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.