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?