Earlier tonight I got a bit carried away in response to a question in a writers group. Well, not wanting to waste all that writing, I’ve decide to share it here. It’s a bit of a read, but hopefully it’ll help other writers out…
The original question was:
“How do you plan your stories?
I have so much trouble just plotting out a story that I never get round to writing. How do you all come up with your ideas and how do you plan out your story and plot? What is the best method for you?”
Here’s what I posted in response. This is based on my experiences in writing the current novel I’m … still … working on 😀
Response to the original question:
Obviously, as seen in the answers given so far, like with most things in life, there are a bunch of ways to “do it” and different ways work for different folks. But this thread reminded me of working with someone last year.
Sometime toward the end of last year, someone online said they were stuck with their story. I offered to spend a bit of time helping them talk through it.
I copied down the conversation in case they needed the ref later (it was all done via on-line chat) and it spills onto the 4th page in an MS Word doc.
So, I’ll list out here some of the stuff I told him, and maybe it’ll help someone. Keep in mind that I think the real benefit for this person was the discussion of his story with someone asking “guiding” questions and giving suggestions. By the end of our chat, he was very excited and ready to kick back into writing his “stalled” story.
Here are some points / conversations from that IM:
1) Do you have a paragraph or a few that describe the basic idea / book?
Some things you may or may not hit from a high level:
Main Character (MC)
Qualities / abilities of this character
Strengths / Weaknesses
Journey of the MC
Type of Growth
Opposition (Villain, terrain, internal struggle, weaknesses etc.) or some combo thereof
2) During our discussion we came across several things like the following:
“I’m going to kill this character off”
OK, do you know how it’s going to happen?
“You mean how I’m going to kill him off?”
yes… if you know how, jump into that and start writing it. It might prompt another idea or two around the plot…
This is where bouncing basic ideas and thoughts off of someone really helped this person as I was able to ask some questions that really got him thinking about various things, we worked through some plot ideas, found holes etc.
3) One of the things that really helped me get rolling with my book was to sketch out a basic map of the area so I asked him about it.
Have you drawn out a map of the place?
“not yet, but its in my head at least”
It really helped me to actually draw out the map for my book. I have several MC’s that will eventually meet. I drew the map, including mountains, forests, rivers, towns etc.
Then I picked starting points for the MC’s and drew some basic routes for them to travel. I put the routes through woods, towns, etc. and then I just wrote… so when they finished in one place, I had to write their way to another.
Then the path would take them through a town so I had to describe it when they got there and what happened.
I’m not one to lay out a big outline for my book though.. so that’s about as close to an outline as I have… I tend to just “write what I see the characters doing” if that makes sense… kind of go with the flow.
I’ve had some great surprises that way. The other thing it helps with is, if I get stuck, I just jump to another MC and pick up where I left off with them. They are in a different place, doing different things so it changes things up.
I do have a general idea where things are heading, but only general. I know my characters meet, I know they work together to defeat an evil wizard who has a dragon. I know some of the strengths and weaknesses of the MC’s but other than that I just write and see where it goes.
Doing it this way seems to be working for me.
4) I’ve obviously cut out the “meat” of his story and a lot of the general back and forth of the chat. How did this all end?
So enough to go on for now?
“yes, thank you”
“gawsh thats nice, bouncing ideas off someone”
And that was the end of the chat.
So from my experience I’ll add a couple more things. I sat on an idea for a novel (and really mostly just the idea of an MC and an ability he has) for a long time. I told myself I needed to draw out a map, it would help. BUT, I thought I needed to get a 3’ X 3’ paper, post it on the wall so it’d be staring at me all big and inspiring. In the end, I drew it in a notebook and it worked just fine. It also was a bit more portable 😀
The other thing that I did was that I signed up for NaMoWriMo last year. I set my goal for 2k words a day. I do have a more than full time job and I have my kids for a week every other week, plus soccer practice etc. during the “non-kids” weeks, so it was a challenge. But, I made the commitment and stuck to it. I also made friends that were part of NaMoWriMo so we kept tabs on each other and pushed each other along. So my goal would have me at 60K words in 30 days. To be fair about it, I didn’t’ always hit 2k a day. But, I did get ahead at times and had to play catch up other times. The point was I committed to the goal and by day 27 I had apx 63K words. My point is that, especially for me and my book (Fantasy / Adventure) having a map, a very, very vague idea of where things are going and a hefty deadline, I pushed out a lot of good material. I do have a good ways to go still and a lot of editing to do, but that pressure cooker with a basic map, kept me going.
Wow, this ended up long. Hopefully someone gets something out of it 😀
Oh, one more pressure cooker… I’d get together (sometimes in person but mostly on-line) with other folks doing NaMoWriMo and we’d have word wars. Someone would pick an amount of time (typically 10 – 20 min but occasionally 1 to 2 hours) and we would just write on our book and then compare amounts of words at the end. Most words equaled winner. Obviously you have to set your own standard for yourself so sitting there typing blah blah blah didn’t count. 😀
Maybe this covered more than the original question and likely should have all been summed up with
“Very little –
For me, with fantasy / adventure, pick some main characters, draw a map, pick starting points, draw paths… and write like the dickens …”
But, since I’ve already got it all typed out, I’m gonna post it …
Did anyone make it through the full read? If so, thoughts?
Stephen – 2012