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July 26th, 2007, 08:11 PM
It's been asked before, and I will ask it again. Story building - how do you go about doing it?

Do you structure your story in your head before it is even written? Do you provide the framework and then fill in the blanks?

Do you provide a foundation and then just go where it takes you?

Do you know where you want to start and where you want to end, and then you just create a middle that fills the gap? (Like framework, but with fewer points of reference)

And with all of these options, do you start by writing in different sections completely out of order, or do you attempt to write your story sequentially?
Do you stick to one document, or are you constantly trying to figure out which sheets of paper you need to collect notes from to add to your final product?

Just some questions to generate discussion.

James Carmack
July 26th, 2007, 11:39 PM
We get quite a few threads along these lines (even in the relatively short amount of time I've been here). The short answer is that there are a lot of methods and the key is finding what works best for you. I can't speak for most people, but I don't follow a single pattern when I write.

As a general rule, I start with the inspiration. It can be something fairly obscure or seemingly insignificant. I then try to spin a general storyline around it, give it a cast and go from there. Usually I get a jumble of scenes I want to make happen and then I have to string them together into a coherent plot, filling in the blanks to make an unbroken chain.

I usually make character notes before I work too much on plot. Being an OCD perfectionist, I make detailed databases for the charas in my various stories. The plot usually develops around these charas, as I'm creating conflicts and such around them.

I like to have an outline going before the actual writing begins. First I order those scenes that've popped into my head and then I work on filling in those blanks.

As for the actual writing, I try to take the linear approach to maximize the cohesion from the get-go, but lately I've been going ahead and writing some of those scenes that stand out in my mind, particularly if it's a project I'm not focusing on at the moment. Another recent habit is writing out stretches of dialog and later going back to put in all the stage direction, dialog tags and associated narrative. Obviously, a piecemeal approach like this isn't well-suited for writing by hand.

The story itself is a single document, but the peripheral materials can be quite numerous (a consequence of me obsessing over every little detail). Because my stories are all connected (most strongly those of the same Arc), things like encyclopediae and timelines can be unified.

To give you an idea of what I mean by the number of peripheral material, let's take the flagship of my Tellus Arc, <i>Knight of Gladius</i>. Taking the trilogy as a single unit, you've got three files for the stories and fifty-six files of peripheral material. A fair percentage of the latter is shared with other stories in the Arc, though.

Tony Williams
July 27th, 2007, 03:37 AM
I would say much the same as James.

I've only written two novels so far, but each had a different approach - and one (Scales) two different approaches within it (the first half I just wrote without planning, the second half I planned in outline). In neither case did I know what the ending was going to be until I'd got a long way into them.

July 27th, 2007, 11:24 AM
You can spend a lot of money and time on books telling you how to create a story. (Better yet, if you're a screenwriter there are also seminars) But they generally come down to some general principles dealing with the shape or design of a story.

The construction is an individual matter, but almost nobody is out on the extremes of "outline it all first" or "just sit down and start writing" (Harold Robbins, by the way, is an example of the latter...sit down, start at page one, keep typing until it's over) Usually there is an interplay between planning/plotting and the creative zoom. You end up bungling around and learning how to balance them. How to keep creative spasms from painting you into corners or wiping out your earlier chapters, for instance. (A reason I almost always do the latter chapters first, by the way)

But "story building" in the sense of creating the blueprint tends to fall into several well-trod paths, just like songs tend to fall into "verse, chorus, bridge"

This is not to say that every single story falls into this mold, but generally you are seeing something that is driven by conflict (whether to get the girl, defeat the baddies, come to grips with one's own shortcomings--very helpful in getting the girl--or a complex net of minor conflicts) This drives the story towards a climax, resolution, and denoument, or comedown to ending.

This ramp up to climax has been described as a pyramid, but you can see that it's actually a ramp with a gradual slope up one side followed by a quick drop to the end on the trailing edge. It is also frequently less pyramind than a mountain range where conflict rises, abates somewhat, then rises higher. Ideally any given chapter will raise an expectation that is either resolved or "cliff hung" at the end.

The conflict is expressed through characters that interact in certain constellations. Triangles are a really good method here. One girl, two guys. One prize, two pirates. Two goals, only one possible. One road leads to wealth, the other to love.

You can sit and plot this stuff out, or you can just have a general awareness of a shape you are heading towards.

It's becoming more and more common (if not actually imperative) to front load books so that they open with a dramatic scene of utterance, then backfil to explain how they came to be hanging off the cliff or shooting it out with a jillion droids or in bed with a dwarf or whatever. It's not a bad idea to keep that up in chapters. It's not a bad idea to have every chapter end with something that makes people want to read on to see what happens and begin with something dramatic that cuts straight to the crux of the scene.

It's not a bad idea to examine books with the express purpose of analyzing how the story is shaped and how it plays out. Do it with good books you are familiar with. I sometimes read a book again immediately to see the shape through the hustle of the plot. (Or read a script right after seeing a movie)

As far as the secretarial organization, I create a file that is nothing but a table. The table usually has 3 columns for start, middle end of book, but sometimes there are other divisions (I have one with 7 columns, one for each day of a plot that takes a week) In the cells are little tags for scenes (each scene it a separate file, the tags like "Bernie appears" "Lily shoots Cal" "Welcome to Miami" "Debby Does Dallas" whatever)

It's a high tech pinboard. You can move scenes around by cut and paste. As the story grows the number of scenes diminish and the length of each increases as I splice them together. (I acually use twice as many columns, each column of scenes having a smaller column beside it with the page numbers, numbers in different colors when completed)

Intermediate trick, make each tag a hyperlink that opens that file when clicked. Voila, your story at a glance, with instant access to the writing.

Advanced? I also have links to files with research data, maps, etc. Also timelines for the story, etc. And it's in cool colors with a nice little logo title for the book at the top, done in super cool custom type. I like to screw around with stuff like that while avoiding work.

Hope this helps.

Davis Ashura
July 27th, 2007, 12:07 PM
Lin just reading about all that planning and formatting that you do makes my teeth hurt. How did you ever write before the computer age?

July 27th, 2007, 03:19 PM
I'm actually not that much of a planner. My table chart is actually a major work saver.

I don't do much thinking about Story, just work with what comes to my head. Getting into screenplays, however, hipped me to the fact that there are definitely some shapes and constraints to be aware of.

THe computer line is a low blow. When I first realized that I just could NOT go back to working with a typewriter I was really humiliated. I mean Shakespeare wrote his stuff by scratching on crummy paper with a bird feather dipped in ink for crissakes. I've become a pampered wimp.

I record a lot of my ideas and scenes on a pocket digital recorder, then bitch because it doesn't have a foot pedal so I can transcribe the playback without taking my fingers off the keys. Total pussy, is what it amounts to.

Power to the J
July 28th, 2007, 12:32 AM
almost nobody is out on the extremes of "outline it all first" Actually, that's me. I make a character, write her/his backstory, plus his/her parents and sometimer g-parents. Make that person a plot. Make other characters (same amount of backstory). Write outline that is detailed enough so that each plot point is a few hundred words long. Write. Revise alot (current project ch. 1 draft no: 47!!).

Hope this helps.

Power to the J
July 28th, 2007, 12:40 AM
PS: I do the same backstory for EVERY person who lives where my characters go (only for sf & fantasy though). This is my solution for writers block. I move those files immediately to a flashdrive (4 are completely filled, 2 others running out of space). For me, being completely aware of the environment I'm writing about makes me more comfy, and this in turn improves my writing.

July 28th, 2007, 04:38 PM
Ye Gods! Have you ever finished a book?

Power to the J
July 28th, 2007, 08:19 PM
Ye Gods! Have you ever finished a book?

LOL yes, several, but changes are always needed.