A meta question on process

Valnus

Member
Joined
Jun 21, 2021
Messages
18
So I have been procrastinating on writing my fantasy novel for a long time and and finally Lock Down has given me the time to do so. Now I have a question( one of many to be honest ).

Writing and outline for my book has been seemingly impossibe. Don't get me wrong I know what the book is about and how I want it to end but creating a corkboard of what is happening chapter by chapter is just not possible. I seem to write what pops into my head and what I want to happen in that moment.

Is this bad ?

I am worried I get to chapter 200 ( joke) and lost the plot on chapter 2 already.
 

Jo Zebedee

Aliens vs Belfast.
Supporter
Joined
Oct 5, 2011
Messages
18,618
Location
blah - flags. So many flags.
So I have been procrastinating on writing my fantasy novel for a long time and and finally Lock Down has given me the time to do so. Now I have a question( one of many to be honest ).

Writing and outline for my book has been seemingly impossibe. Don't get me wrong I know what the book is about and how I want it to end but creating a corkboard of what is happening chapter by chapter is just not possible. I seem to write what pops into my head and what I want to happen in that moment.

Is this bad ?

I am worried I get to chapter 200 ( joke) and lost the plot on chapter 2 already.
It’s just a different way of writing the story and equally valid - but will need editing later.
 

The Judge

Truth. Order. Moderation.
Staff member
Joined
Nov 10, 2008
Messages
13,145
Location
nearly the New Forest
Some people create detailed outlines. Some people just start writing and wing it from there. Some people do a mish-mash of part planned, part pantsing.

There's no single technique that works for everyone, nor indeed for the same person on every story, so don't worry. It's not "bad" just to write whatever pops into your head. But -- and it's a big but -- you might well find the neat little story you'd proposed, like a suburban garden, quickly becomes a tropical jungle, and it might take an awful lot of work with a machete to bring it back into order.

My advice, for what it's worth, is just write, but perhaps periodically assess where you're at, where you want to go, and whether a course correction is needed. To swap gardening metaphors for travel, you might intend to go from Brighton to Berwick and don't mind taking a bit of a scenic route, but if you find yourself on a ferry en route to Calais, it might be time to retrace your steps and get back on the right track! (On the other hand, you might realise that Nice is a far better destination than Berwick and that all you need do is keep going!)

Anyway, Welcome to Chrons! And if you have got more questions, ask away!
 

G.T.

The Tain
Joined
Dec 30, 2020
Messages
88
Location
Erynnmor Plateau
I was the same with my first novel (now writing the fourth, all unpublished). I could pants the start of the story easy enough but got lost less than a quarter of the way through.

I had to sit down and outline the story so I wasn't spending too much time trying to come up with it while I was supposed to be writing.

What I did was decide how long I wanted it to be (100k words), decide approx how many chapters I wanted (50). Then I divided those 50 chapters into approx four sections (25%, 50%, 25%, beginning, middle, end). Then I wrote a one-sentence description of what should happen in each chapter. That forced me to come up with a storyline / plot that ran to a climax.

Then I pantsed each chapter, but with the outline I always had somewhere to start. The number of chapters changed during the process due to extras being added and others being removed but the overall storyline stayed the same.

I've done the same since and its worked so far but believe me, with such a flimsy outline I have a lot of editing to do, a lot a lot.

For my next one I think I will plot a bit better, try to weave or at least think of several subplots. My first book barely has a single subplot, it is mostly just one continuous action adventure fantasy, the second and third have subplots simply because the cast of characters has grown but not plotting them out from the beginning is making editing harder.

This is by no means a guide, just what has worked and not worked for me so far.
 

Droflet

I don't teach chickens how to dance.
Joined
Apr 15, 2010
Messages
3,604
Location
Australia
For me, if the novel looks to involve important characters and events, I etched them at the top of the MS, as a rough guide. Sometimes I follow the guide sometimes I follow what the book tells me. Hmm, that might not help but it, generally, works for me. Good luck.
 

Biskit

Cat whisperer
Supporter
Joined
Nov 23, 2011
Messages
1,139
Location
Sitting in the sun (between the rain storms)
So it sounds like you're more of a panster than a plotter, so go with that and just write it. Since this is your first novel you may find that by the end you work best as a pantser, or that with the experience behind you that you will do plot outlines ever after, or something in between.

Personally, I'm a pantser. Sometimes I have an idea of where the ending might be, and perhaps a few waypoints on the journey. On the other hand, I have started a book without the faintest clue other than the beginning. How much I know about the book and where it is going seems to have little or no bearing on how smoothly the writing process goes.

When I wrote Streamrider, I had no clue except the opening and it was a joy to write, with everything falling into place and only twice in 120k words did I stop, back up and re-write a chapter because it just wasn't as it should be. In contrast, the current WIP had a clearly defined start, a vague notion of an end, lots of ideas and has been an utter slog trying to bring sense and order to it.

Perhaps the big thing to keep in mind is that writing is a very personal thing. You will find plenty of advice on offer from the Chronners, and you will find that a lot of it is contradictory because we all have our own ways of doing things. Ultimately you have to take our suggestions and then go and write, and write, and then write some more, and learn what works for you from that experience.

Learning to write is like learning to drive, there's sweating, lurching, grinding gears, waiting at junctions and a few scratches on the paintwork before things run smoothly, and Chrons to call out when you break down in the middle of nowhere. :giggle:
 

Saiyali

Well-Known Member
Joined
Mar 13, 2021
Messages
52
Jack Kerouac made the first draft of On the Road as a single, taped-together scroll 120-ft long. When I'm winging it and everything seems to be getting a bit out of scope, I feel better thinking about that.
 

Steve Harrison

Well-Known Member
Joined
Dec 9, 2014
Messages
559
Location
Sydney, Australia
It's not bad at all and quite common, like every other method of writing you can think of! And readers don't care about the method you used to get there.

I work out a rough, sketchy outline in my head and start writing when I have a solid opening, a few key scenes or events and an ending (reaching this point can take months to years). I start writing in the direction of those key scenes (or stepping stones) and work my way to the end. There are times I'm caught in a kind of no man's land and wallow in confusion and self-pity, but I eventually get over myself and plod on to the finish line.
 

DLCroix

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jul 9, 2020
Messages
262
Even so, it is possible that in the future problems will arise that bother you, for which I would advise you, and it is not about making a diagram or plot, but about being prepared to answer the following questions. The problem I see has to do with the maturation of the writer. Even if it is your first book, some are aware of this process and it frustrates them not having considered these things from the beginning, and although it is obvious that the answers that each of us find may not be the most adequate or correct, at least they are sinceres, they are what we could do best with what we knew and the ability we had at a certain moment.
This is what allows us to say years later, "okay, it was the best we could think of, an honest attempt" and therefore makes us look at that first literary creation with affection instead of being ashamed of it. It allows us to continue growing. In addition, these questions have a double utility, since they allow the writer to set objectives and correspond even to a first form of self-programming: the mind begins to propose tasks and works according to these, at an empirical level, once the field already it has been outlined, has a a map on which begins to act.
I mean questions or aspects like these:
What is special or different about my story?
It is such an obvious question that one as an author does not even ask it. Come on, that novel is like our son, what matters to us is that it "be", that it is born, we know that we are going to love it the same way.
But in a convention that question, asked by a nerd, has a completely different and even aggressive look that we feel as a personal attack against us. And yet an editor may ask you exactly the same thing, so be prepared. I don't think they care much about the Anxiety of Influence that the beloved Harold Bloom talks about, which gives a more spiritual character to that need to create something different. What interests them in terms of the market goes this way: why would a reader choose my book over so many others? Because of the battle scenes, the sex scenes? Be careful, there are many elements that make a book marketable and without a doubt the best are grouped around literary issues, by the type of story and what is told; but there are authors who are characterized by the creation of worlds, others create unforgettable characters, others simply have a storytelling style that is novel.
But there are others that stand out from the rest because of the general concept behind the story. It has to do with positioning theory. The point is that if you manage to create an attractive type of MC, a kind of Batman, Conan or Solomon Kane, it is as if you have a movie star for whom you have to write the stories; not the other way around. It is obvious that a miracle of these characteristics will not be seen by most of us, but nothing prevents us from thinking big. Get used to thinking big. One guy in a studio has a problem putting ten thousand guys slapping each other with other ten thousand. But nothing prevents you from talking about a hundred thousand per side actually doing it. Or imagine magnificent battles of gods in the best style of Zelasny.
Other ways to ask yourself this question are:
What other stories does mine look like? Is it a copy of another?
Is the influence of one author or another very noticeable?
In creation, it is often said that the work is 70 percent reflection and 30 percent execution or realization of it, so the time you have spent thinking is not wasted time, somehow it takes you to a road. The important thing is that you trust him but also be attentive to new reports from your mind. Sometimes your brain gives you the best idea even in dreams.

My best recommendation is that you take a look at On Writing by Godzilla Stephen King. He has been my bedside counselor for decades and every day he teaches me something new. :ninja:
 
Last edited:

MartinC

Member
Joined
Jun 24, 2021
Messages
17
Location
East Sussex, UK
Ultimately I think it's down to personal choice, which approach works best for you. I have a very different approach from my wife, she has spreadsheets breaking down each chapter and scene and I infuriate her with a rough plan and vague, half written notes. If you know where you're heading with the story and you know the journey your characters need to take to get there then you have your corkboard - it's just in your head.
 

Ray Zdybrow

Asocial Robot
Joined
Jan 7, 2020
Messages
265
Location
Eusterby, UK
So I have been procrastinating on writing my fantasy novel for a long time and and finally Lock Down has given me the time to do so. Now I have a question( one of many to be honest ).

Writing and outline for my book has been seemingly impossibe. Don't get me wrong I know what the book is about and how I want it to end but creating a corkboard of what is happening chapter by chapter
I seem to write what pops into my head and what I want to happen in that moment.
It worked for Philip K Dick
 

Toby Frost

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jan 22, 2008
Messages
6,197
I've always found that the "pantsing v plotting" distinction doesn't really work for me. I tend to think of writing a book as a journey with stops along the way. Each stop is a point of particular importance.

So, the end destination might be "the heroes fight the traitor and win" but along the way you'd have smaller "plot islands" that are the important scenes: "the heroes discover that someone has been betraying them", "they plan a trap but the traitor escapes" and so on. That way you're working within a loose framework and the book doesn't lose its shape too much. It also doesn't seem like too huge an endeavour if you can break it up into bits like that.
 

Teresa Edgerton

Goblin Princess
Staff member
Supporter
Joined
Nov 1, 2004
Messages
14,771
Location
California
Until I sold my first book I never wrote an outline. Then my editor asked for outlines for books two and three in the trilogy (as yet unfinished). I basically wrote the outlines then because I could really use the advance if they bought the books and as a new author a two book contract was extremely appealing. But in writing the outlines I discovered that they were a good tool for generating and organizing ideas. I followed them fairly closely in writing the books because they were, after all, based on novels that already existed in early drafts. But where I did deviate from the outlines I discovered my editor didn't really mind (or perhaps even notice). So, as time went on, and I was asked for outlines on books I hadn't even drafts for I felt freer and freer to follow them less and less. They were still useful for generating ideas and getting things started, but the act of just sitting down and writing the book is also good for that. (And the longer the story and the longer it takes to complete it, the more I stray from what I had originally planned, as I generally find that I like ideas that are allowed to gestate over months or year during the writing better than the necessarily less-thought-out ideas of an outline that takes a few weeks to write.)

So, for me, writing an outline can be helpful, but I would never suggest that it is an essential part of writing. Lots of writers do very well without ever writing a single outline for anything they write. Others seem to need them.

Do what works for you, but don't be afraid to change it from one book to another if that is what your instinct tells you.
 

Juliana

Juliana Spink Mills. "No capes!"
Supporter
Joined
Jun 28, 2012
Messages
4,971
Location
Connecticut, USA
I love reading all the different approaches! I think many of us may end up trying out a few different ways of doing things before we figure out what we're comfortable with. I tend to outline novels, but loosely, with a very basic bullet point system of scenes I know I want to write and important story moments. As writing progresses, I add bullet points, so by the end I have a comprehensive outline (which is useful for editing and for writing the synopsis).

I don't outline short stories, though. I tend to wing those and then rewrite several times.

To swap gardening metaphors for travel, you might intend to go from Brighton to Berwick and don't mind taking a bit of a scenic route, but if you find yourself on a ferry en route to Calais, it might be time to retrace your steps and get back on the right track! (On the other hand, you might realise that Nice is a far better destination than Berwick and that all you need do is keep going!)
I love this!
 

JohnM

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jul 28, 2020
Messages
129
I tire of seeing the "it's up to you" approach. What happened to school-style instruction? When building a house, do you start wherever? The same with a painting.

Just start writing. That's the first thing. All stories have a beginning, middle and an end. The same with movies and episodic TV shows. Once you start writing, and you have a good idea of where you're going, keep writing.
 

Toby Frost

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jan 22, 2008
Messages
6,197
The short answer is that different things work for different people. That's not some kind of trendy wokeness or whatever riles people these days: it's provable truth. Look up a bunch of those "about my craft" articles that every author seems to write once they become successful enough and you'll see a huge range of methods. One extremely successful writer apparently just sits about drinking coffee and smoking weed until he comes up with something. Others plan meticulously. Most are somewhere in the middle.

The more I write, the more wary I become of saying "This is what you must do" because the next writer may well say something different. The best I can do is to say "It worked for me; it might work for you".

However, while there are different ways to write a book or build a house, it's true that there are some things you have to have. A house must have decent foundations, and a book without good grammar, or one that makes no sense or is extremely dull (and probably some other things) will almost certainly fail.
 

Wayne Mack

Well-Known Member
Joined
Sep 12, 2020
Messages
792
Location
Chantilly, Virginia, US
Writing and outline for my book has been seemingly impossibe. Don't get me wrong I know what the book is about and how I want it to end but creating a corkboard of what is happening chapter by chapter is just not possible. I seem to write what pops into my head and what I want to happen in that moment.

Is this bad ?

I am worried I get to chapter 200 ( joke) and lost the plot on chapter 2 already.
Let me provide a direct answer. No, that is not bad. In fact, trying to write in a way you feel is impossible is bad. It is just another form of procrastination. Go ahead and write however you feel is best -- if you get 80K+ words down on paper, you will have exceeded what the vast majority of people have ever done.

Go ahead and start writing and just have fun with it.
 

JohnM

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jul 28, 2020
Messages
129
The short answer is that different things work for different people. That's not some kind of trendy wokeness or whatever riles people these days: it's provable truth. Look up a bunch of those "about my craft" articles that every author seems to write once they become successful enough and you'll see a huge range of methods. One extremely successful writer apparently just sits about drinking coffee and smoking weed until he comes up with something. Others plan meticulously. Most are somewhere in the middle.

The more I write, the more wary I become of saying "This is what you must do" because the next writer may well say something different. The best I can do is to say "It worked for me; it might work for you".

However, while there are different ways to write a book or build a house, it's true that there are some things you have to have. A house must have decent foundations, and a book without good grammar, or one that makes no sense or is extremely dull (and probably some other things) will almost certainly fail.


The present can be completely ignored in terms of trendy politics and whatever advice new, individual writers give. There are solid "how to" books and the basic advice falls within certain categories. Period. I have been in book publishing for decades and we are seeing a new crop of writers, and illustrators. The advice I gave people years ago has not changed. The editorial process has not changed. Good storytelling structure has not changed.

There are some who live in a fantasy world where everything is different now. Things are "modern" now. That's rubbish. Any publishing company, including the one I work for, would never stay in business if this hit or miss method was applied. There would be no lengthy phone conversations with new writers to tell them how to improve their work. As opposed to, "just do whatever works for you."

In my experience, good grammar is last behind plot, pacing, layering and consistency. Our top author has a spelling problem, even with auto-correct. Such 'mechanical' problems are easy to spot.
 

JohnM

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jul 28, 2020
Messages
129
Let me provide a direct answer. No, that is not bad. In fact, trying to write in a way you feel is impossible is bad. It is just another form of procrastination. Go ahead and write however you feel is best -- if you get 80K+ words down on paper, you will have exceeded what the vast majority of people have ever done.

Go ahead and start writing and just have fun with it.


Excellent advice.
 

Similar threads


Top