1. Ben414
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    Ben414 Contributing Member Contributor

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    How to Get Ideas from your Head to the Page

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Ben414, Oct 19, 2015.

    Ever since I started to be interested in fiction writing about 2 years ago, I've struggled to write. At first, the biggest issue holding me back was that I knew very little about writing. Since then, I've read books on story structure, sentence structure, how to write scenes, how to write emotions, how to write dialogue, how to write conflict, and more. I've kept notes on them, reference back to them, and look for instances where stories I'm reading are using the advice. I feel confident that I know how to make stories work, and I've gained a deeper interest in writing because of it.

    Yet, I am still struggling to write. I have ideas in my head about the characters, the plot, the conflict, the major scenes, and I have ideas in my head about how I want to insert subtext into the dialogue, align characters against each other to diversify the conflict potential, examine multiple aspects of the theme through conflict, but I can't transform all of that into words. When I'm lucky, I can produce 175 words per hour; normally, it's even lower than that.

    I've tried to think of reasons this could be happening. The first I came up with is that I haven't read enough fiction. I didn't read much fiction before 2 years ago, and I still wouldn't consider myself a voracious reader. However, I don't think this is the issue because of my difficulties in writing scripts. I have been studying screenwriting, have analyzed scripts, and I have a longer history of watching and analyzing films than fiction. Despite this, I am experiencing the same difficulties.

    The only other issue I can think of is that my mental process is poor. I think I'm unusual in the way that I focus a lot on how I think about things, in a systems-oriented way. It can be beneficial when I have developed a good system for thinking, but it can also be detrimental when I have not. I think the issue is that I'm trying to think about writing in terms of all of the bits of advice I've gained--an impossible task--instead of developing a natural way to think about writing. Natural still has a specific process; the difference is that the person isn't consciously thinking about that process when he or she is using it. Ironically, I think the only way for me to develop this subconscious process is to consciously look for it.

    My question is asking you to think about what you think about when you write. Do you have a movie going on in your head and you try to describe it? Do you think of stories you've read and try to use how they worked to convey your story? Do you try to imagine yourself in the head of your characters and try to describe what they are feeling/thinking/acting? Do you do something else?

    Any and all help is appreciated. I'm getting to the point where I'm considering giving up fiction writing if I can't improve.
     
  2. Chinspinner
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    Chinspinner Contributing Member Contributor

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    You are not the only one. I often find my writing inadequate to translate the scene I have created in my head. I cannot inject the subtext or subtleties of the scene. It feels ham-fisted. And the worst part is that it only gets worse with editing, the more that I trim my writing and correct my common mistakes- filtering, excessive adverbs, excessive wordiness- the more this intricate concept that existed in my head becomes blunt and superficial.... in fact it seems that a lot of modern mainstream writing is all about action and pace and god-awful cliffhangers everywhere- I tend to find this style unpleasantly superficial as well.
     
    Last edited: Oct 19, 2015
  3. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I've been writing non-fiction professionally for years, to tight word counts, so I'm used to having to get my ideas down on paper clearly and succinctly. I still had exactly the same struggle you're having - still do, but I'm finding it's getting much easier. The main reasons it's improved:
    1. Practice. Absolutely the top reason.
    2. Critiquing other people's work. It doesn't completely unblind you to your own flaws but it helps a lot.
    3. Working out what I want to show in each chapter before I write. I don't mean a blow-by-blow account of the actions, I mean what message I want to get across. What character development I want to show. What question I want to put in the reader's mind. Once you have a goal, it's so much easier.

    So my advice? Head to the workshop to find out what's wrong with other people's writing, then practice, practice, practice. Just keep writing and refining. Eventually your first drafts will be at the standard your third drafts are now.

    My question is asking you to think about what you think about when you write. Do you have a movie going on in your head and you try to describe it? Do you think of stories you've read and try to use how they worked to convey your story? Do you try to imagine yourself in the head of your characters and try to describe what they are feeling/thinking/acting? Do you do something else?

    I picture it like a movie, but where the camera is looking out from the point-of-view character's eyes and I can hear their thoughts.
     
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  4. Chinspinner
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    Chinspinner Contributing Member Contributor

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    I quite like that question- the one in bold from @Tenderiser. I tend to see mine as a movie, but where the editor is a crazed scissor wielding maniac and the final cut is choppy and has no chronology. I tend to head-hop a lot when I am imagining a scene, and tend to see different aspects of it from different POVs. In fact, it has more the surreal elements of a dream than the structure of a movie.
     
  5. KhalieLa
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    KhalieLa It's not a lie, it's fiction. Contributor

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    First off, don't worry about words per hour, that's irrelevant. And don't worry about whether or not they are "good" words. Everything can be fixed when you go back to edit, and proofread, and edit, and proofread, and edit . . . . (you get the picture.)

    I let my character's story flow through me. Sometimes it's like watching a movie; sometimes they are simply using me to tell a story.

    I don't think of other stories unless there is something very specific I need to convey and want to see how other authors handled similar situations. (Example: I needed to describe learning to use a sword and dagger, something I have no practical experience with. I read several books on Iron Age weaponry so I had the basics of what I was working. Then to describe side-cuts, thrust, and blocks, I looked to other authors who have scenes with sword play.) Aside from situations like that I don't think about what other authors wrote because I'm trying to concentrate my story, not theirs.

    I always try to imagine myself in the head of my characters. I do a lot of research so that I have a good idea of what their lives were like and try to immerse myself in their culture as much as possible. (Lentil porridge & rye bread with small beer for dinner every night for a week, YUM!) It's kind of like getting "in character" as a actor; I also need to be "in character" to write. Once you get to that place the story will flow from you.
     
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  6. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I was struck by the fact that you don't actually read fiction much ...or didn't read much at all till two years ago. So I'm curious. If you don't enjoy reading it, why do you want to write it?

    I see a lot of evidence on the forum, of people who try to recreate movies on a page, because that's the storytelling medium they're familiar with. They admit to not being readers. They sit down with a movie running in their head, and write what that movie looks like—and then are surprised when it fails to come to life. Trying to be a writer without also being a reader is like trying to cook Thai food if you've never eaten any, and don't have a recipe to follow. You won't actually know what it's supposed to taste like.

    You also may be handicapped by all the studying you've done about exactly how to write. I can't think of anything worse, really. It's getting the cart before the horse. Like learning the violin before you listen to any music. It's all mechanics and no heart.

    I'd say get to know the medium you've chosen to work with. Read. Read a lot. Read only stuff that interests you. Don't bother plowing through stuff that doesn't interest you—that's just wasting your time. Read for enjoyment, and find what works for you. Break the TV habit. Pick up a book instead, and expect it to take a while. Many days, even. Read for immersion, not speed. Go to a bookstore, thumb through a few that grab your attention. Read reviews of books in papers, magazines, online, and pick up copies of any that seem interesting to you. If you like a book a lot, try finding others that are similar ...either from the same author, or from other authors who write about the same subjects or in the same style. If you don't like a book, don't feel like you have to finish it. Move on. Get a different book. Become a reader.

    Don't expect this transformation to happen overnight—you've got a lifetime of reading to catch up on—but as you read, you'll subconsciously be taking on board what books taste like. How words make things come to life. Instead of just watching movies in your head, you'll start talking to yourself (in your head!) as well. Make words describe what you 'see.' Make words to describe how the characters feel and what they are thinking, as well as what they are doing. Don't be afraid to use lots of words. Adjectives, adverbs ...the lot. You can always edit out the excess later on. But you're striving to make your story come to life ON A PAGE. Not on a screen. This will take time to learn, and reading is the only way you'll be able to experience what it should 'taste' like.

    And good luck! Reading should never be a chore. It's the window into a whole new level of experience.
     
    Last edited: Oct 20, 2015
  7. Ben414
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    Ben414 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I do find myself often enjoying the audiovisual-specific methods of storytelling than the written word-specific methods of storytelling, but that doesn't mean I don't also enjoy fiction. I'm not a voracious reader of fiction (I do read a good amount of non-fiction), but I read enough that I don't think that's the issue here. Plus, I'm also encountering this issue for screenwriting where that wouldn't be an issue.

    Your response is valid, but I don't think it's the specific issue I'm encountering now.
     
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  8. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I had a specific theory about why people who can write, still struggle with writing fiction.

    My theory is that when we're writing nonfiction, we're writing our thoughts, and our thoughts tend to be in language. We're translating language to more structured language. There's a sense of flow. Writing nonfiction is like sketching a scene.

    But when we're writing fiction, our thoughts are not in language. Our thoughts are in pictures and emotions and movement. The only part that's in language is the dialogue. Writing fiction is like sketching a smell.

    Re: "Do you have a movie going on in your head and you try to describe it?"

    I used to. It didn't work. Not at all.

    I went through a period where I was writing a lot of the part of fiction that has words: Dialogue. Many of my pieces in the Review Room and on my blog are purely dialogue.

    Now I think of my fiction-writing process as being a sort of loop.

    Step 1: There's a movie in my head. I walk through a bit of a scene--in my head. Edited to add: Though I realize, after reading Jannert's post, that "movie" is not quite right. Because I'm perceiving things that you can't see/hear in a movie. But I'll still stick to movie as a shorthand.
    Step 2: I write stuff. The stuff is "inspired by" the movie, but it's not trying to capture the movie.
    Step 3: I read the stuff that I wrote.
    Step 1: The stuff that I just wrote makes a movie in my head.
    Step 2: I alter the stuff that I wrote, because there were flaws in the movie in my head.
    Step 3: I read the stuff that I wrote.
    Step 1: The stuff that I just wrote makes a movie in my head.
    Etc.

    Round and round and round.

    Now, I could loop infinitely and never get past the first few moments of action. So I generally try to just write and move on (only one cycle) or perhaps write, tweak a bit, and move on (two cycles) and then return later for more cycles.

    I should make it clear that I am NOT cycling around to try to achieve the movie that I had in the top of the first loop. That movie was just a starting point. I'm just cycling around to make a movie that I like.

    One metaphor that I use is that it's like a cartoon. Cartoons aren't photo-realism. They're a few simple strokes that form a picture in the viewer's mind--much of the creation is in the viewer's mind. The cartoon isn't about any original real-world inspiration any more; it's about the lines, and what the lines create in the viewer's mind. Similarly, the fiction is about the words, and what the words create in the reader's head.

    I babble on about this as if I've got it mastered, and I SO haven't. Writing fiction is still like pulling teeth for me.

    But I have at least broken the initial wall, and what broke it for me was participating in NaNoWriMo, twice. Forcing myself to just write, thousands and thousands of words, and not worrying about successful they were, sort of burned a path from my brain to the computer screen. A stuttery, rough, often-uncooperative path, but a path.

    I do also agree that you should read fiction, lots and lots of fiction. But that's not going to do the job all by itself-- I've read hundreds, quite probably thousands, of novels in my lifetime, and I still struggle.

    Edited again to add: Each loop, in case you're wondering, is a fairly small piece of fiction. It could be a whole scene, but it's more likely to just be a few moments.
     
    Last edited: Oct 20, 2015
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  9. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Try audio books. I love them. I have to drive a lot for my job and I can't get enough of those audio books.

    There are three places I've been learning to write. And I started out 4 years ago with zero experience. But I know how to learn, and that's important.

    1) I've been learning from reading how to write through books, web sites and here.
    2) I've been learning from reading. I can't get enough. I used to read a lot, but now every book I read I'm paying attention to how the author conveyed something, be it emotion, or a hook, or description.
    3) I've been learning from my critique group and my son the sounding board. You have to write and get feedback. It's the only way to grow.

    That about sums it up. :)
     
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  10. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    This is so true. It's why the chapters in my novel started with dialogue. Learning to write the description followed later, and I'm still working on that.

    I read in one of those writing advice web pages (or maybe it was a book) turn the description into a living scene. The house is scary, it's alive, or the awards on the wall and no pictures on the desk tell you the character is missing relationships in his life. Make the scenery talk.
     
    Last edited: Oct 20, 2015
  11. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Not for all of us. Everything I imagine comes with narration. I even dream words.
     
  12. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Way to go, Jannert. Way to go, Jannert :p

    It is all about the words. Even if you want to tell a straight up no nonsense story that is all about plot and suspense, you will still benefit from being able to choose the right words.

    We spend too much time on this forum worrying about our make believe characters and whether it's OK if they have such and such a relationship, and not enough time at all on how to make our words count.
     
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  13. Inks
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    Inks Contributing Member

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    Two states exist for me - one of a possessor (where my body and thoughts are not my own) and shade (active, but non-interacting observer). My nightmares are in the possessor state whereas my joys are in the shade state. I have both done and been subject to horrible things in the possessor state... sometimes unable to wake up. Neither is anything like a movie.

    I sometimes commit these to pages now.
     
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  14. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    That's an interesting perspective, @Inks.
     
  15. Inks
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    Inks Contributing Member

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    Perspective? Huh? When you dream, are you not able to move about? Though certain things like text can jump about and patterns might warp under inspection (a great way to discern reality/dream states). Only in the possessor state can I actually feel, comprehend emotions and even hear the entities thoughts.

    Doesn't everyone have dreams about being themselves or other people - is it weird to use that for writing?
     
  16. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Audio books. What an excellent suggestion—and one I've never thought of because I don't listen to them. But they are books, being read out loud, and the words are what conjure up the 'movie' in your brain. Plus, the flow of words just might jog something, make you know what a story should sound like. This might work a treat, for people who don't enjoy reading very much, or feel they don't have time to 'sit down' with a book, or who find their attention wandering when they do.
     
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  17. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I enjoy reading, but it can make me sleepy, and why waste all that driving time?

    I used to play audio books for my son when he was young and we drove back and forth to Oregon to see my parents. Kids don't need videos for long drives, audio books work very nicely. We listened to a Harry Potter book on the plane to Japan. That's a long plane ride, but an audio book can make it go fast.
     
  18. Kingtype
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    Kingtype Always writing or thinking things XD Staff Role Play Moderator Contributor

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    I'm a big time reader. It is all about the words as others have pointed out on the thread but I see a visual in my head, mostly its real people and sometimes on a rare occasion if the book has a certain vibe I might see still images or cartoons.

    But with the words running in my head.

    I love the inter working of the character's mind during intimate moments and close interaction and words express that better then anything. Also writing feels far more natural to me then any visual art I've been exposed to.Though I do love plenty of visual stuff. I've just always felt a stronger connection, versatility and imagination in words, descriptions and characters in books but I do have quite a few visual influences as well. I once heard that there are two types of writers in general or two types of general styles we all have, which is a big statement but I found it interesting.

    It went like this.

    Some writers have an amazing skill with language and the art of words, they have stories and characters but it is almost secondary or just as important as the beautiful language. It is like in visual terms watching something through a window but the window is covered in the most wonderful design, like those windows they got at churches,

    The art designs in this case being the language.

    The other writers (such as myself, I probably fall more into this style). The language while perhaps not as artistic is far more simple and easy to absorb this is the side that has the benefit of while using the English to its full extent they are able to deliver the story in a much more pure form to your heart. This window has no designs on it, you're looking through it and seeing what's happening.

    I've always felt that window stuff was an interesting analysis.

    I wish I could of worded it better but I'm tired and that's best I could do.
     
  19. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I third the suggestion for audiobooks. I drive for two hours a day on my commute. Average-length novels come in at around 8-9 hours on audiobook. So I can read a book a week, whilst working full time, and not lose any leisure time. After all, what else can I do when I'm driving?
     
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  20. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I have no idea.
    When I was a kid though me and my bff used to play stuffed animals ( kinda like dolls ) and our imaginations took the whole thing rather serious - our bears, and raccoons and snoopy's had clothes that we made, school books that we made - and new identities. Me and friend could switch into the game at a moments notice. I think this helped with my writing because I was used to being someone else, stirring up emotions ( we could have a tearful funeral one afternoon for one of the bears and a birthday party for his dug up form a day later ) and going beyond the visual.Cause it's more than just a visual thing, it's getting into the feet of someone else, it's stirring up emotions. The idea isn't to have your character see a rose but to get your reader to feel the presence of that rose. Like drinking tea at a tea party and there's nothing there.


    When I write I have a set of scenes in my head but I'm fueled more by the emotions behind the scenes. There can be a certain aloofness in keeping things only on the visual - trying to record what I see. Because for me the visual isn't as important as the emotion behind the visual. The emotion is the why - why all the action is taking place.

    First I write the scene as I see it - for example just wrote a scene about a man following my mc into the cell of another man. The follower sits down on the man's bunk beside the mc and the three hold an awkward conversation because they're all aware he's following the mc.
    Something is wrong. I need to bring out the awkwardness. Like a director I need to move the characters.
    I change the scene - the mc now gets up from the bunk and sits in a chair in the corner. The word corner is important to me because he's just put himself in a vulnerable spot.
    I still feel like I'm missing something so I add strawberry wafers and put them on the man's bunk - the scent is noted revealing that the man represents access to luxury items.

    The scene doesn't come flying together it's build detail by detail. Layer by layer.
    It takes practice.
    You're best bet will be don't try so hard - don't worry about telling or showing or a hundred other 'rules' just get something down.
     
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  21. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    Wow, this thread got me thinking. I've never really thought much about how I know what to put on the paper. Ever since I was little I've written, so it's become something natural, I've kept diaries during my entire childhood and adolescence, and I've never had to look very far to find the words. It's almost like there's a little voice inside my brain dictating and I just write. I know it sounds totally weird, but I can't explain it in any other way. Something in my head that forms the sentences just the moment before I write them down. And I think I write the same way when I write my novels, or blog posts or whatever. Like the story dictating itself from my head. I almost never sit around thinking much about what to write next. It's just there. Ok, this probably wasn't much help...
     

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