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How do you Write?

I’ve written (or started writing) several stories now and I’m really beginning to understand how important structuring your story beforehand really is. My first attempt at writing a full length story crashed and burned around forty thousand words. I had a loose idea of a story in my head and a vague set of directions on how I wanted to get to the end of the story, but that was it really. I sat down every day and wrote with abandon, just trying to get material out. When I hit forty thousand words I went back and wanted to create a roadmap of my story so I could better construct the second half. What I found was a train wreck. Since the realization that the book was a train wreck I’ve left the story completely alone. I intend to go back to it one day and rework it until it’s something I like because I’m still completely in love with the overarching ideas I had, just not right now.

I soon began my second attempt at writing a story, this one was a bit more organized. I outlined the first five or so chapters, figured out some of the characters, planned the problems out a bit more and it was much easier to write. However once I got past the first five chapters I kept going without further detailed planning  because I knew where I was going and what I wanted to happen. I’m currently at about 15 chapters written for the story (This is my Child of the Seraphim story by the way.) and I’m having a bit of a struggle figuring out how I want to do the rest of the story. To remedy this I have actually have been using our sliding glass doors as a white board, outlining key elements in each chapter and how they connect and influence later chapters, as well as writing ideas for events in the book down on the side so I can quickly reference and record my ideas. This has been a big help, but I still think it would be much easier to avoid all of this had I taken a bit more time to map out the whole story first.

This is where I run into a problem. I come to know my characters as they are written. I don’t really know everything about a character until I hit a certain point, critical mass if you will, where the character takes on a life of their own and begins making decisions on their own. So how can I map out a whole story, in detail,  if I don’t know the characters? There are some methods I’m currently playing with. You’ll be the first ones to know when I nail it down.

Then we come to my third attempt at writing. A fantasy short story that I still only have a working title for (The Magus Ascendant). The alpha draft of it is actually finished and I’ve begun revisions. I found this story incredibly easy for me to write, because even though it was only 5 chapters long, I had it planned from start to end. I knew exactly what I wanted to happen, how I wanted it to happen, and when I wanted it to happen.  I knew who the major characters were, what motivated them, how they would react to problems and what values they held. And it made writing everything so much easier. I hold no illusions that the fact its only a shade under nine thousand words has made it a bit easier to write and keep tabs on, but I really feel the mass of knowledge about the story I wanted to write made the difference going into it.

As a result of all of this I’ve been reading up on novel planning methods and the one that intrigues me the most is the snowflake method. Essentially you start very simply, and then build and build, working out massive amounts of details until you’ve built something complex and beautiful like a snowflake. You’re left with mounds of plot and character information that you can then easily translate into your story when you finally begin writing it.  I don’t think I’ll ever completely adopt this method as there is just too much planning for me to feel like I could still be creative under the weight of all the information, but the strategy definitely has some high points that I’m very interested in.

So how do you write and why do you write that way? Do you meticulously plan your entire plot, or do you head off into the word jungle armed with nothing more than a clever idea and raw determination?

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7 thoughts on “How do you Write?

  1. “Do you meticulously plan your entire plot, or do you head off into the word jungle armed with nothing more than a clever idea and raw determination?”

    I start out with the former and then wind up doing the latter. I blame this on having more “experience” as a songwriter. When writing songs, a few bars of music or a handful of lyrics pours out and I follow it furiously. I never gave it much thought, but I guess it’s because with music you’re coming in part of the way through the story a lot of the time, maybe? You don’t have to explain, and explain, and explain. It’s all for interpretation and either you (or the listener) feel it or you don’t.

    When trying to flesh out a fully developed story, that strategy (or lack thereof) doesn’t work so well. I end up having to go back and clarify – and then I over edit and it becomes something I don’t even like.

    All that rambled, I do seem to work much better with pen and paper rather than sitting at a computer. I like your sliding doors idea…

    • The sliding doors are actually a bit funny, depending upon the time of day long streaks of red, blue and green play across the living room when the light comes through the ink on the door. Has resulted in several “what in the hell is on the chair/carpet/dog” moments.

      In regards to the whole music vs. writing thing I think its just kind of apples to oranges. Music has several different methods available to convey feelings. The singers voice, the instrumental components, and then the lyrics all are able to communicate emotions to us on a very powerful level. We don’t even need to understand all the components completely to be moved. I think a medium like that really plays to the strengths of raw creative power since it can be so universal.

      Writing however only has words. Sure you can use the words in many different clever ways to evoke a cadre of different feelings, but in the end they are still a single edged sword so to speak. As such the words and the story they describe have to be carefully crafted in order to make the best use of their single edge. Hence overall planning seems to really aid in the stories creation, kind of like dragging a whetstone along a blade in order to sharpen it.

  2. Pingback: Building a story with snowflakes | Read/Write

    • I’ve actually read that exact article, or at least one that is formatted to look exactly like that article. With the little red fractal snowflake and everything! It was a great and informative read. I really like the structure that the snowflake model provides but it feels a little to rigid overall to me.

      I think for my style of writing using a modified version of the snowflake method is the way to go. I like having the plan for the story down, but I also don’t want to restrict myself from deviating from the plan if a particularly brilliant idea or story arc strikes me. Finding a happy balance between fluid creativity and the structure provided by planning will be a great success for me when I finally manage it.

      Thanks for the article link and the comment!

      • It’s great that you’re adapting methods to your own style of writing. In the end, all that matters is finding out what works for you in the moment, instead of trying to push yourself into a mold that fits someone else 🙂

  3. Pingback: Fallingwater: Organic Construction in Creative Writing (Part I of II) | A Novel Adventure

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