Four ways to write a great story

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Four ways to write a great story

#1 Post by sasquatchii » Sat Aug 30, 2014 12:15 am

Hey guys! I have been reading Writing Fiction for Dummies by Randy Ingermanson and Peter Economy, and it is an awesome book so far!

One thing they mentioned that I thought was very interesting was creative paradigms, or an array of methods used by writers to write their first drafts. Apparently, even professional writers have wildly different creative paradigms. Some plan everything meticulously. Others jump right in and just start typing. Ingermanson and Economy break things down into 4 different ways that many people go about planning and writing their story.

Seat of the pants:
Just write straight through without planning or editing.
Basically, writers start with a few fragments of the story in mind. When they sit down to write, they just start typing, going wherever their fingers take them. This method is exhilirating, and the twists and turns surprise the writer as much as they surprise the reader. The story seems to take on a life of its own, and it may as well say "I didn't kill Richard. I walked into the room and found him dead!" For some SOTP writers, the fun is in the first draft, and they can write up to speeds of 2,000 words per hour, happily drilling out the story. For other SOTP writers, the first draft is agony, but editing is bliss. Having no plan, every new scene of the first draft is fraught with danger. What if this scene doesn't go anywhere? What if that new character tries to take over the story? But in the editing stage they can happily cut and paste and delete- rethinking characters, finding new backstories, values, motivations, and goals for them.

SOTP writers need to be willing to rewrite heavily. First drafts may very well have lots of characters, plot threads, and ideas- many of which will be inconsistent or incomplete. At that point, they'll understand their story pretty well, but will need to be ruthless in editing and do the following:
1. Rethink entire novel structure
2. Fix plot holes and tie up loose ends
3. Get rid of some characters, combine others, and deepen all of them

So basically, SOTP writers start with the low level details. Line by line and paragraph by paragraph, these details work nicely. But at the higher levels of organization- scenes and acts- the story may not work at all. In the editing stage, the whole thing may need to be reworked to give those sceens and acts a clear and sensible direction. This is a bottoms up approach.

Edit-as-you-go:
Write without planning but edit thoroughly as you go.
Edit-as-you-go-writers like the wild freedom that seat-of-the-pants writing gives, but at the same time, they may be terrified of letting the story get away. The solution some writers choose is to edit as they go. Here's how it works:
1. Write a scene without planning.
2. Before you go on, stop and edit it
3. Then edit it again and again, as many times as you need, until the scene glows

This is hard work. EAYG writers may need to edit five or ten or twenty times, or may even spend a day or whole week working on that one scene. The benefit of editing as you go is that each time the writer works over a scene, they understand the story a little better. However, because they don't know how the story will turn out, they may wrestle with the fear that the story isn't going anywhere. And that fear may be justified. After all that hard work, the writer may find themselves in a corner they can't get out of.

This method also starts with the details. After you write a scene, though, you go back and tweak it, thinking now about how this scene works with all the other scenes. When the scen is finally perfect, the story as a whole works, up to this point in the story. If all goes well, at the end of the story, everything still works together.

Plan a little, write a little/Snowflake:
Make a general plan and write, changing the plan along the way.
Many writers want a bit of the freedom of the seat-of-the-pants writer, but they also want the security of knowing that the story is going to work out. These writers first do some story planning to get the large-scale structure of the story write. This may include creating character back stories, mapping out a three-act structure, writing a synopsis, or creating a list of scenes. But they don't work out every little detail in advance. When they start writing, they've already made most of the big decisions, but they still have many small decisions to make. So they know their story will work, but they're fuzzy on the details.

So you start with the big picture, the main story line and standard 3 act structure. Then, you put together a synposis and scenes tof ill in the details. If either of these changes the big picture, you edit the story line and three-act structure. After working back and forth a few times, you're ready to start writing the first draft. While writing, you keep checking to make sure the big picture is still working and make changes as necessary to keep the story on track. At the end of the first draft, the story should be well-structured and only need minor editing. This is a top down approach.

Outline:
Make a detailed plan before you write anything, adhering to it strictly.
Most writers simply can't write anything until they've worked out the whole story. For them, writing a summary of the story first is essential. Outliners don't want to waste any first-draft material. They want to know every twist and turn in their story in advance. They want to find all the holes in the story logic and plug them before writing one word of the manuscript. Outliners may do as many as five or ten drafts of their outline before they pronounce it done. Then they whiz through the first draft, knowing that the story is already there and all they have to do is type the words.

As an outliner, you start with the big picture and work out storyline/three-act sturcture. As soon as those work, you create a synopsis and sequence of the scenes. Up to this point, you've worked exactly like the snowflaker. But now you write a long synopsis instead of a first draft. The long synopsis fills in most of the story ideas, but you tell rather than show each scene. After you finish, if the story works, you work on the first draft. At the end of the first draft you have a well structured story that needs only minor editing.

Obviously, there is no write or wrong way to go about planning your story. In the end, no one will care how you wrote your story. What matters will be the emotional impact the reader experiences.
There is a chart to help determine which method might be best for you, which I have attached.

I'm curious as to what kind of method you all use! Is it anything like the ones listed, or something entirely different?
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Re: Four ways to write a great story

#2 Post by kitsubasa » Sat Aug 30, 2014 12:26 am

I'm an outliner, through and through! Generally, when I start a story, I'll have a document with world/character planning, which covers all details I think I'll need to incorporate into the writing (and some to spare as well, mostly so I can add flavour) as well as a document with a scene-by-scene record of what's going to happen. For my main project at the moment, Like She Had Wings, my planning docs currently total to over 150,000 words! I put these together over the course of six months before touching the script itself, to ensure I wouldn't trip into plot holes along the way, or give contradictory explanations for fantasy elements from chapter to chapter. For my secondary project, Seven Stories, my planning docs were only 10k long, and covered mostly character info, historical trivia, and the scene-by-scene for the plot.

However, once I start filling out the story and converting plans into scripts/prose, I tend to shuffle scenes around OR get rid of them altogether. Often I overestimate how much space I'll need to explain or discuss certain story elements and have multiple scenes planned for a concept that only takes one to explore fully. I'm very strict about following my original planned plots, so I don't end up getting lost or forgetting to reincorporate elements, but the minutiae of how they play out? Better to fix that as I learn the flaws then keep to a plan which is killing the pacing. So, yeah. : D
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Re: Four ways to write a great story

#3 Post by Mad Harlequin » Sat Aug 30, 2014 12:58 am

I think I'm mostly an edit-as-you-go person (I can thank poetry for that), but I do plan when what I'm working on is complicated enough.
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Re: Four ways to write a great story

#4 Post by Zetsubou » Sat Aug 30, 2014 2:07 am

I tend to swap between SOTP, Edit as you go, and Snowflake. How's that for a terrible answer? 8)

For example, when I started Sickness, I was writing SOTP. I only had a very vague idea of what the story would be about, I had one or two scenes in the back of my mind somewhere, and I just went for it. As a result, Sickness was the most fun I've ever had writing, and I seriously blitzed it. There were a couple of times where I sat down after dinner, started writing, and before I knew it, the sun was coming up.

But even when I was racing through Sickness, I was coming up with ideas that really didn't match the story, so I started constructing another novel in my mind. By the time I was finished with Sickness, I'd planned out the plots, characters, etc. of another 2-3 novels, so when I started on them, it was basically a matter of filling in the blanks.

Nowadays, however, I tend to go back over things I've written and try to perfect it before continuing. I hate doing it, and it really drags me down, but I just get into this perfectionist mindset where I have to be sure of what I've already written before continuing. It does mean less rewriting, but it takes forever to get anything done like that.

So there you have it. I'm at my best and have the most fun when writing SOTP, but I'm unfortunately a nutjob unable to just stick to one style.
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Re: Four ways to write a great story

#5 Post by sasquatchii » Sat Aug 30, 2014 7:44 am

Zetsubou wrote:I tend to swap between SOTP, Edit as you go, and Snowflake. How's that for a terrible answer? 8)
That's not a bad answer at all! If those methods work for you and you don't dread writing your story, you're doing something right!
kitsubasa wrote:I'm an outliner, through and through! Generally, when I start a story, I'll have a document with world/character planning, which covers all details I think I'll need to incorporate into the writing (and some to spare as well, mostly so I can add flavour) as well as a document with a scene-by-scene record of what's going to happen. For my main project at the moment, Like She Had Wings, my planning docs currently total to over 150,000 words! I put these together over the course of six months before touching the script itself, to ensure I wouldn't trip into plot holes along the way, or give contradictory explanations for fantasy elements from chapter to chapter. For my secondary project, Seven Stories, my planning docs were only 10k long, and covered mostly character info, historical trivia, and the scene-by-scene for the plot.
That is so awesome!! I envy your ability for planning & structure. Never in a million years would the outlining approach work for me, because I am pretty bad at not just jumping into my story. I get an idea for a scene, and of course I have to write it down. But the outlining method seems pretty awesome imo :)
Mad Harlequin wrote:I think I'm mostly an edit-as-you-go person (I can thank poetry for that), but I do plan when what I'm working on is complicated enough.
Nice! If I had to guess I would have thought you were more of a snowflaker/outliner (because you've got a really structured/solid way of writing & proofing things!) but edit as you go is sort of the approach I've been using to write my stories as well :D
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Re: Four ways to write a great story

#6 Post by kitsubasa » Sat Aug 30, 2014 8:09 am

sasquatchii wrote:
kitsubasa wrote:I'm an outliner, through and through! Generally, when I start a story, I'll have a document with world/character planning, which covers all details I think I'll need to incorporate into the writing (and some to spare as well, mostly so I can add flavour) as well as a document with a scene-by-scene record of what's going to happen. For my main project at the moment, Like She Had Wings, my planning docs currently total to over 150,000 words! I put these together over the course of six months before touching the script itself, to ensure I wouldn't trip into plot holes along the way, or give contradictory explanations for fantasy elements from chapter to chapter. For my secondary project, Seven Stories, my planning docs were only 10k long, and covered mostly character info, historical trivia, and the scene-by-scene for the plot.
That is so awesome!! I envy your ability for planning & structure. Never in a million years would the outlining approach work for me, because I am pretty bad at not just jumping into my story. I get an idea for a scene, and of course I have to write it down. But the outlining method seems pretty awesome imo :)
Well, I used to use SOTP or edit-as-you-go, but my problem with those was that I couldn't stick to one story-- I'd get an idea for a couple of scenes, but not have the investment or the planning to actually turn them into a whole narrative. My fix for that became super-detailed planning. My rule now is that if I can't make it through putting together a proper planning document for a piece, then there's no way I'll be able to stick with the idea long enough to work it by any other method. : D

As such, I admire people who can spit out a whole story without a plan since it shows they can have an idea and commit to it without having to put anything in place to keep their interest in the project~
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Re: Four ways to write a great story

#7 Post by Chocopyro » Sat Aug 30, 2014 5:34 pm

"Plan a little, write a lot" is the approach I'm taking to writing VNs, but as my writing style stemmed more from literate roleplaying, I guess I inherently have more of an "Easy as you go" approach to overall writing, where as I edit over and over and over again until I reach a desired conclusion. (Just look at how many times I edit any of my posts here on the forums that are over a paragraph long.)

Like I plan top down to only about the point in which I get to the personal level of the characters, then I just let them take a life of their own, guiding them only when I notice they are starting to stray from the desired conclusion. -shrug- I just can't map every level of detail out about a character until I know who they are, and generally, that requires writing them first. No matter how well profiled a character is, I always end up learning something new about them once I start trying to write them into the scene. Whether it be behavioral patterns, or even minor backstory snippets.
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Re: Four ways to write a great story

#8 Post by theSardonyx » Sun Aug 31, 2014 7:46 am

sasquatchii wrote:
kitsubasa wrote:I'm an outliner, through and through! Generally, when I start a story, I'll have a document with world/character planning, which covers all details I think I'll need to incorporate into the writing (and some to spare as well, mostly so I can add flavour) as well as a document with a scene-by-scene record of what's going to happen. For my main project at the moment, Like She Had Wings, my planning docs currently total to over 150,000 words! I put these together over the course of six months before touching the script itself, to ensure I wouldn't trip into plot holes along the way, or give contradictory explanations for fantasy elements from chapter to chapter. For my secondary project, Seven Stories, my planning docs were only 10k long, and covered mostly character info, historical trivia, and the scene-by-scene for the plot.
That is so awesome!! I envy your ability for planning & structure. Never in a million years would the outlining approach work for me, because I am pretty bad at not just jumping into my story. I get an idea for a scene, and of course I have to write it down. But the outlining method seems pretty awesome imo :)
I'm bad at planning, which is probably why I can't use that style ever. My outlines are always so far from the finished work. My theses and their respective outlines are proof. I can plan out an entire novel in my head without being able to write anything. :P

I either write by SOTP, edit-as-you-go or Snowflake depending on the length. One-shots are usually done with SOTP, anything with less than 20k words with Snowflake, and the longer ones with edit-as-you-go. And since I write mostly one-shots anyway, I can probably say that I do SOTP more than anything else.

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Re: Four ways to write a great story

#9 Post by Lexer » Mon Sep 01, 2014 12:57 am

I work like a combination of both SOTP and edit as you go. I don't really adhere to the strict definition. Sometimes a paragraph or an entire scene can go by and when I look at it it fits nicely with everything and I leave it mostly alone. Then there are times where I keep coming back to a certain paragraph or sentence that seems really off with the effect I want especially when I have moved further with more scenes. Though there is a point where I force myself to stop, otherwise I'll be at that part forever.

I'm not a big fan of the outlining or plan a little/write a little methods. I've seen plenty of aspiring writers end up working far more on their planning and outlines than on the actual thing that people will be reading. I'm sure it works for some people, but I'd rather just get stuff on paper first then edit or make an outline if needed.

This reminds me of an article where the guy said that you should only edit three times then stop because you'll never finish it and end up editing far too many times. I can't seem to find the article now though nor can I remember who wrote it.

In any case, it also reminds me of what David Foster Wallace said about perfectionism and how if your fidelity to perfectionism is too high you'll never end up doing anything. What you eventually put down on paper will never be as perfect as the thing in your head and that this can stop you from ever finishing or even starting your story.

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Re: Four ways to write a great story

#10 Post by Vin Howard » Sat Sep 13, 2014 12:16 am

I want to give my characters the freedom to write their own story; thus I am very much a SOTP writer. I don't think I'll ever be an "Edit-as-you-go" writer; I've found that I don't really understand my characters (and thus the story) until I've gotten a bit into the story (which means all previous scene will need to be completely re-written, regardless of how good they might be)

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Re: Four ways to write a great story

#11 Post by Haze » Sun Sep 21, 2014 10:19 am

I'm a SOTP writer, but only because I have to be.

I'm pretty good at spotting typos and grammatical errors in anyone's work, but this is a HUGE problem when I'm writing something of my own. I'll be writing for a while, but then, I'll inevitably look up at my screen and say "Oh, there's a typo there. Might as well fix that." Then, I'll look at a different area and say "I should probably fix that grammar mistake."

10 minutes later, all the errors will be fixed, but I won't have any new material written. Plus, any of the burning passion that inspired me to write the story in the first place might have already vanished.

For example, in the previous sentence, I added the words "the story" and "that inspired me", and I also replaced "the" with "any of the". In the sentence before this one, I add a comma, replaced the word "changed" with "replaced", and replaced "to" with the word "with". Finally, in the sentence before this one, I added "the word" after "with" and I added some commas, along with a couple more words that help the sentence flow more smoothly. I could probably tell you what I fixed in the sentence before this one, but you get the general idea. I edit a lot, though on the forums I'm "unbridled" and edit perhaps a bit more than I would normally.

If I wasn't an SOTP writer(or at least trying to be), then I wouldn't get any work done.

Of course, this whole thing is great when editing for other people, but, well, "It's a gift...and a curse"(Anyone know what show that's from? No? Ok, then.).
Last edited by Haze on Wed Sep 24, 2014 5:50 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Four ways to write a great story

#12 Post by Rara » Sun Sep 21, 2014 2:51 pm

Very helpful. thankyou.

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Re: Four ways to write a great story

#13 Post by SinSisters » Sun Sep 21, 2014 9:07 pm

Oh my goodness, I'm one hundred percent a SOTP person. I love getting the first draft out, and I'll go on inspiration driven writing passages that'll keep me up 'till midnight (not fun when I have to get up at six-thirty). I hate editing because I find it so tedious and even though I want my story to be good, I want to finish it even more. My best ideas have come from in the moment lightbulbs. For instance, I was finishing up a scene between a really bubbly character and the MC. She teased him by calling him heavy, and he was going to push her in the water. Then I realized that I could use that for the second scene with the MC and bubbly character. I could do a lot more with it than I would with the 10 or so lines that I wanted to use to finish the scene (she ended by falling asleep bwhwha). Not an example of ingenious creativity or anything, but I needed a scene for the second encounter between them, so now I have it :) Or a novel I'm sort of writing (about 100 normal book-sized pages), four of my best plot twists and ideas have come from writing in the moment.
The only good thing about editing is that I can make it better. I'm used to peer editing, which is partly why I hate having to edit my own work (I have to come up with all the ideas myself...) That shouldn't be an issue for the VN, but I'm very protective about novels that I'm writing and wouldn't want anybody except for a paid editor to do it.

With that in mind, everytime I start something for fun, it's because I have a few ideas in mind. The only time I get writer's block is when I need to write 'fillers' to reach all the exciting scenes I have planned, and I don't WANT to write fillers because no one wants to READ fillers and that's DUMB ANYWAY so basically I need to come up with three or so plot ideas out of the blue, which can take me weeks -.- the awesome thing about the VN is that I have four different paths, and I doubt I'm going to get writer's block for all four (plus, I can always consult Cel for help).

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Re: Four ways to write a great story

#14 Post by Haze » Mon Sep 22, 2014 1:30 am

SinSisters wrote:The only time I get writer's block is when I need to write 'fillers' to reach all the exciting scenes I have planned, and I don't WANT to write fillers because no one wants to READ fillers and that's DUMB ANYWAY so basically I need to come up with three or so plot ideas out of the blue, which can take me weeks -.-
But you don't have to write fillers, especially if you don't even like doing that in the first place! When I'm fleshing out an idea for the first time(by actually writing it down XD), I only write the scenes I'm feeling inspired about. If you're writing a scene, and you're suddenly stuck on what happens next because your inspiration suddenly dies, just move on to a scene that you are feeling inspired to write. You've just got to go back and write the missing scenes later. Don't worry, though. By the time later comes, you'll probably be feeling inspired enough to write those scenes. :D
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Re: Four ways to write a great story

#15 Post by breadslam » Tue Sep 23, 2014 11:53 am

I'm a seat-of-your-pants snowflake, if such a thing is possible. When I start with a story, there's generally just a theme or a specific ending that I want to work towards. I've even written twenty-page short stories on just an opening line that I thought was interesting. For visual novel and video game work, there's usually a bit more of a plan involved -- what scenes would be good in the beginning, middle, and end -- but it's pretty much just me stringing neat, semi-related bits together with some really thin thread.

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