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Archive for March 26th, 2008

“What rule do you follow? Do you outline your entire story/book before beginning? Or do you just structure the novel, e.g., broad areas of conflict? Or do you just begin?”
I carried out this discussion in one of my groups. You see, I’m a very insctinctive sort of a writer. I’ve always found it fun to just start and wait to see what unfolds. I write whatever I feel like. I don’t really plan or outline my stories. But I was very interested to know how others did it and what their viewpoints were. I must say I got very interesting responses. I thought I would put them up here:
 
 
1. “Some mystery writers I know use different methods for keeping the reader guessing until the end of the ‘who dunnit.’

One writes the ending first, then decides what scene needs to come just before it, then the scene before that and so on. I don’t if this will work for everyone, but it works for her.

Another writer puts clues among a list of items found at the scene, so that it might be hidden among other things and not so obvious. Also, use a lot of Red-Herrings. Have enough suspects among your characters so that the real killer does not stand out until the hero figures it out. Each of the suspects might have a reason for wanting to kill the victim, but there is only one who actually did it.”
2. “Well, I think of each scene at night in bed. I pick a scene and play it in my head. Decided if I like it or not. When I start a story I think of the main characters personality, where they live, their background, and who they interact with. I usually start the story because I’m inspired by something and think of an action scene in the middle of the story. Then I begin my story. I write the backbone of the story until I reach that action scene. Then I write the action scene in detail and detail what I had already written. If I like the story I usually have something to continue it, so I continue. So that is how I rite my stories. If you want to be a fast writer and just get those books on the shelfs, then write a plot or whatever. I think the stories are better when there thought of more and the writer put more time into thining about it and creating a new world.” 
 

3. “I just get a concept, or scene that i like, or that won’t leave me alone. I go over it, wording it diffrent ways, till I find one I like. If it’s a concept, I start puuting detials into it. If it’s a scene, I build up a story around it. I typically have an outline before I start typing, but the garbage bins of my hometown are full of my scrawlings and scribbles, trying to get something right in my head.” 
 

4. “When I taught my fiction writing classes for the last ten years, this is what I generally recommended that writers consider when plotting a novel.

1. What does your main character want? Or what is their goal at the time the story starts?
2. Why can’t they have what they want?
3. What happens if he/she doesn’t get what they want?
4. How does he/she struggle to get what they want?
5. What additional hardships does your character face?
6. When does it appear hopeless?
7. Does the main character finally get what he/she wants?
8. When is the distress alleviated?
9. Does he/she settle for something less than what they originally wanted?
10. What is unexpected or surprising about the ending?

Go through each question for each main character, your hero and heroine (protagonist). Then go through the same questions for your villain (antagonist) as well.

For each new scene or chapter, you should tell the reader four basic things in the opening paragraphs:
1. Where am I? (the setting, give the reader a clear picture of where your story takes place.)
2. What’s the time frame? This includes the year if it is a historical, or clues for present day, or in the future. Also include the time of year (season), and the time of day or night.
3. Whose head am I in? Make sure it is clear which point of view (POV) we are seeing the action take place. Depending on the genre, you can have more than one point of view, but avoid a cast of thousands, as this will confuse the reader. Keep the points of view to your main characters and maybe a secondary one if needed. Stay in one point of view per scene.
4. What’s happening? Set up your conflict or central dillemma as soon as possible.

Keep in mind that editors are not willing to read through several slow pages to see if things pick up. So start out with a bang, have your character doing something important. Hook the reader in and hold them. Don’t have a flashback in your opening scene. Save that for later when there is a lull in the pacing or action. Fill in background information as you go, or wait until a later chapter to tell background information. If there is a lot of background that the reader should know up front, then maybe you need a Prologue.

I hope this helps, as this is what editors look for in good writing. You need conflict between characters, or a central dillemma to keep the reader intrigued. Have a good hook at the end of each chapter to pull the reader into the next one. Don’t end with your characters going to sleep, as this signals the reader that it is okay to put the book down. If they do sleep, then make sure it is disturbed by something, nightmares or whatever.”

5. “I think it helps to have an overarching outline, to know where I’m headed when I begin. However, my characters have their own ideas, and once I’m truly immersed, nothing happens like I planned it!” 
 

6. “Did you read Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston? She wrote that book in a day & a half while she was hiding out from a voodoo master (who wanted to turn her into a zombie) waiting for her ship to come & take her back home to the USA. I think I read that story in Alice Walker’s book In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens.”

7. “I find that when I just start writing without an outline, I don’t always finish the story. On the other hand, if I have an outline it keeps me on task and gives me some direction. Not that the characters can’t change the outline! Sometimes they have a mind of their own!” 
 

8. “I find having a general outline helps me not chase too many rabbits. I lay out a general plan for every chapter, just enough to keep me focused and on track. Otherwise, I may end up with so much that the reader may feel like they are talking to a schizophrenic.” 
 

9. “I usually just begin, then halfway through I go back and change everything.”

10. “I am unique when it comes to writing. I get my inspiration from just about anywhere music, a TV show, I even came up with an idea when I was walking in a boat. The sound of my feet hitting the wooden floor made me come up with an idea!As far as how I write I take that insriation, usually I come up with a scene, and my whole book it sort of built around that scene. But I don’t make an outline in advance, I just kind of let my mind wander as I write. I honestly don’t think I would be able to write if I had a strict outline I had to follow. But I write it and then just revise everything. I am so going to follow a lot of the advice given here!” 
 
 
If any one of the group members happens to visit this site and find their replies here, please do contact me and I will set up an acknowledgement. And if you have your own blog(s)/site(s), do let me know the URL(s) and I will put it/them on this article as a link. Thanks a lot everybody. This discussion really helped me as, I know, it will help a lot of other writers.

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