you want it to be?

Maybe I've just answered my own question. It appears it is possible to SOAP a writing project. Maybe it would even be helpful, especially for us more scatter-brained writers who claim we are simply free spirits with our creativity, but in the end all that really means is there are Post-It notes all over the walls and half-filled notebooks threatening to bury the cat. Yes, perhaps SOAPing my next project could prevent the wall of papers from caving in on me, thereby saving my life. Maybe SOAPing could save YOUR life. If it does, you're welcome.
Shhhhh, she's being creative

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