It’s fine to be a plotter, planner, or pantser, a bit of this and a bit of that, a gardener or an architect. The labels don’t matter, nor does the process. Pros and cons abound for every process, and the problems with one can be a benefit in another, but none are the be-all and end-all. What works for me may not work for you, and what works for you may not work for anyone else, either. We find our way because something works for us … until it doesn’t.
This happens because we change over time. We learn and grow, and what worked for the first story, or the first few, may lead to a plateau when the story being worked on needs more than what the current process can offer.
The only way to do it to get to ‘the end’ the first time is the way that works this time [remember editing? That may take many more times of starting at ‘go’ and going to ‘whoa’].
And if the struggle is to reach the first ‘the end’ time? Then it’s time to look at different processes to see if there’s one that may assist with getting over the hump, beyond the plateau, onto the horizon.
How many ‘ways’ are there?
Is it better to start simple and then take on more complexity as you learn?
What are the most important aspects of the process that takes an idea and makes a story of it?
I’ll leave it at that, but there are many other considerations that may either benefit or be of relevance to you.
The thing is, even when you find a process that works for you [for one story, maybe two or three], what happens when you start a story but can’t get it moving, when you just don’t feel it’s working for you.
Go on, blame yourself. We all give it some sort of self-flagellating label, but the truth is that each story has its own ideas about how to be born. How to walk, run, play, and mature.
And that means it’s our job to let go of any preconceived ideas about ‘the’ process to write ‘a’ story, and try a few different things to see what works for this story, these characters, at this moment.
That way, the story progresses, no stalling or failing.
So, what are some of these processes?
Oh, so some people call it plotting process, do they?
Does it matter what they call it? No, it doesn’t.
A plot is about the structure of a story, the order in which each event is portrayed to the reader.
No structural shape is the only way to structure. That’s why words like builder and architect are used in relation to story. But a building built to a particular structure will not be exactly the same as another building, even one that uses the same structure. Once people live in those houses, they become something different. An architect-designed house [a story designed around something experimental or interestingly different] is still a house and is built around a structure – which, although different from the ‘norm’ to the casual observer, still has all the needs and purpose of every other structure, and people still need that house to be liveable. It’s still a house with a floor, walls, roof, etc.
A process is about the writer taking an idea and making a story of it, including using an appropriate structure.
The process is about how to get that idea into some form of completed project, and then [if you’re a pantser] you can shape it into a structural plot-line to strengthen the effect the story has on the reader.
Neither of these things are formulae; they’re not fixed and immutable. No two writers with the same idea can come up with the same story, just as no two architects will come up with the same design for a building.
Processes take an idea and find a way to build it.
Heard of a beat-sheet? Yes, that’s a form of process that indicates the major beats of a story. That’s a structural process. I suppose a story-board could fit that definition, too. That’s another form of process. How to see things differently to make it all come clear.
How about the Snowflake method? Yep, that’s a process that helps build from a few words to a whole novel. Some bits are structural, but there’s so much more that’s not.
A chain of events? This is one of the processes that gives events and reactions (cause and effect) that lead to the end, transitioning at each point where a new event is caused by what happened before, and in turn causes another event – forward movement. It sounds simple, a chronological sequence of events, but the risk is an episodic feel. It’s a good tool to help when the story feels stuck or stagnated because it helps show the cause-effect relationship. Everything in a story is related to something in the story, so if you find something that wasn’t caused by something that came before, or doesn’t create an effect later down the path that is relevant to another event, it doesn’t live in this story.
That’s a couple of processes. There are also storyboards (but I’m both colourblind and non-visual in these things), and spirals (haven’t heard of these? They’re out there, but if all else fails, think of a nautilus shell and work from the outside into the deep, dark recesses where the light of entry will reveal everything).
How many processes are there?
Dozens, probably hundreds. Some are complex, some are software programs, some use other tools (both tech and non-tech – you know, whiteboards, or sticky notes stuck to the wall, floor, or curtains), some are so much work, or so complex, that I don’t even look at them because I want to work on a story, not learn how someone else turns simple into complex (I also don’t like people telling me how to do things [maybe that’s why I like cats], or having to learn that the new overblown words used in a different process mean the same thing that another word has been used to define – it’s the story that’s important, not those fussy words!).
And, to make it more interesting and layer in depth from other characters, I like to do a ‘process’ (not always the same process) for each character (with more than a spear-thrower part). Sometimes, that means putting the story together in a spreadsheet to see where the interaction causes the most chaos, and sometimes, it’s easy to see how the different purposes of each character create conflict and demonstrate theme.
Sorry, I tried to keep it short, but there’s just so much out there related to the processes used to help when writing a long-form story, so much I didn’t put in – so you have to look it up yourself.
But I also want to know what you use that’s worked for you – it may be something I don’t know and can make use of … never know when the next bout of writerly ennui is going to strike.
5 thoughts on “Changing the Process to Keep the Progress”
Have a couple of hours?
Basically, I have ended up with a process which suits a damaged brain: I can handle only so much in-brain at a time.
I plot with Dramatica (talk about a learning curve!), write in Scrivener with a pre-set of questions and auxiliary files for each scene, work in a linear manner from first to last word, finish a scene completely before moving on, and use Autocrit (only its counting functions – nothing else) to check adverbs, repeated words and phrases, cliches… on a scene-by-scene basis. I write a LOT of words around the plot until I find just the right ones.
When I’m done with a scene, it gets locked into its spot on the list.
When I’m done with a chapter, my beta reader gets it, we chat back and forth about choices and she calls me an evil woman, and the chapter gets locked into its spot on the list.
When I’m finished with all the planned chapters and scenes, I publish the book (well, I’ve done that once, and am getting ready to do it a second time), doing all the steps including formatting, proofing, and cover.
It’s fractal. I can work on the story at any level – and only have to manage a subset of decisions. The smaller units – sentences, paragraphs, scenes, chapters – are all planned with the appropriate decisions for that level. Everything interlocks.
And I know exactly where I’m going at all times – but not necessarily how, because the actual words don’t happen until the structure is locked down. And then they seem to come out of being in each character’s head.
Without such a process, I would never have been able to keep track of writing snail-speed pace. It feels funny to actually get to the end. I never revise once I’ve finished a scene – though I may have to tuck a sentence in somewhere to prefigure something.
Pretty sure no one else writes this way. Too bad, because it might have made an interesting book on craft!
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Food for thought.
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I love posts on craft, but process always baffles me a little because I’m only sure of one thing – I never know how a story will end until I’m almost done with it. In fact, I work very hard to NOT think that far ahead, and it all boils down to the fact that my brain loves logic. If I sat down to plan a story, I would end up with something that read like a user guide.
So I guess my ‘process’ is to distract that logical part of my brain with music and rabbit holes. Rabbit holes are what I call those excursions into backstory, or hours of research about X [I write scifi]. Most of those rabbit holes end up on the cutting room floor, but all of them help me see and ‘feel’ the story better. And last but not least, I’ve learned to trust my subconscious. When it says ‘no, something’s not working’ I try to give it the time to tell me what’s wrong. I’ve learned the hard way that if I don’t, I’ll end up unable to write anything at all, for months.
I guess that’s all process because I’m /conscious/ of it.
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I think this is wise advice, Cage. One of the things I fear is falling into a formulaic rut. I DO like structure and formula, but I think it’s important to explore and experiment, especially when a story is being stubborn and just screams for something else.
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Oh god yes! I think we all have to tread that very fine line between writing just for ourselves, and writing for others. From a purely pragmatic perspective, giving Readers what they want may make sense, but sometimes Readers don’t know that they’d like something better until they read it. Least ways that’s true of /my/ inner Reader. 😀
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