1. The Backward OX
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    The Backward OX Senior Member

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    Is it essential to spell out “what the story’s about”, before it can be written?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by The Backward OX, Sep 11, 2009.

    ^^^^
     
  2. Acton
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    Acton Member

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    For some people, I would say yes. The crazy perfectionist people of the world would die without the blueprints. :p

    For me, no. I live in a state of semi chaos. What is important is that I have a goal for my characters, "Frodo must throw evil ring into giant pit of molten lava"
    "Harry must defeat Voldemort" etc.

    Added to that, I want to know where my character starts(emotionally) and what growth I need him to achieve by the end.

    The little bits in between all happen of their own accord. :p

    Of course, I'm still working on Novel one and am not published. So take everything I say with two handfuls of salt. :p
     
  3. afinemess
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    afinemess Active Member

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    I think having a rough idea is good, but what I've learned while writing my first novel is that even with a general idea of where I'm going, the story just kind of naturally evolves and changes. So having a rough sketch to go by can help keep you organized, but know you may be changing alot of things up.

    My story began as one of the main character's journey through grief. If you would have asked me when I started "what's your story about?" I would have said just that. Now, after writing and developing the characters and expanding the story, I wouldnt say that at all. It's a story of growth, change, friendship, and finding love. It's not really about grief at all anymore. I think it's good to have a general idea about where your going, but to know that every story has the potential to change.
     
  4. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think that the better you know your story, the more confidence will show in your telling of it. Exposing little pieces that seem random at first, but later make a complete picture, will require some planning. I tell my stories over and over until I know them by heart, and only then does the final piece emerge.

    It's like with drawing - the more time you spend on the underlying sketch, the closer your picture may come to perfection.
     
  5. CDRW
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    CDRW Contributing Member Contributor

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    No, it's not nessecary, but it's a good idea for most people. In my case, I find it harder to write after I've done that because then it feels like I've told the story and should move on to the next one.
     
  6. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    Consider discovering, exploring and learning your story as the creative part. Writing it is more of a craft. Seperating the two lets you focus more fully on each bit at a time.
     
  7. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Sometimes I just start writing without having a goal or knowing what the story's about. Granted, I do have a harder time finding an ending for these types of stories, and I feel a lot more comfortable knowing what the story's about. I still manage, however, to finish the story. In the end, it's a personal preference, and either way (knowing or not knowing the story) is fine.
     
  8. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I usually have a pretty good idea where the story is going before I start. But is it necessary?

    Ifr we can believe Stephen King, he claims he doesn't know where the story will end up when he begins writing. He lets it lead him.

    The cynical side of me snorts and says that explains a lot. Nevertheless, many readers love King's writing, so I have to accept his approach as valid. For that matter, I do like some of his writing.
     
  9. ManhattanMss
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    ManhattanMss Contributing Member

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    It's only essential if it's essential for you.
     
  10. evelon
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    evelon Active Member

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    I think you need to have a pretty good idea of your story, where it begins and where you want it to end, but be flexible enough to allow for departures along the way.
    More important, I think, is that you start your story knowing your characters and always make sure that they act in character and not veer off at too sharp a tangent. That's how your plot becomes confused.

    You need to have your characters firmly fixed in your mind so that it is second nature to know how they speak, feel and act. They should then help you develop your plot.

    I can read a poor story with interesting characters but no matter how good a plot, if the characters are poor and I can't empathise with them, I never get beyond the first couple of chapters.
     
  11. seta
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    seta Contributing Member

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    There are a few things you need to decide about a story first - which I'm sure even Mr. King does if he isn't aware of it.

    First you have to decide what type of story it is - genre. Then there has to be some sort of focus.

    I am under the impression that much of Stephen King's work is very similar - many similar archetypes and of course mostly within the same genre. In that sense, he has already made the decision as to what type of story he is writing, whether it's a conscious decision or not.

    For my first novel I said to myself "I want a space opera" - a sci-fi novel focused more on characters than aliens and battles. I used popular archetypes from the likes of Halo and Star Wars with a pinch of epic-ness from The Hobbit
     
  12. MacGuffin
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    MacGuffin Member

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    I'm working on my first novel length work and I have laid out a fairly detailed outline as to what is going to happen over the course of the first book as well as a brief outline as to what will happen over the following two of the trilogy.

    I was constrained by historical events as my story takes place during WW2 and so certain events need to correspond historically. These include:

    - bomb smashing through roof of St. Paul's cathedraland not exploding
    - when big evacuations from London took place
    - the second great fire of London
    - Dunkirk evacuation
    - speeches by Hitler and Churchill

    and even things that happened in the back story of some characters such as the Russian revolution of 1917, the Tunguska explsion of 1908 and events of the Great War all feed into the story.

    So I had to put down an outline of external events that would happen within my story.

    What I have tried NOT to to plan is how the charcaters have reacted to these events, the situations they face and what they are often made to do by the forces of history.

    So I found it helpful to think of two stories; the external timeline, setting, history etc which I have fixed down on paper pretty thouroughly before hand.... and then the internal reaction to these events by the characters which I have conciously not worked out before hand. I worked out the back stories (nuture) of the characters and also some psychology, traits, behavour (nature) and tried to get them to react to what happens as naturally as possible.

    I think it can be easy with historical fiction to view the setting as fixed history... looking back we know what will happen and how it will turn out. The challenge I have found is not imposing this on the characters... they have no clue how things will turn out!

    But I think this can probably be used for sci-fi, fantasy etc. If you have created a fictional setting with a fictional history you will have worked out where everything fits together and when things happen. Get a timeline in detail before you write. But then when you write, drop your characters in and see what happens.

    That's my view anyway.
     
  13. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    Does anyone else have deja-vu?
     
  14. KP Williams
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    KP Williams Contributing Member

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    I don't really agree with that. It's never done me any good to consciously tell myself which genre I'm writing. To be honest, I don't care. The story is what it is. As long as I can write, who cares which genre it falls under? And if the subconscious handles this aspect of writing, what good does it do to call it a requirement? All that's doing is bringing a subconscious operation to attention, making it a conscious decision. It's like breathing manually; it still gets done, but before, you didn't have to think about it.

    The main difference between deciding on a genre and breathing being that one is mandatory, and one is not.
     
  15. Cheeno
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    Cheeno Contributing Member

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    I don't think it's necessary at all, but it really is up to you and how you approach your work. Some need to have a detailed outline, while others can get going with a simple, but clear, through-line in their head and heart. Whichever path you take, you certainly shouldn't allow it to hinder you in your tracks. Good luck with your writing.
     
  16. Spirit
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    Spirit Member

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    I have a general idea of what I want to do. I change it if I think of something better, but I do tend to work by scenes, I think up a scene that I want, and unlike the plot, I have to have that scene, I'm wierd like that.
     
  17. seta
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    seta Contributing Member

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    I disagree. If you don't intentionally say "I'm going to write [genre] kind of novel" then your writing might be wandering and indecisive. It may be a subconscious process already, when you're postulating and forming ideas, but I still think it's very important to decide what type of novel you're going to write before you actually start writing. This creates guidelines in your head to offer direction.
     
  18. KP Williams
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    KP Williams Contributing Member

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    I don't think we'll have much luck convincing each other. Maybe this is how it works for you, but certainly not for me. I'm writing a fantasy story now, and the only reason I ever bothered to make that distinction was because someone asked me. I didn't say "I want to write a modern fantasy story" and build my plot around that; I did exactly the opposite.
     
  19. Carthonn
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    Carthonn Active Member

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    No wonder his books are 100000000000 pages! What a scam!
     
  20. seta
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    seta Contributing Member

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    When you were thinking of the characters and settings, I'll bet you were using ideas centered around archetypal fantasy? In that way, you had already decided on "fantasy" - you just let your subconscious do it.
     
  21. TheMaterialMatters
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    TheMaterialMatters New Member

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    The backseat truth is that everything you're writing is nonsense to begin with, unless you're working with non-fiction. Writers want to lay out their characters and their plot in order to give an illusion of legitimacy, and it is important to point this out. You are never creating a real character. You are only creating the impression of a real character.

    Planning is cold and calculating, but fiction writing is itself cold and calculating. Ever since I was eighteen years old I rolled my eyes at writers romancing themselves with whimsical biographies about how their stories just come to them and they are simply the medium for some greater force that must be transcribed through their pen. It's nonsense. There is a thrill and personal enjoyment to be had in tearing through your story without any plans or tricks up your sleeve, but in the end the only thing I ask of myself is to be a showman. When people ask me if I"m a writer or an artist, I tell them No, I'm a showman. And I have never seen a good magician who simply walks up on stage and improvises.

    It's fun, and you can get lucky if you're not expecting too much of yourself. But every writer should want to do something with their scenes and their greater work as a whole. Maybe you like to write your stuff from scratch because it's exhilarating to be blind, but then you fine tune it once the high has worn off. Maybe you spend dozens of pages outlining your story into acts and into chapters and even into individual scenes. The process should always have some degree of artistic and creative competence to it once the shock and awe of creation wears off.

    Stephen King likes to talk about how his stories just come to him without planning or pause, but he's also happy to contradict himself by discussing the preliminary themes, intentions, and background work he puts into his stories. He does this frequently in interviews, forwards, afterwords, and even in his On Writing book.

    So far I haven't come across a successful writer who just bounds about without any care or knowledge as to wtf it is he's doing.
     
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  22. ManhattanMss
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    ManhattanMss Contributing Member

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    There are plenty of writers who unfold and/or grow stories as they go. While I realize this is not at all understood (nor accepted as genuine) by folks who approach writing differently, it is a legitimate approach that's used by many writers whose creativity simply works that way. It has nothing at all to do with an absence of care or some un-awareness of wtf it is the writer needs to do to investigate and research and polish. It has nothing to do with ignoring the hard work it takes to complete a piece and carefully consider the "brushstrokes" that are essential to producing a work that is satisfying and which can engage a reader and audience. It also has nothing to do with minimizing that writer's aim toward excellence in writing. And neither approach has any dibs on how successful or unsuccessful a particular writer will be.

    Fiction writing is not necessarily cold and calculating, unless it just happens that you're a fiction writer whose approach is cold and calculating. But that does not characterize every great fiction writer, at all. There are artists and showmen, and there is some artistry in great show and probably some showmanship in great art. But there is an entire range of how writers do what they do, and some grow a story from somewhere within themselves in a process they cannot describe in a way that's going to satisfy a writer who calculates every aspect of his storytelling.

    I'd mention some writers who work in this mode (and, yes, SK is likely one of them), but a writer who hasn't experienced this approach firsthand will always link that assessment to sheer foolishness.
     
  23. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    I've read a ton of books about story-telling, structure and mechanics of fiction. I've planned, structured and restructured my story for years, and yet, the parts of my writing that stands out as the best is also the writing I cannot explain. It just happened, and what makes it work is beyond my analysis. Perhaps it is the sense of wonder that I'm always chasing, or perhaps it's when I let myself go and my characters take control (a rare moment for me).

    But, to people who do not believe that the subconscious self keeps secrets of deeper meaning, I suppose the notion that someone's writing comes from "elsewhere" will sound stupid and pretentious.
     
  24. ManhattanMss
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    ManhattanMss Contributing Member

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    Very well put, HorusEye. I think you're exactly right.
     
  25. TheMaterialMatters
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    TheMaterialMatters New Member

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    ManhattanMss:

    I tried to be careful with my wording because I knew to expect a reply like yours. Here was what I specifically said a writer should be expected to do when writing a book: ...every writer should want to do something with their scenes and their greater work as a whole....The process should always have some degree of artistic and creative competence to it once the shock and awe of creation wears off. The reason I only went that far is because yes, different writers require different degrees of control or immersion in their work. Some writers plan out chapters, some plan out scenes, some even plan out pages. Some writers merely go into their story wanting to explore a theme. Some writers go into their story wanting to explore a life situation, or maybe even a particular personality. They all fit with my expectation of artists.

    I encourage myself and others to have a goal that they can pursue and also objectively study. Now, it's fun and modern to admit that all art is subjective, but that's misleadingly true. Artists don't enter their fields assuming that whatever is whatever and so doing whatever they care will give them equal chance. Artists have more than just hope to decide whether or not their works will affect people. If we had nothing to objectively grade, expect, or study, art wouldn't be a field, it would be a faith. By that logic there are some expectations we ought to have of fellow writers. That exceptions to the rule claim to write successfully without any goal shouldn't be encouraged as legitimate practices any more than lottos should be encouraged as legitimate ways of earning a living. In the same way that musicians can be objective about instrumental skills in spite of the fact that some audiences might like listening to poorly tweaked, strained guitar strings- writers have a few nearly-unequivocal standards to turn to.
    Having an expectation of your work is one of them.

    And I think you both^ probably agree with me. "Having an expectation of your work" isn't necessarily having stacks of blueprints or rigorous preliminary work.

    HorusEye:

    I have before experienced creativity materialize out of thin air. I agree with you in the sense that I believe a lot substantial, meaningful writing is self-exploration. It's almost meditative, and you're going to channel areas of you that aren't conscious of themselves.
    But they don't come out of thin air, and they can be identified, qualified. Doing so helps people be prolific, which is why I try to encourage others to try it out. It's been my experience that writers get in trouble when they start slowing down and losing focus, and often this happens because "inspiration" doesn't come. Yet inspiration is always there. It's not a swooping bird. Your only say in the matter is whether you're comfortable allowing it to appear on the whims of your undetermined subconscious, or whether you want to find it out and qualify it so you can utilize it on your terms. But I might be going ot..?
     

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