Saturday, January 14, 2012

How Do You Write Your Stories?

My great friend and critique partner asked me today, How do you write your stories?

That's an interesting question that, I realized after a year of writing I now have a definitive answer for.

Having just completed my third full length manuscript it occurred to me that I have, albeit inadvertently created a style of writing that works for me.

People ask, are you a plotter or a pantser? I don't necessarily think I'm a plotter, but I wouldn't call myself a pantser either. I'm a unique hybrid that works with my style and personality.

When a story begins to form in my mind, the first thing I do is meet the characters. I want to know their names, have a general idea of what they look like and their basic personality. I begin to understand their flaws and how those flaws affect them. I want to know their past and how they look at the future. To me my characters are what drive the story, because I base the plot around their strengths and weaknesses to build conflict and tension.

Then I give them action.  I plot out the major turning points of my story, including the black moment and resolution. But I never put those points on paper. It's all in my head.

Next I write the first couple of chapters. It could be one or three, but by this time my mind is already spiraling ahead in the story to the next place with the most tension, usually a first kiss or sex scene. Because I'm not a firm believer in delayed gratification, I typically write the scene right then.

After I finish, I pick up where I left off and continue to write until I reach the scene/chapter floating out there. This helps me build in tension and conflict along the way, setting up for the "money-shot" scene I've already created. I continue this process through the length of the book and typically the last chapter I write is the fourth or fifth chapter from the end.
 

Am I an odd ball in my process? Does anyone else do this?

So I pose the question to you, how do you write your stories?  I'd love to know. Leave a comment


33 comments:

Lisa Kumar said...

Fabulous post, and timely, too! Lol, this was my exact question.

Like you, I'm a mix of pantser and plotter. I don't like going in blind, but I don't want to know every detail down to the last drop. In fact, since I write character-driven stories, I prefer to know character over plot. Everything does fall into place after that, just not always as easily as I want it to.

Keep up the good work! Your method's working for you, and you've accomplished so much in a year.

Casea Major said...

Thanks, Lisa! I feel like I'm getting stronger in my writing and have been pleased with the product of my methods.

I think everyone has their unique style and flavor and with a little help can find a sure-fire method that works for them.

Jennifer Lowery (Kamptner) said...

I'm a pantser which totally goes against my nature! In life I'm organized and orderly, but in writing I'm a mess, lol! I usually write the first 3 chapters, then go back and take notes. Rewrites are my life and I don't mind :)
Great post, Casea! So happy you've discovered what works for you :)

Casea Major said...

Thanks for sharing, Jennifer. I think it's good when we can be something different from our "normal lives" in our writing.

It's like therapy...and addiction all in one.

Alexa said...

I love learning about other people's proceses! I start out with characters. I may only know a bit about them. Sometimes the 1st thing I write is a specific scene that's been stirring in my head. I use my 1st (quick) rough draft to figure out their GMCs & the plot. I don't write in order. I once started on chapter 1 and I was bored before I got to chapter 2. So now I just write scenes as they come and then in later drafts I string the scenes together. (I usually end up with 4-6 drafts, with the final one always being me reading the entire thing out loud.)

ellaquinnauthor said...

I'm a pantser. I get an idea and the story starts to float around in my mind. Then I start puttin it down on paper. Once in a while I write something out of order and I always have completely re-write it because it doesn't fit the story when I've gotten to it.

Casea Major said...

I love that, Alexa! That is very similar to what I do and I read my final draft out loud too.

Thanks for sharing.

Casea Major said...

Ella - I have to say that's the exact reason I'd love to call myself a pantser but cannot. I know enough about the plot from start to finish that I can float a scene out there and write to it. So far it's worked out, but there's always that first time.

I love hearing about the processes.

Tammy said...

Good post... I'm a little bit of a panster and plotter but I tend to get lost in edits, big time, even in chapter 1. Friends and Cp's have told me to just write and come back but for some reason I just can't do it. If a scene, paragraph, or even a sentence doesn't sound right I cannot move forward. LOL

Harlie Reader said...

As an aspiring writer, my first story (rejected, of course) was written without any notes, plotting or process. I had my idea and just starting writing it.

I have since learned from that mistake and now at least write down the characters, motivation and goal.

But for me, its a slow process. I work a day job so it takes longer for me.

Marika

Casea Major said...

Tammy - Thanks for commenting. I sometimes have the compulsion to revise and revise too. There are times when I write a scene or a chapter and think "That is total crap." I force myself to leave it and push forward. Promising to come back later. Usually when I do I realize it's not as bad as I thought. If you can push forward, skip ahead. ANything to keep moving I think it later adds incentive to finish.

Thanks for posting.

Stacey Brutger said...

I'm the same, part ploter, part panster. The only problem is that if I know too much of the story, it gets boring.

I can't know what's going to happen more than a few chapters in advance!

The hard part of writing is finding what works for you and sticking with it. Contrats on finding your process!

Casea Major said...

Marika - I have still not had the guts to submit my first project. You are brave.

Taking a few notes and jotting down motivations seems like a great way to keep those things in the forefront of your mind as you're writing.

Casea Major said...

Stacey! A woman after my own heart. I totally agree. LOL My husband thinks it's the funniest thing ever when I say "I have to go write so I can find out what happens in my story."

Anonymous said...

For me, the story starts in my head - usually the hero screams "tell MY story". From this plot point in my mind evolves. Interestingly enough, my H/h names are just like there - its the rest that's difficult LOL. My 1st ms was panster - and totally rewritten at end. Now I do better if I get with my beta reader, we plot the book (over wine) then I do the synopsis. Surprisingly enough, it works. Last 2 ms were finished in 2-3 months while working 3 jobs! In fact, off to see her tonight to plot out all of Rome. :)

Gina
csa26ms@sbcglobal.net

Casea Major said...

Thanks, Gina. Sounds like a winner. Wine and Rome.

kayspringsteen said...

I think everyone does it just a little differently, and the result is always good if you stick with what works. For me, the stories start as an idea for an event that is central to the plot. Then I wonder who this event might happen to. The characters kind of take shape in my mind over several days, even weeks, while I mull over who they are and how "the event" might affect them. As I get to know them, their story (the subplots on the way to the event) begins to gel and these are my chapters, so I write them down. The whole story from beginning to end is usually completely finished in my head by the time I get to the writing stage but it's in the form of a campfire tale - something you'd convey around a campfire in 30-60 minutes. So the writing can sometimes stall while my brain searches for the way to show my readers what has played out in my head.

D'Ann said...

I'm a pantster all the way! Plot, me? No! I see a scene in my head and figure out the rest along the way.

Brenda said...

LOL, you are definitely not the odd man out. I write almost exactly like you. What I call writers like us is plotsners. We are a combo of them both.
I have tried plotting everything out first, but it doesn't work well for me--mainly because some things I just don't know at the beginning stages. Some of it comes to me as the story and characters unfold.

Patricia Green said...

Over the course of 14 books, I have really got my method down to a science. You have to if you're going to produce reliably! Now that doesn't mean you have to get all boring about it. Each book should be exciting to you, or the reader isn't going to find it exciting. I write character-driven books, so I start with very detailed character profiles. Next I write out major plot points, just so I know that in chapter 2 I need to get the characters to X point and take Y steps to get there. Maybe that's complete plotting, but I find that as I write, the character information I have in my head leads me to add in subplots and nuances that never made it into the plot notes. So that's a little bit "pantsy" too. Good post, Casea!

Sheri Fredricks said...

If I could create a bullet point, step by step plan for writing my novel I'd do it. When I have a direction to go, the writing shall flow! That being said, I don't clearly outline every detail, just the direction. How my story gets there is up to my imagination.

Great post, Casea!

Martha Ramirez said...

I love your technique. Not an odd ball. Much like you I get to know my characters inside and out then of course I plot according to Blake's beat sheet. Save the Cat, baby;)

Lia Davis said...

I've always thought of myself of a pantser, but have come to realize I'm a hybrid. I also have to know who my characters are and their goals before I can start writing a new story. Then after that its flying at the seat of my pants. :)

Casea Major said...

Kay - Thank you so much. You are so right our formula for writing is as unique as our face. I love the campfire analogy. I think my process is like that too.

Casea Major said...

Thanks, D'Ann. I don't why but I always saw you as a plotter. It's so fun to hear everyone's process. And helpful.

Casea Major said...

HOORAY FOR THE PLOTSNER! That's me, too, Brendan. LOVE it!! LOL

Casea Major said...

Patricia - first off let me say how amazed I am at 14 books! Secondly, I think you are right. It is helpful for consistency to know what works for you..

THanks so much for your input.

Casea Major said...

Sheri - thanks. Direction is always a good thing when you are talking about flow. Nobody wants to write like a Salmon swims, right?

Casea Major said...

THanks, Martha. Save the Cat is a very good beat sheet and it's proven to work.

Casea Major said...

Yea LIa, another Plotnser! LOL We should start a support group.

Ranae Rose said...

My method is also sort of a hybrid. Usually, a character and/or a certain scene just comes to me and is the seed of a story. I keep it in my mind, and over time it blossoms there into a full story. I usually start writing with a fair amount of plot points and a general story arc in my mind, though I come up with many of the finer details (and often the ending) as I go along. I may keep story points scrawled down in a notebook, but I don't make myself write out anything elaborate. I always start at the beginning of a story and write in strict choronological order.

Jenna said...

I'm a plotter, hands down, no question. Thirty years of dramatic training and Aristotle = action driven books that I have to write in sequence.

I start with some scene popping into my head(recently every song on the radio triggers a new idea) and I see the characters doing something that clues me in to the conflict of the book. I figure out in my head where this conflict is going to take them, then I sit down and write a detailed outline--usually chapter by chapter.

Now when I sit down to write, and the characters start interacting with me, I take detours or devise whole new routes. But I have to have my road map starting out or I'm completely lost.

This has worked for me over the 4 published and half-dozen unpublished ms lurking on my PC, so I think, like you, I'll stick with what works. :)

Excellent post, Casea!

Casea Major said...

Ranae and Jenna, thank you so much for sharing. Our processes are different but I love how they bring us to the same place -- a love for writing and romance.