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Writing a story: What’s YOUR process?

If you ask a hundred writers how they get a story from their head to the page, you’ll more than likely get a hundred different answers.
Some folks are firmly in the ‘I go where the words take me’ camp, whereas others, like myself, prefer to map everything out first. 
Personally, I love outlining. It’s my favorite part of the story process. It’s like the ‘I got this great guitar riff in my head, it’ll make a great chorus’ stage in songwriting. You know what you start out with won’t be exactly what you end up with, but the sheer joy you feel from that ‘new’ idea spurs you on.
So just what is an outline? Answer: whatever you want it to be. 
To me, it’s a rough story guide (or in the case of a novel, a by-chapter guide), which shows the main events and marks where character growth and plot points need to be addressed. I like to start with the ending, then fill out the rest of the story idea from there.
I write detailed information sheets containing physical and background information about the main characters including their motivations/phobias etc, which also give me plenty of extra plot ideas.
 An ‘event’ usually starts out simply: Introduce Doris – show she’s a ghost (from a current WiP, Dead Doris), then evolves during the process: Introduce Doris by having her argue with the ghost of a murdered shopkeeper who refuses to believe he’s dead.
Later in the outline stage, I may add a bit of dialogue or prose to remind me how I wanted to set the mood for the reader eg: 12-yr-old Doris Fairview (deceased) counted to ten, reminded herself that nobody likes getting stabbed first thing in the morning, and tried to explain things to the store manager one more time.
Once it reaches the point when I feel I’ve got enough of the ‘story’ down, I begin writing the ms – whether that be a novel or a 100-word drabble – yes, I even outline drabbles :P. Between then and the end of the first draft, that outline can (and more than likely will) change dramatically, which is perfectly okay, it’s an outline not a contract after all.
One of the best arguments in favor of planning a story in advance is that you find out whether or not it’s going anywhere before you’ve spent weeks or months working on it. For me, there's nothing worse than getting excited about a project, only to find that it comes to a dead end months later, or you have to go back and pull out half the story, then rewrite it another way. That said, plenty of people find the ‘Start typing and go from there’ approach works better, and good luck to them.
After all, there’s only one real rule when it comes to writing: Find out what works best for you and do that, a lot. 
How about you?
When it comes to writing a story, what’s YOUR process? 

ETA: If you decide to write your own post about this (or already have), send me the link and I'll add it below:

[info]rowyn posted about her process here  

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( 83 comments — Leave a comment )
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Jun. 5th, 2010 01:37 pm (UTC)
I usually have a vague idea of where the story will go. But I don't commit to anything. If I see a better way for the story to develop as I'm writing then I go with that.

I trust my instinct in these matters.
Jun. 5th, 2010 03:00 pm (UTC)
I do the same at the outline stage. it's amazing how many interesting detours recommend themselves once you get going, isn't it? :)
Jun. 5th, 2010 01:37 pm (UTC)
I follow the Alice Principle. Begin at the beginning, go on until I reach the end, then stop ;-).

Seriously, one of the things I've been working on lately is figuring out how *much* of the beginning is me getting my mind into the story. My WIP begins with the ol' "dying king" gambit. Dude was working on kicking the bucket for a paragraph and a half before I hit the *real* opening sentence.
Jun. 5th, 2010 01:48 pm (UTC)
Although I'm not a fan of outlining,
the process could very well enhance your ability to get your mind into the story.
(no subject) - jjschwabach - Jun. 5th, 2010 02:22 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - msstacy13 - Jun. 5th, 2010 02:23 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jjschwabach - Jun. 5th, 2010 07:49 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - msstacy13 - Jun. 5th, 2010 07:57 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Jun. 5th, 2010 03:05 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - msstacy13 - Jun. 5th, 2010 03:51 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jjschwabach - Jun. 5th, 2010 07:52 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - msstacy13 - Jun. 5th, 2010 03:36 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jjschwabach - Jun. 5th, 2010 07:52 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 5th, 2010 01:41 pm (UTC)
I like your process. Outlines are beautiful, beautiful things.

I often start with a blurb. A scene, a sentence, a character. Sometimes I write them down. Dive in a bit. But if it's going to become anything of any length, I then stop and make an outline. Often this starts as just a list of things that will happen and the order they will happen in. Depending on the length of the story, those one line blurbs will be sufficient or get much MUCH longer. For my novel, I have 1000 chapter summaries for every chapter. It's been invaluable.
Jun. 5th, 2010 01:42 pm (UTC)
*1000 WORD chapter summaries, lol
(no subject) - jongibbs - Jun. 5th, 2010 03:05 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - msstacy13 - Jun. 5th, 2010 03:35 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - phoenixfirewolf - Jun. 5th, 2010 07:26 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - misha_mcg - Jun. 5th, 2010 03:46 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - msstacy13 - Jun. 5th, 2010 01:50 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 5th, 2010 01:51 pm (UTC)
plot points sound so much like tenterhooks...

I guess I start with the blank screen,
and just sort of put words over any part of the screen
that doesn't look like a story.
Jun. 5th, 2010 03:06 pm (UTC)
Sounds like a plan to me :)
(no subject) - msstacy13 - Jun. 5th, 2010 03:25 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 5th, 2010 01:58 pm (UTC)
For most of my stuff I work by the seat of my pants, and outline only in my head if I think I need to. But when it gets too huge to hold in my head, I jot it down in the word document of the story itself. Mostly it's just background about the world itself and the characters rather than the plot, though.
Jun. 5th, 2010 03:08 pm (UTC)
Whatever works best is the way to go, right? :)
(no subject) - msstacy13 - Jun. 5th, 2010 03:33 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 5th, 2010 02:19 pm (UTC)
Your process sounds like mine, though you take it a bit further. It seems the less detailed the outline, the longer the story takes to tell because of all the revisions and so forth.

I like to outline (must know a part of ending), then write the first draft while taking notes on some of the new layers or characters that suddenly pop up in the story.
Jun. 5th, 2010 03:09 pm (UTC)
I think of all the outlines I've done, th ending is the one thing which doesn't change during the writing process...much ;)
Jun. 5th, 2010 02:40 pm (UTC)
I think I will have to consider this and answer it in my own blog later this week.
Jun. 5th, 2010 03:07 pm (UTC)
Let me know when you do and I'll link to it from the main post :)
Jun. 5th, 2010 03:11 pm (UTC)
I start with a dialogue scene (something tense, conflictual) then I think what happened to lead the two people to that conversation. What are their motivations? Why? I build those characters up. Get my starting point. Then I think waht will happen after this conflict. Where is the story going. The ending. Then I jot down some more character information. Scribble down, beginning, middle, end, and the dialogue. I typically can't outline in detail until I'm 5-7 chapters in. I think it takes me that long to really know the characters.
Jun. 5th, 2010 03:30 pm (UTC)
Completion backwards?
(no subject) - tracy_d74 - Jun. 5th, 2010 03:41 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - msstacy13 - Jun. 5th, 2010 03:46 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Jun. 6th, 2010 09:53 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - tracy_d74 - Jun. 6th, 2010 07:44 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 5th, 2010 03:51 pm (UTC)
Yes and No. The dialogue I have in my mind is usually in the middle of the story or one of the first challenges the characters face. I figure out what led to that conversation. Then what will happen as a result of the conversation. SO not really a conclusion . . . more a turning point in the story. But yes, I do work backward. And then forward. At least that'show things have gone with the past four books. One day it could change. Who knows.
Jun. 5th, 2010 04:11 pm (UTC)
>After all, there’s only one real rule when it comes to writing: Find out what works best for you and do that, a lot.

Truer words never were posted. A corollary would be, after you write, get some feedback!

I tend to have most of the story in my head before I start writing, and I like to finish the first draft before I show the book to anyone, but there are folks in my writing group who submit chunks as they write. No one rule about feedback either, except get it!
Jun. 6th, 2010 09:58 am (UTC)
Not getting writerly feedback was one of (many) big mistakes I made. I didn't join a writing group until the end of '06, nearly four years after I started writing.

Up until then, my rewrite/revision process consisted mostly of spellchecks :(
(no subject) - karen_w_newton - Jun. 7th, 2010 06:29 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 5th, 2010 04:21 pm (UTC)
I don't outline my short stories. It helps if I know where they're going to end -- I can keep the whole story in my head in rough form until I get it down (don't ask about the number of stories I've stopped because I don't know the end). I really can't imagine outlining a flash, let alone a drabble.

My novels, I usually have outlines -- at least a sentence per scene, some idea about the relationships between people, but good grief, not any kind of character sketches. ;-) On the other hand, M, my current SF novel that I've been working at slowly but steadily while trying to finish up other stuff, has no outline. I started slow & picked up momentum as I realized what the turning point was between Act I and Act II. Now I'm working my way through the discovery and conflict at the beginning of Act II, but I haven't hit the major twist yet. It seems to be working so far, but of course the test will be in the final product.

I am planning a new cozy mystery series. So far, most of the work has been mental and research, but I plan to actually follow Frey's step-sheet idea, including noting what the various characters are doing off-screen during the various chapters. I think that will make for a much more solid mystery. I *might* write up as much as a paragraph about the various characters. For me, that will be a real change.
Jun. 6th, 2010 10:01 am (UTC)
'I really can't imagine outlining a flash, let alone a drabble'

Oddly enough, I find drabbles much harder to write than short stories.

I used that step sheet system for the first time in Jim Frey's workshop at The Write Stuff conference, back in March. It's really useful.

Sounds like you've a lot of writing going on :)
(no subject) - abennettstrong - Jun. 7th, 2010 05:43 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
Jun. 6th, 2010 10:04 am (UTC)
'So... I do outline, in a way, but it always varies and changes from project to project'

Me too, especially for novels, though I think, for me at least, that's partly because I'm still way down on the learning curve.
Jun. 5th, 2010 06:40 pm (UTC)
I seeem to use a very similar ooutline process to yours. And BTW, congrats on the excellent sales of Fur-Face!
Jun. 6th, 2010 10:09 am (UTC)
'I seem to use a very similar outline process to yours'

If I'm doing what you're doing, Gustavo, then there's hope for me yet. And thank you :)
Jun. 5th, 2010 07:24 pm (UTC)
I generally come up with a character, or an event or something that needs a story... then I start brainstorming what the story will be. I like having a general (I hate to use the word) synopsis (Cause it is evil) before I start. I'll also make up a very general outline that I fill out as I go. Then I start writing. I am a pantzer at heart, but I've found that when I get to those tough middles an outline helps keep me on track, so I've compromised with myself with the general outlines that I fill in as I go and the overall story concept. It works pretty well for me most of the time.

I also keep a document for character descriptions, backgrounds, notes and stuff and as I come up with background/backstory I usually add that in at the end of my outline in a "notes" section.
Jun. 6th, 2010 10:13 am (UTC)
'I generally come up with a character, or an event or something that needs a story'

That's a good point. Something has to trigger the story idea in the first place, an idea, a title, a character etc. I like to play 'What if?' when I'm looking to brainstorm ideas.

PS: Cute puppy :)
(no subject) - phoenixfirewolf - Jun. 7th, 2010 12:57 am (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
Jun. 6th, 2010 10:14 am (UTC)
Excellent! You're highly adaptable :)
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