Posted in General, writing

On Different Approaches

Last week while speaking with a friend, we ended up on a discussion of worldbuilding and where to start it. In essence, she wanted to write a story, but complained she didn’t have the world for it. My response caused a bit of confusion for us both: Just write the story.

The fact that I did so surprised her, if only because she’s also heard me complain and grump about editing when my story contradicts the world I have for it. She’d thought that I, like her, built the world first and wrote the story second.

I however, had a hard time grasping how you would build a world that you don’t have a story for at all. I tend to write the early draft, and pull out any details from it during editing to build the world as I build the story.

Both techniques work, and there’s something to be said for both of them on where you begin.

Worldbuilding First gives you a solid structure to work from. It provides plenty of places for conflict as well as giving you the details needed to make your story seem real. On the other hand, worldbuilding is a massive undertaking and it could be very easy to get bogged down on trying to figure out everything before you put pen to paper.

Story writing First provides ideas to help spawn details and new features for your world. It can help you populate the world with realistic characters. But, it also leaves you open to contradictions and possible continuity errors.

Whichever approach you choose, choose the one that works best for you. There’s no right or wrong way to go about it.

Where do you start your worldbuilding?

Posted in General, writing

Outlining Methods

One of my least favorite tasks when I’m getting ready to start editing is creating an outline. As much as I know they’re useful and will help me create a better draft, they take time to create. The most important thing about an outline is that it is only a tool. Regardless of how or even when you create an outline, they are incredibly useful and can help you structure your novel.

And, the beautiful part about outlines is that much like the writing process itself, there’s a variety. If you’re more of a discovery/pantster/garden writer (like me!) you might find writing an outline beforehand kills your story. You can save it for later. If you need a structure to keep you on track without boggling down the details, there are methods for that too. If you’re happy creating an outline before you start on Chapter One, then you have your pick of outline flavors based on your needs and preferences for a story.

If you have trouble with breaking your story down into chapters, it might help to use a synopsis. Because the synopsis is all of the events that happen in a story, it can be useful if you have the premise and the characters, but need some guidance on the plot itself. Bonus point for the synopsis: you’re more than likely going to need to write one at some point, especially if you’re planning on traditional publishing. Most synopses are summaries of the scenes and dialogue.

Another summary-like method is often called the flashlight method. I’ve also see this occasionally referred to as the ‘traditional’ method. In essence, you create one or two sentences for each chapter or story section. You can use the Hero’s Journey or the traditional plot structure known as Freytag’s pyramid if you’re not sure where your chapters are. The flashlight method flexes well enough that you can dedicate entire pages to each section, or keep it all on index cards.

If detail is a large priority for you, consider an expanding outline such as the snowflake method. With the snowflake method you start with a single sentence and simply keep expanding until you’ve reached the level of detail you want. If you choose to use the original form of this method (created by Randy Ingermanson) it can be very work-intensive but steps you through everything from character arcs through to plot and into early scenes.

The final method I want to cover is the mind map. This is a fantastic thing for brainstorming. You start with your core premise and began mapping out the parts that branch off from it. This includes things like your Main Character, who then has branches out for his goal, his motivation, his flaw. It might also include your main conflict and how it connects to your Main Character and your antagonist. This doesn’t follow any structure, so be warned that it may not give you a clear-cut plot line.

Regardless of what you use to outlines, keep in mind that these are organizational tools. As your story develops and changes, you might find yourself needing to revisit and revise your outline.

Posted in General

The Revision Process

One of the biggest things I struggled with when I started taking writing seriously was the revision process. By nature and default, I write the story without a plan and let it go where it will. Coupling that with the fact that I’m constantly getting new ideas and I’ve taught myself to write a rough draft pretty quickly. I have a constant stack of rough drafts that I’m pretty much always adding too. The big problem for me is that when I’m ready to move from rough draft to next draft, I always feel like I’m staring at a pile of words and wondering where to start.

Writing being what it is and being so highly subjective, there isn’t going to be a guide on ‘do this next’ that suits every writer every single time. However, while trying to figure out where my revision processes was the slowest, I ended up with a list of steps I usually take. While this won’t necessarily fit every person, if you’re wondering ‘what next’ this might give you some ideas of your own on where to head next.

Notes are a huge thing for me. Before I actually start editing, I read through the whole draft and make notes about edits I want to make. Usually I do these by hand and have my own short-hand for it (+ to add something, – to take it out, ~ for changing something completely). This way I can get a good overview of where I’m at and where I want to be.

A Character List is the next step. I do this so I don’t forget anyone, and so I can mark down who is playing for the protagonist, the antagonist, or themselves. Typically I leave enough space that I can jot down what their goal and motivation is. This makes it easy to see if I have hidden conflicts I haven’t touched on, or if I have solid reasoning for two characters to be opposing each other.

Because I use outlines only after I’ve done the first draft, Plot Breakdowns help me check to make sure my conflicts and resolutions don’t have gaping holes in them. Although I’ve used the standard plot structure (exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution) to do this before, I’ve also found another method focused on the conflicts rather than the events that works better for me (I’ll cover that method in another post, so keep any eye out for it!).

With my characters and plot done, it’s time to make the Outline. I try to do this based on memory of the rough draft and with the information in the plot breakdown and from the notes. This makes it easier to limit extraneous scenes from the rough that either didn’t pan out or that just don’t fit in with the plot properly, as well as give myself a roadmap of changes I need to make while rewriting scenes.

Once all of that’s done, it’s time to tackle the next draft. At this point I actually create a new document and work side-by-side the original. This way if I come across a phrase or sentence I like, I can copy and paste directly into the new draft while cleaning up any questionable word choice as I go.

This doesn’t hold true on every single project I’m working on. Series are a little more involved because I also need to make sure the series arc itself makes sense and progresses. On occasion I’ve also come across a draft that needs a lot more work than just listed above–things like just finding the main plot, changing or reducing the number of view points, possibly even revamping the initial idea. In this case I may have to just work off the notes I’ve made and rewrite most if not all of the initial draft.

Posted in writing

Pursuing Perfection

Perfect grammar, perfect voice, perfect writing. It sounds like it could happen with enough polish on the work, right? If you put in enough effort your story will glow with perfection and it will be impossible not to love.

Unfortunately, I’m about to pop that bubble.

While you should absolutely work to make your story the best you possibly can and clean it up so that the grammar is correct and writing is clear, perfection itself is a mythical beast a bit like overnight success. That is to say, it doesn’t technically exist.

Writing is a highly subjective form, as evidenced by the dozens of genres and hundreds if not thousands of successful writers. Go ahead, hit up your nearest bookstore and start reading the back covers and blurbs made to try and sell you the story. Which ones make you want to put it in your basket or cart and buy it, which ones make you put it back because it’s not appealing to you? Ask a friend to do the same, and notice which ones of their picks you’d likely buy and which ones you’d have rejected.

Do this a couple times at your local library too. Notice which ones you reject a couple of times before they sound appealing. Maybe something in your mood changes and today you feel more like a non-fiction read than a fictional drama. Maybe you need a pick-me-up and grab a romance with a Happily Ever After instead of a murder mystery.

Writing is highly subjective because a reader’s tastes constantly change. Not just genre, but also voice. Real life example here: I grew up with a lot of classic fantasy novels. But goodness if reading Tolkien’s works is a chore most of the time. Have I done so? Yes, but I’d much prefer David Eddings, Mercedes Lackey or Joe Abercrombie. Give me something with a little life, and a few jokes that aren’t so easy to miss.

Before you hit the bottom and think ‘then what’s the point of trying’ remember that there is one person for whom the ‘perfect story’ does exist: You. As the writer, the first and foremost person you should be pleasing with any edits should be yourself. You’re the first reader and the one who has to ultimately decide what the story needs in order to live up to its fullest potential. Remember that the story only exists because of you, so you set the standard for it.