Writers are like snowflakes (Part 3)

Part 3 in this whole “we’re all unique” discussion.

Today’s topic: how to write.

As I may have mentioned before, I lurk a few writers forums (I’m too anti-social to actually participate).  And I’ve seen many times now where newer writers ask more experienced writers about how they should go about writing a story.  Thankfully, most of the more experienced writers answer back with “whatever works for you.”  And that’s because the answer really is “whatever works for you.”

So, what do I mean when I refer to “how to write”?  I mean the order in which you choose to craft your story.  Do you start at the beginning and then write all of the scenes until the story has been told?  Do you write the good bits and then go back and add filler scenes later to get from good scene A to good scene B?  Do you create an extensive outline and then simply flesh it out?  Do you just sit down and start typing?

There is no one right way to do it.  Do what works for you. 

Do what keeps you writing until you have a coherent story.  And be prepared to do it wrong.  You may think that you can just wing it and then when you sit down and write the story you find that it’s a bunch of disconnected crap.  That’s ok.  Now you know that you require an outline or some serious pre-thought about what you’re doing.

You may think that you should plan everything out and then find that now that you have an outline you can’t motivate yourself to actually tell the story.  Now you know to not box yourself in too much, because you require that creative spark to keep you going.

You may write a detailed outline and then find that when you sit down and start fleshing it out that you want to write a completely different story.  So be it.  If that outline is what it took for you to get started who cares if you stuck to it as long as the end result is a good story?

We’re all unique and the only way you’re going to learn what works for you is by sitting down and writing.  So do so.

Now, because I started this in the hopes that someday I’ll be published and people will care what I personally do, the following is what I’ve done.  (Keep in mind that I’m not yet published, so this is completely irrelevant at the time being, but it’s worked for me so far.)

Short Stories: I have now written three short stories.  With each of the short stories, I had an idea that I wrote down at some point and sent to the back brain for some noodling.  When it came back to me, I had an opening scene or image.  For the first two pieces I’d had the idea for quite some time, but the third one was only a day or two old when I started to write.  Once I start writing a short story, I write it over the course of a few days from beginning to end in strict chronological fashion.

That’s how it’s worked so far.  I’m planning on revising the second story and weaving another point of view in with the first one, but expect that that’ll be written chronologically as well.  So, basically, my short stories are written in a very linear fashion.

Novels: For me, and I’ve only worked on the one so far, novels work very differently.  I see a scene in my head and write that scene and then try to figure out whether that scene is the beginning, the middle, or the end of the story I want to tell.  In the case of this novel, the first scene I saw never even made it onto paper (it’s a different novel as it so happens, but would have been the final scene in the novel I set out to write).

The first scene I actually wrote will probably be in the third book if this novel actually sells and results in a series.  The second scene I wrote was twenty years before the first scene and what I thought was going to be the first scene in the novel.  That was before I realized that the novel was actually going to start with a different main character who demanded more of a back story than I’d thought he was going to need.

At some point, when I realized I was looking at potentially three novels instead of one, I drew a story arc for the original main character so I could see where the natural ending points would be for each novel.  I also drew timelines mapping key events in the lives of the three main characters (and two minor characters) so I could visualize where their lives were overlapping and each person’s own development.  (At one point my walls were covered with paper with the various drawings and key sayings and genealogies.  It was very A Beautiful Mind, but lacking the genius component.)

So, for me, I needed to write to know what I was writing about.  I feel like the whole story is already there, but I don’t know which parts of it I want until I sit down and describe it.

And, once I had a few big scenes and a general framework, then I did write chronologically for the most part, although I occasionally skipped ahead to write a climactic scene that suddenly materialized.  So, I guess my approach is Big Scene A, Big Scene B, a few connector chapters, Big Scene D, start at the beginning and work your way through while occasionally jumping ahead to Big Scene F or G.

(And, of course, in the second draft I’ve found that I did a lot of remembering of key scenes and have had to go back and write those in as actual scenes not just memories.)

It works for me.  I doubt it would work for most.  As long as I’m writing, I like what I’m writing, and I’m making progress, I’ll stick with it.

About M. H. Lee

M.H. Lee is a speculative fiction writer currently residing in Colorado whose stories are sometimes dark, sometimes funny, sometimes darkly funny, but hopefully always thought-provoking and entertaining.
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