Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Right Way To Write, Part Two

Last week, I posted about planners vs. free-writers, and some general notes on how to tell which one you are.

But, what if clear-cut planning isn't working for you? Or your free-writing muse seems to be sulking in a corner? What then? Well, there's a huge gray area between the two, and I believe this is where most writers land.

Let's take starting point. What do you start with when you sit down with a new story idea? Is it your main character? A major plot point? A high-level story idea? Next, how do you go about writing it? Are you having trouble getting started, but the idea of planning or plotting sickens you? Or are you having trouble making yourself stop filling out character worksheets and updating outlines, and just get going already? If so, then maybe you need a combination of the two.

The trouble is, finding a good balance can only be done through trial and error. Hence, it can take writers years to figure out what works for them and what doesn't. But here's a few generic combinations that might shave off some of that time.

The Road Map:
Plot based - know where your story is going. Simply put, this is a basic map of your story. It's not a strict outline, it's not detailed, it just highlights the major events that will happen before the end. This is probably for planners who want a bit more wiggle room than a detailed outline provides.

The Environment:
Character based - know where your character is going. Take your character and put him in a specific environment, then see what he does. If your character has already been defined and you know where he's going, this could be a great launching point for the more free-writing inclined. But it's also good for the planner.

The Object:
Character based - know where your character is going. Give your character an object and see what he does with it. Same as above.

The Situation:
Character based - know where your character is going. Put your character in a specific situation and see what he does with it. Same as above.

Bird's Eye View:
Either plot or character based. This is similar to a pitch you would give to an editor or agent. It's the bare bones of your story, boiled down into one or two lines. For example, the pitch for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime would be similar to "An autistic boy investigates the death of a neighbor's dog." This one probably has the most wiggle room of all. And, depending on where you put your focus, you can take off with your characters or you can take off with your story. And you can use as much or as little planning as you like.

All of these could also be used as brianstorming exercises for writer's block. How fun! :)

So if you're muse isn't cooperating, then maybe use one of these to give her direction. Or, if you can't stop planning, then maybe use one of these to just get started, even if it's not exactly in the right direction. Combinations work, too. Try new things, pay attention to what's working and what's not, and pretty soon you've have found your groove.


Unknown said...

Wonderful stuff!

When I write, I tend to start without an outline at all. I usually have an image in my head. Sometimes it's just a character, but mostly it's a character in a specific situation. It's vague and I never have any idea of how the plot will end up. I either know I want to write the image onto paper either as the beginning of my book, or I want to create a book around that image (i.e. a dramatic scene that I want the characters to get to, or an important decision, etc.).

However, I will inevitably plot to some extent, usually around the first hundred pages. It takes me that long to realize who my characters are and what will ultimately happen (which makes it little wonder that the first hundred pages are the same pages that inevitably require the most rewriting). When I plot, I tend to do the most basic, sketchiest outline possible. Sometimes I won't have more than five lines for a chapter in my outline, and usually I can't outline more than a few chapters ahead. But I generally have in my head about fifty more pages than what I have on my paper.

By the way, thanks for the lovely long comment on my blog. You inspired me to do a whole new post on the subject!

Tabitha said...

I love to hear how different writers go about writing. I don't often hear the same method twice, which just illustrates how unique we all are. Fantastic, really. :)

I checked out your blog post, and wow! Some really great thoughts there. :)

Susan Sandmore said...

I'm not sure where I start. I do know that I am trying my newest MG in a seat-of-the-pants style (totally new for me) and it IS fun that way, but scarier. I have a vague notion of the ending, though. It's like--two points on a map. I'm connecting them, this time, without an outline.

I absolutely have to have a good first line or I just can't start writing. And I absolutely have to know what sort of ending I'm after, or I'm not sure there's a whole "story."

Tabitha said...

Wow, I can see how scary that would be. I definitely *don't* have the guts to try seat-of-the-pants for a novel. A writing exercise, maybe. But I'd run away screaming if someone told me I had to write a novel that way. :)

I'm the same way about needing a good first line. I also need a good first chapter, which tends to go through 10 to 20 revisions before I can move on. Everything falls out of the first chapter, so it has to be really good in my mind before I can think about the rest of the story.

Mary Witzl said...

My MG/YA is very much a seat of the pants story. I started out with the merest sketch of an idea and built on it as I went along. I knew the beginning and the end, but not all the things that happened in the middle. I like that style of writing best, because I need a lot of wiggle room when the characters start doing weird things they really shouldn't do. I go back and edit a lot of the flights of fancy, but some of them strike me as being right, and I keep them.

You are right: it is important to keep track of what the protagonist wants, what motivates him or her. If you lose sight of this, the story tends to fall to pieces.

Tabitha said...

Yeah, and it can get kinda ugly with all those pieces flying every which way. Someone could lose an eye. :)

My hat goes off to anyone that can write seat-of-the-pants style. Mind boggling. :)