A friend of mine asked via Twitter: “Mrs. @mbweston, what’s your writing process?” To answer his question, I’ve been writing a series of blog posts about how I go about my personal writing process. So far, we’ve covered:
- The Writing Process: Part 1 – Getting Your Inspiration
- The Writing Process: Part 2 – The Conflict
- The Writing Process: Part 3 – Plot: Your Story’s Skeleton
As I mentioned in “Getting Your Inspiration,” all of us are different, and therefore our writing processes will be different. This is how I write. You need to write in a way that works for you.
You’ve got your inspiration. You know your main conflict and possibly a few sub-conflicts. You understand the formula of a good plot. Now you’ve got to write the thing, or at least get something started.
Basically, there are two types of writers: plotters and pantsers. Plotters like to outline their stories and novels scene by scene, chapter by chapter, before they start writing. (We call this “plotting.” No, I’m not being sarcastic here.) Pantsers write “by the seat of their pants.” They take an idea and start writing the story without an outline and figure it out as they go along. Bear in mind that many writers fall somewhere in between these two extremes. My personal opinion is that writers who lean toward “plotting” are more plot driven, and writers who lean toward “pantsing” are more character driven.
Whether you will “plot” or “pants” is also determined by:
- Genre: Mystery writers have to plot. They need to know whodunit, and they need to know the clues they are going to divulge to the audience. Other genres have more pantsing freedom.
- Publisher’s desire: If you are writing a formulaic romance or if you are ghost writer, plotting is a must.
- Length: If I’m writing a 1,000 to 2,000 word short story, I plot. 2,000 words isn’t enough time to experiment. For a 9,000 word short, my process changes.
I am a “modified pantser.” I write by the seat of my pants, but because I write fantasy/suspense, I have to put some brainstorming into my writing. After all, I have to create the world my characters live in, from its history and sociology to its physics and magic.
I write my first draft in layers. Some writers like to write each scene and take the time to edit it perfectly before they progress to the nest. If this is your style, go with it. However, it’s not my style. I do this mainly because 1) I’m a pantser and 2) I simply refuse to spend a lot of time on a scene that might end up changing anyway. My first draft is not actually what I would call a first draft. It’s actually a “pre-draft:” my wordy version of a glorified outline. The Pre-Draft is the skeleton of my story. It has more detail than an outline and it gives me a chance to explore my characters and plot. It also gives me a chance to think about thematic elements of scenes without wasting words in case the scenes get cut at the chopping block.
Here are a few things to think about when writing a great Pre-Draft.
- You may not know your plot, but you should at least know 1) Your Inciting Incident and 2) your climax. Note that these may change as your write, but you need to know where you are going. My original idea for the ending of A Prophecy Forgotten was to have Gabriella get hit by a car while saving Tommy’s life. I wasn’t sure if she would live or die or change back into an angel before the car hit her. The scene obviously never happened. (Mainly because Davian took over. Hey, don’t look at me like that. If Davian was one of your characters, he’d take over your story.) However, I had an idea of where I wanted to go and that idea gave me movement.
- Your Pre-Draft will not be great. In fact, it will suck–and it should. Like I mentioned before, my pre-draft is a glorified outline. It’s not supposed ot be amazing.
- Concentrate on two things: Stage Directions and Emotion: A story is all about action and emotion, so those should be what you concentrate on. The essence of any story is about what’s happening and how your characters react to it.
- Your level of detail will vary. When I write, I watch the characters in my head–kind of like watching a movie. As I’m watching, I write down what I see. Sometimes I see the scene clearly with beautiful detail (in HD, ha ha ha). Sometimes, I don’t see much; I just know I need to get my character from Point A to Point B. The level of detail I put into a scene depends on what I see.
- Things you may not know: Names, exact locations, words, how things work, who characters really are, etc. Remember your goal is to plow through this thing. Put an _____ if you’re unsure and keep going.
Sometimes, examples make better explanations. Click here to read what was my original pre-draft for a short story I’m working on.
Fantasy novelist M. B. Weston is the author of The Elysian Chronicles, a fantasy series about guardian angel warfare and treason. Weston speaks to children, teens, and adults about writing and the process of getting published. For more information on M. B. Weston, visit www.mbweston.com. Find out more about The Elysian Chronicles at www.elysianchronicles.com.
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Yeah, any word, title or name I don’t know in my world’s fiction I either make something up on the spot or put in some other filler, the important thing is to remember that that’s not what you really want to say and mark it so you can come back.
Good advice here.
Thanks! It’s good to know that other writers do the same thing. Sometimes its easy to feel like we are each on our own little islands..
Oh I believe we all are on our own little islands with our personal dreams and demons, but at least we can push back the fog and see that, just a little way off, other writers are fighting for the surival of theirs as well.
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