Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Charting The Course

I recently got asked a question by a budding writer on how I chart a story.  This person wanted to know how I got from A to B when writing.

The first thing I made clear is that a lot of it comes down to personal preferenceSome writers like to sketch out each character in detail so that the characters will tell the story.  Others prefer to write a detailed outline that they can simply follow as they write, like a secretary taking a letter.  Still others fly by the seat of their pants so that the story remains spontaneous and free flowing.  It really depends on your comfort level.

With that out of the way, I answered with what I do.  The first step always starts with daydreaming.  Whether I’m in the gym or walking my dogs, I start fantasizing about what a story might do.  I usually have a pretty good idea about the beginning, and the ending usually comes to me shortly thereafter.  Continuing the daydream is required to fill in the middle.

Once I’ve got a pretty good idea about how the story starts, I pull out a standard spiral notebook and start to randomly jot down the story.  I follow it the same way I would when watching a movie, taking notes and making detailed descriptions of things I want to be specific.  Once I have a good chunk of material, material I think would fill 6,000 words or so, I start writing.  I do this because my outline isn’t incredibly detailed unless I just have to have a set piece of action or dialogue, and it keeps the process a little spontaneous, but not so much so that I flail about wildly.  I also don’t try to outline beyond 10,000 words because the story can go off in a different direction during writing, rendering my outline after the point of divergence useless.

On occasion, I’ll put down the basics of each major section so I can outline within that framework.  For example, in Wrongful Death, I labeled it like:

  1. Car crash
  2. Blocked from the afterlife
  3. Life review
  4. Discover person who caused crash
  5. Haunting
  6. Wrong person?
  7. Betrayal
  8. Moving on
This gave me guideposts so I could settle the general direction in my mind.  Each section of my outline afterwards fell under one of these headers.  I also sketched out three main characters for the novel(the dead teenager, the afterlife guide, and the person who was accused of killing the teenager), because I knew they’d affect the flow of the story, so I had to know who each was in detail.

I think the person I gave this advice to found it useful, but I still stressed that this was what worked for me.  Maybe he’ll get into it and find he needs a different style.  Whatever gets your ideas from your head to the page best is your preferred style.  So find it.

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