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Process | how do you write yours?

I tend to start off with my ideas notebook where I write down any of the key points that bubble up in my brain about the story. Then I write the odd paragraph about the world/ people in it, followed by little character bio(s) of the main character(s) - what do they want; what are they lying to themselves about etc. Once that's done I sit down with a pile of notecards (6" x 4") and write a scene on each one and then when I have the approximate number of scenes I want I start to lay them out in acts (following Alexandra Sokoloff's 3 Act Structure layout) adjusting the high points according to the number of pages/words I'm aiming for. This is to try and ensure that I get high points/stakes at critical sections of the novel and keep people involved and (hopefully) to avoid any soggy middles. (I didn't always do this - initially I'd do a chapter by chapter synopsis in Word and work off that but I moved onto this method in an effort to tighten things up and make it easier to move scenes around.) If any of the scenes don't seem to fit I can move them around/ put them earlier or later in the plan (or ditch them altogether and replace them with something else). For me, it's a great help to have it set out in front of me in that way. At least, it worked well last time and is going well this time so I'm still pleased with this method. YMMV.

When I finished the last novel (the YA) I also went back and did a plot board (using Diana Peterfreund's instructions) where I marked squares on a couple of large pieces of cardboard with each square representing a chapter in the novel, then I went through every chapter and wrote down the scenes I had on post-it notes. No more than a sentence per scene, and each POV had a different coloured post-it so that when all the squares were filled in you could see who got the most scenes (was it your main character or have you discovered you like your secondary character more so you gave them more page time?); you can see whether a character's prominent for a few chapters and then disappears off the face of the earth when they weren't meant to. It also helps you spot whether you have clumps of activity and then stretches of boredom so that you can remove/ tweak things and hopeully make it flow and be exciting/interesting. And that method <i>was</i> helpful, the tricky bit is tying that all back into the redraft to tidy it up.* (And taking out all the instances of your main character crying...I mean, I know I put her under a lot of stress but it wasn't until the read-through that I realised she was a bit more <i>whiny</i> than I'd planned.)

I always try to outline whether it's a line per scene or a couple of paragraphs to let me know what I was thinking at the time. I don't do very well on winging it (I have c.15 versions of the same 2 sections of a short story to attest to that) so I have to have some kind of plan but then, in everyday life, I'm the sort of person who does quite well with instruction manuals etc. so this approach works well with my learning style. What I now need to develop is a process for doing something similar for short stories that takes into account their compact nature as my key problem is an inability to keep it brief - but again, an outline, whether it's on cards/ paper/ computer, should highlight whether what I think is a short story is actually a novella/ novel so that I can make that adjustment.

So how about you? Do you plan and if so are you a slave to the detail or are you happy with the skeleton? Do spit in the eye of outlines and throw yourself into the writing like a base jumper? Or do you occupy the middle ground and do a little bit of both?

*One of Diana's readers does the plot board beforehand, so it's similar to AS' instructions just with the scenes delineated by POV with the differently coloured post-its. So if you've never tried it before it might be an idea to do one beforehand and one afterwards and see what works best for you.


( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 13th, 2012 11:41 am (UTC)
Base jumper I'm afraid. I might have the vague idea of a character e.g. "impoverished young man struggling to make ends meet in the house that his parents lived in" but that's all. I admire your organisation!
Feb. 13th, 2012 12:32 pm (UTC)
Base jumper I'm afraid.

Don't be afraid. We adrenalin junkies don't know the meaning of the word. Hurl yourself into the abyss and your story will follow (or something like that. It will be your parachute? I dunno. Some images don't stretch too far).

Me, I usually know the first line and the last. The rest is a mystery that I discover en route, going step by step with the reader. Who was it said that being asked to write a synopsis of a book he hadn't written yet was like being asked to draw a map of a country he hadn't visited? It's like that: a book is a journey, and I know where I start and I know where I'm going and all the rest is daily revelation.
Feb. 13th, 2012 12:42 pm (UTC)

Oh thank goodness! I didn't know there was anyone else who just made it up as they went!
Feb. 13th, 2012 05:38 pm (UTC)
I must say that I have a little twinge of envy for those who can leap off into the dark and go for it. Unfortunately experience (and the 20 false starts on the aforementioned short story) have shown that, in writing at least, I cannot base jump. ::sniffs::

Hat off to you both! :-)
Feb. 13th, 2012 06:00 pm (UTC)
Nah, put your hat back on. It's like being blond instead of brunet, is all. (Does one say "brunet", for a male brownhead? I don't know, I've never seen it...) I have done both, and the base jump method is admittedly scarier on a daily basis, but it's also easier (for me). You don't have to do all that difficult planning and working out in advance and so forth. Just trust your instincts, to find the story in the situation. "Instincts" in my case to be taken to mean 35 years of practice, mostly. Well, 40 if you count the adolescence. We will not count the childhood.

You've found your process, we've found ours. They're different. That's all. Yours fills me with a kind of appalled wonder, but hey. That's why we talk about process, so we can horrify each other by Doing It so blatantly Rong.
Feb. 14th, 2012 11:52 am (UTC)
It's interesting to see what works, and doesn't, for individuals and there's a comforting feeling to the Horror as well in some twisted way. :-P Do you find that you do multiple revisions of completed work or has the experience you've built up resulted in work needing only minor tweaking?
Feb. 14th, 2012 02:19 pm (UTC)
I really don't rewrite much. I think this dates back to the early days, when I was a babywriter, pre-computers; every new draft meant retyping every word, so I tried very hard to get it right first time. I'll nitpick endlessly these days, fidgeting with commas and reaching one more time for the exact right words in the exact right order, but that's as much rewriting as I ever want to do.
Feb. 13th, 2012 05:36 pm (UTC)
I still have plenty of opportunity to get lost. It is a bit like going for a walk with a map, bimbling along nicely and every now and again realising that the hill you *should* be standing on is the one you're staring at. Which is on the opposite side of the valley and there's a bog in between. Sometimes you have to wade through the bog and get to the original hill but, I have to admit, sometimes getting lost makes you realise that the hill you're on actually has a better view and will get you to your destination quicker.

I think it's a comfort thing. My outline is my blanky. :-P
Feb. 13th, 2012 06:03 pm (UTC)
'Zackly. Those of us who do it without a blanky outline have troubles that you wisely avoid. The first time I ventured these waters, I was writing a book that really didn't have a synopsis ("gunman goes mad in shopping mall"), and it lent itself very easily to the base jump way of working: invent characters likely to be in shopping mall, release gunman, see what happens. Who lives, who dies. Work it out as they do, hour by hour. Only then I tried it with my next book, which was a multi-character multi-plot complicated quarter of a million words - and I lost my nerve halfway through, and got stuck for three months, and it was awful. I could've used a blanky.
Feb. 14th, 2012 11:55 am (UTC)
I think the thing (that I need) to remember about outlines is that they're not written in stone and if I think of something better for chapter four as I'm writing chapter 3 I mustn't be precious about it and try to shoehorn the story into the original layout. Sometimes the hill you're on *is* better than the one you were aiming for!

How's the packing going?
Feb. 14th, 2012 02:20 pm (UTC)
Urgh, aargh. I have packed a world, and my house just looks more full than before. I hate this.
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )

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