One of the most commonly asked questions to writers is: What’s your process? The other one is of course: Where do you get your ideas from? In this post, I will answer the first one, from my point of view. I have polished my process through decades of practice, and it seems to be working wonders for me! Let’s see if it can serve you in some minimal manner, as well.
We all know about the legendary authors, such as Mr. King, and their stances on story writing. In Mr. King’s case, he will not be doing any plotting anytime soon! And on the other side of the coin, there are some that can’t help but make that outline. When it comes to me, well, I may just be some sort of a mutant!
Plotting or Pantsing
For those who may not be familiar with the grandiose terminology of us writers, a plotter is someone who makes plots and typically follows them too. They are not keen on swaying from the path, and the planning of the route is half the fun. Pantsers, on the other hand, will have none of it. They write with the wind in their sails, the star on the horizon being all muddied up due to the clouds. What I’m trying to say, the story sort of drives the author in this case, not the other way around.
Here’s a shocker. I used to be a full-blown pantser. No planning, no nothing. Just give me a word and I’ll write you a ten-page story on it! No guarantees about where it’ll go, though. Just as a heads-up. These days though, I’ve found my way into being a hybrid.
As I mature and find my way through the chaos of life, I bump into things I didn’t know I could incorporate into it previously. Now I use what I call ‘Skellingtons’. Don’t worry, you’ll get to see the Skellington of this post later on! I couldn’t possibly leave you without an example now, could I?
A little bit about the ‘Muse’ if you will, before we move on to the meat of the matter. I’m much like Mr. King in this. One of his famous quotes dictates that while others wait for inspiration, the rest of us get up and go to work. I’m rather fond of this thought.
After all, if you are not in control of your mind, then who is? If the blasted BPD ever taught me anything, it is that I can be the master of my inner landscape. No joke. You should try it. Wrangle that ‘Muse’, take it by the proverbial horns, and give it the good ol’ “listen up, twerp!”
It’ll come around. After all, it lives in your head. You can make life quite miserable for it, should it not play by your rules.
Other than trusting my own ability, I do a lot of research. I keep reading papers, articles, books, posts, and forums. Whatever catches my eye gets to have a bit of a deeper look into it. Usually, my topics are about people and life.
My article-Skellingtons are quite simple. I will usually have Headlines called Title, Meta, and Article. Under the article, I will slap a general introduction prompt, in italics. After that comes the general intro paragraph, and under that, the subheaders. All of the content will be prompted by some lackluster thought, which I will then pants my way to actual paragraphs. Sometimes the prompts get to live as is, and sometimes they die a horrible, twisted death as I maul my way to some random ramblings instead.
When it comes to story-Skellingtons, they are pretty similar. I will break the story down in Scenes, as can be seen from the example below, and then put some details under the scene. Typically, these details are the main actions taken within the scene. Things like ‘A meets B in boat’, ‘Boat topples due to Kraken’, etc. The following image is the Skellington of a short story I sent off to a competition.
When it comes to stories, I will also add pages for the Synopsis and Edit notes.
After the Skellington is done, I can get to work. The best part of the journey is ahead of me, creation! I will follow my outline as a sort of frame. Keeping inside said frame has proven to be an irreplaceable help – I tend to ramble on if left unsupervised.
The Skellington also gives me a goal, a target, and an end of some sort. I may not know what it actually is, but at least I know it’s there. Coming, looming behind the next corner. Wait, why was it the warden’s boot and not the inmates that kicked the door in?! What is going on?!
While I have recognized the importance of a frame while I work, I also still love the surprises my stories give me. I need to let the people in my head lead their own lives. Within the given frame, of course!
After the First draft, I will let it rest for a day or two before I start brushing and proofing it. I will go through the content, and make notes on my files about what is missing. While I do that I remove the sections that are not needed. This is something I need to train, as I do not tend to save those sections in a ‘dump’ file. I hear from many sources it could prove beneficial to my future content!
I used to do the first story draft’s edits in physical form, as in I printed it out and used a pen. A circle meant I had to be more specific. A barbed underline told me to modify the language. And a strike meant DELETE! As a nice flavor, I also put encouraging messages in the margins. Things like ‘What the Hell is this supposed to be?!’, and ‘Yeah, really, why not…’
When it comes to my articles here on the blog, I usually just paste them to WordPress and let the SEO plugin do its job. That, together with the necessary evil of Grammarly, will set me straight in no time. Away with that passive voice and those elongated paragraphs!
While I don’t do this for my articles, I do submit my stories to be read by other people. Mainly my husband, since he is known for being brutally, ruthlessly honest. I mean, you guys don’t even know. He will drop me from cloud nine in ten seconds flat if he finds something unrelatable or terrible. And I’m his wife. Imagine what he could do to strangers!
I have been thinking about allowing a third party to read my stories, proof them, or edit them. But then I get reminded about the terrors of the world and decide that my baby is better off not being subjected to that. Besides, I am turning out to be quite the killer of darlings myself!
The only time my husband has shown any bias or the like was with stories of us. Like the one that I used in my story-Skellington example. After all, it is a story about our lives, no matter how I twisted it to keep the finer, more revealing details in the shadows.
(By the way, if the story doesn’t do well in the competition – aka the rights stay with me – I will publish it as my debut story at the end of the year!)
The final stage of any article or story is the most nerve-wracking. After all, this is the moment that eventually leads to releasing the little thing into the wilds. All the questions need to be answered affirmingly.
Is it proofed? What about the consistency of the content, is it logical, and believable? Is the writer’s information proper and correct? Will it be fine, out there, all alone in the cruel world? Ok, bye-bye, baby! Send me a card from the other side!
When it comes to art, such as my blog art or the cover art of my future books, I’m rather controversial. I prefer to do them myself. Thankfully, I’ve been given a certain amount of artistic eye, so I’m confident that I can manage to create covers and art that makes me proud. I am certainly proud of the whole theme of my blog, flowers and all! (Even that pesky begonia that doesn’t quite compare to the others and keeps me up at night…)
And here we are, at the end of my process. It all boils down to this moment. I put on my marketer hat, and hype the shit out of whatever I wrote. Consistently, and preferably sometime before the actual release. Now, I’ve not yet managed to get this far on my journey, but I do have some pretty nifty things I’m studying at the moment. After all, promotion is going to make it or break it, and I want as many people reading my stuff as possible!
May this insight into my process give you some ideas on how to progress yours! Perhaps, you will join the mutant nation. If not, I’m sure both camps will welcome you with open arms. And may you find the best flow to bring forth your stories!