Brilliant advice, all of it. Now if I can just get myself to sit down and actually WRITE What Happens Next instead of just thinking about it...

That is the hardest part. Getting from your head onto the paper, I mean.

I think you hit the nail on the head. I can certainly tell you that-- for me-- one very wrong way of writing is to get started, and have NO IDEA where the plot is going to go. I've started, and had to throw away, many stories simply because of this. I have a project in a secured part of my live journal, which has a great start! But is going nowhere fast because I don't know what to do with the next step. If I go left, I will end the story right now as a ten-page short story and leave half the characters undeveloped. If I go right, on the other hand, well, the langoliers ate that part of the story before I could get a good look at it. So I would be stepping into that mysterious, white, cloudy space and probably disappear forever. In short, outlining a plot ahead of time is a really great idea. =^_^=


Except for those of us who, if we outline the plot, find that the voice in the head says, "Okay! Done now! Next project!" and trying to write past that is like pulling teeth from something with very well-affixed toothies.

Someday, I hope to actually outline a book before I write it. (For one thing, I can probably hit word-count a lot better instead of my usual "too short/way too long" trick...) But I know that I'll need my writing support network on hand to push me into actually writing the thing after that.

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*laugh* On #1, there's maybe a half dozen lines of dialog at most. Digger's script, these days, is a 200 page file consisting solely of lines of dialog, none of which is credited to any particular speaker.

Some people do find it easier to write when they've sketched out a full roadmap for the book ahead of them tho. I've written one novel the 'just start writing till you stop' way, and I'm now trying out the 'put together a synopsis first' way. Not sure which works best for me yet.

I have several writing books (none on how to write but many on tips, tricks, strategies, exercises, or specific things I know I suck at) because they interest me but, and I think I may blog on this later so thanks for inspiring me, I have the confidence to say well actually I like this bit and this bit but I think this bit is wrong and I'm not going to follow it just because the author is published and I am not.

I recently wrote about characterisation and found two articles both by writers who have successful careers, both writing the same genre even, so you can't even put it down to differences in what the audience want. One of them explained at length how you absolutely must describe your characters in excruciating detail because your readers if they are visual people as she is (and as I am for that matter) need to know. the other explained at length how you must give some idea of what they look like and any salient details and then trust your readers to fill in the rest... I prefer the style of the second, but both methods seem to be working fine for them so you can't really say either of them is 'doing it wrong'.

Also, to the several people I have discussed this with - fanfiction writers are not automatically 'doing it wrong' because they write fanfic. Nor are they wasting their talent (like it's some set pool and you risk running out halfway through your master work if you write fanfic?) and they are not automatically complete failures with a lack of imagination for using other people's characters.

Personally, I'm working on an alternate take on Sherlock Holmes, which puts me in a category with Stephen King and Neil Gaimen, which can't be a bad place to be :D

and word to jumping about. The fic I'm writing on right now is coming in order (and man I can't wait to see what happens next... What? You thought I knew since I'm writing it? ha!) and the novel I'm working on that I hope to try to publish one day I think the first scene I wrote was the finale.

You are, as always, awesome. :)

For more years than I want to remember or recount, every book I read on how to write told me I was Doing It Wrong. Not in so many words, mind you, but they all said I needed an Outline or 3-by-5 cards or something that clearly set down the beginning, middle, and end and detailed all the scenes that occurred in the story arc.

Foolishly, I believed these books and tried, really tried, to do it the Right Way. But I couldn't; I wrote for the same reason I read: to see what happens next. If I knew that already, writing turned into a boring exercise of mere typing. I couldn't do it.

Then I learnt that Isaac Asimov wrote with no initial planning--just the way I did--and that man wrote more than 600 books in his lifetime. I felt vindicated.

Since then, I've found more and more and more professional writers who all write the Wrong Way. Some even dare to say that it is the best way. Even those who make an outline beforehand frequently admit that all their planning as often as not gets thrown out the window because their characters decide they want to go east despite the outline clearly saying they should go southwest and it all goes to hell and the author ends up following them around because what else can you do? (They still make outlines, because they are insecure without some kind of plan, even if they know that plan will eventually, inevitably be abandoned.

My first novel began with some unknown part of me writing, "This is folly." I had no idea who said it, why she said it, what she said it about, or even how I knew it was a she. It was only twenty-thousand words later, in the process of answering these questions, that I realized I was writing a novel. (I think that snip of dialogue eventually ended up in chapter seven.) And I had many more words to go to answer the other questions that came up in the process of putting down those twenty thousand.

Or maybe there really is only one question: What happens next?

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*blinks* *stares at words* *smacks forehead with palm*

*slinks off to apologize to a rather large and forlorn stack of dust-coated boxes, each containing eons of chronologically-impaired vignettes*

I have no idea why, but it never occurred to my brain that writing things inside out was a viable option...

Just in case it makes you feel less alone in the "never occurred to me" corner: It never occurred to me that a book written in first person could be fictional rather than autobiographic.

Thank you for sharing this. I'm an aspiring writer, except that I often do a lot more aspiring than writing- often for many of the reasons you talk about here. After reading digger I friended you here on lj, and I was entranced with the stories you tell of living a life based on creation. It's really heartening to know that even a pro still has to struggle to make the words come.

My one tiny bit of advice for people (taken with a grain of salt because I am not a Real Writer) is read, and think about why you like it, or why you don't like it. Like rereading a book I liked as a young adult, gee, the main character is fond of fantasy and reading. And considering it's a fantasy book, there's a darn good chance the reader is going to go "Wow, I identify with that!" Take that and look at your own writing and go "Would I enjoy reading this?" If the answer is no, then others probably wouldn't either.

Also, an editor (or just an honest friend) is the person standing back while you're trying to hang a frame on the wall. You're too close to see if it's crooked or too far to the left or right, you need someone to go "No, raise the left corner, trust me"

When your webcomic is a daily panel gag, though, you have to ask, "What happens next that has a punchline?" When the characters are behaving, you can just write what happens next and they give the punchline to you, but many many days you have to manufacture one.

Dude, someone else on the planet has read Animist! Eeee! ♥

I still have copies, somewhere...

I think I'm a little bit in love with this whole post.

I get discouraged all the time because I have all those little bits lying around. But you're so right--if I just work on what happened after each little bit, I'll get the stories finished.

I'm also guilty of the whole 'trying to start at the beginning because that's the way you read it' thing.

Oh gosh, now I want to write like crazy and I have a lab in fifteen minutes. Great post!

Ooooh, it's so nice to hear that other stories often start with a single phrase that pops into your mind with quiet need for explanation. Writing is not in my blood, and I feel no great passion for it, but as you said, the advice works for artists too.

Ahahahahaha! I knew it! You're a FRAUD!

Common sense approaches to talent management and writing? What the hell is that? ;)

Seriously though, you could always make something up. Example: "I use a 1920's Underwood typewriter; I find the rhythmic noise of my typing keeps my thoughts in order, the pain of pushing such a heavy key gives my writing passion, and the carpal-tunnel I developed using the antique typewriter makes me more focused on never having to re-type anything ever again."
B.S. = giving creatives more value since the days of cave painting.

My standard is "Where do you get these ideas?" "I did a lot of drugs in college."

It's true, it's the sort of answer people WANT, and the fact that it has absolutely no bearing on anything never seems to come up...


We all have different ways of getting through a story; when I'm writing a short story, often what I have is a character and a scene or two. I write everything else around those. I've found that I do need to figure out early on where I want to end up, but everything else is up for grabs (and it's probably all going to change in the edit/rewrite phase anyway).

When it's a book, I usually have a list of scenes at least in the back of my head (but usually in a file somewhere) that are touchpoints that the plot and characters are going to need to get through. It usually runs something like, "Protag & Antag have a double What The Hell Hero scene, SecChar1 has a chat with his dead girlfriend, SecChar2 discovers who's been behind the people trying to take over the kingdom, SecChar3 and Protag have a Very Manly Scuffle, etc".

When I'm having difficulty deciding What Happens Next, what I'll do is go hunting for things in what story I've written, looking for decisions that might have consequences. Protag blew off a minor character in Chapter 2 because she was being mobbed by things that had to be done and had to make a decision about what was most important? It's Chapter 5 and it's time for that minor character to come back, and the thing she was asking Protag to do for her has since spiraled out of control. (And that, my friends, is how foreshadowing happens!)

I personally always start from the beginning and write to the end, but that's because that's just how my mind works. I have met many authors who do it like you do, in bits and pieces. There's really no wrong way to do it--as long as it gets done.

Completely true! The best recipe for success I've ever found goes "do it anyway". Not sure how well it's going to turn out? Do it anyway. Don't have the skill to make a good go of it yet? Do it anyway. A writer writes words. Nowhere does it say that they all have to be *good* ones.

And eventually, after enough words and some deep thinking about where some of those words went Terribly Terribly Wrong, you end up with something that people actually want to read.

Now editing the damn thing into submission... that trips me up every time. Every time I finish something I look at it and think "wow! This would have been totally awesome... if the heroine wasn't the most boring person alive and it had been set in the rural midwest rather than the fantastic country of the flying pumpkins." Any words of wisdom about re-writes? :)

I don't do them, unless the editor asks.

So, well...I guess not. Thing is, I don't do that whole "drafts" thing...I write the book, I send it off, they send me back edits, I make edits. The notion of re-writing a whole book from scratch would kill me. I get that there are people that need to do that, but I guess I'm not one of them.

#1: excellent advice.

#2: I do kinda hope that someday you get to the Grandmother's House part, but even that little scrap kinda rocks.

#3: I also kinda hope that you write down all the little snippets so that, someday, you can say, "The heck with it. If a 'there is no ending' worked for The Lady or the Tiger, I can have a book full of snippets!" I mean, yeah, the wail of "But where's the rest of it?!" wells up in my mind, but just the concept is kind of... wow.

I'd be totally into buying a book of snippets. Actually I think I've read collections of short stories that would qualify. There's definitely a market!

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Although I'm learning a lot about reader limitations and how those affect storytelling (more than age and genre and such). Some readers might feel Hemmingway's baby shoes is ideal at six words long; others only feel a story is complete when they learn how the baby died and where to send the flowers.

Besides, it's perfectly possible the little darling grew out of the shoes before getting a chance to wear them! Or had to wear orthotics during that stage. That question always bugged me about that story. Was it a comedy or a tragedy? Who knows?

In the same vein here are 10 Rules for Writing Fiction by various authors. There's also s lot of truth to Kipling's "There are nine and sixty ways of constructing tribal lays, And-every-single-one-of-them-is-right!" Whatever method works for the author for that opus is the right way.

Now however I have Little red Riding Hood on my brain. BTW have you seen this?


Oh goodness, that's hilarious. };)

Yeah, there's no one way to do any of this stuff. What there is… is a bunch of tricks and tools that have worked for some people. Not for everyone. But they worked for you, or me, or Steve, or Joe, or Laura, or someone, and maybe they'll work for you too.

There are skills involved, of course. Being able to just say "so what happens next?" and pull something halfway interesting out of your ass, that's not shamelessly derivative from the exact same thing everything else you come up with is derivative from. Being able to put words together well, being able to craft it all well and learning to throw away all those bits that just don't fit...

Me and Nick have something like the "deleted scenes" file for Absinthe. We call it "the RPG". There's enough background of this world that we would like to stick into the story, but we don't want it to bog down. And we both know this. But speculating about the world is fun, and just enough wild ideas make it in that we keep doing it. The rest? "Oh, we'll go into detail about that when we write the RPG sourcebook." Which we have absolutely no intention of putting together. Ever.

Maybe some of it will show up in the sequels. Maybe none of it will. Maybe we'll decide other things are more important than those sequels.

and the back of my head keeps telling me that sometime soon I have to sit down and weave some connective tissue for all the fragments of Drowning City…

'course, comics, you kind do have to start somewhere near the beginning. Unless you're willing to sit on a graphic novel for three to five years while it spirals out from a few bits in the center. Or at the end. P. Craig Russell's gorgeous adaptation of Stormbringer started with the last few pages, he said, then he drew the rest...

Thank you, this is very interesting. I think another thing I stumble over when I write original fiction (I do a ton of fanfic, that comes easily - perhaps because by definition it can't ever 'go anywhere' or become anything serious like published) is the vague idea of 'OMG, this could turn into a Book, which I might want to send in to a Publisher, and EEEK'. Then I freeze up over every sentence and if it's Good Enough and the story just grinds to a halt. I really need to work on just getting the story out first, and seeing if it'll want to become a book afterward.

And I have a recycling folder for snippets and scenes and ideas that don't fit - sometimes they end up in something else completely, which is rather neat and very satisfying :-)

Excellent post; linking!

Also, you may just have caused me to try writing something fo'realz. I'll decide whether to bless or curse you on that account later, if I follow through with it!

I sent a link of this to my son, who in 1st through 3rd grade wrote elaborate, if barely legible stories about his 'babies', which were somewhat pokemon-like, but not really. Then he got from somewhere the idea that this was inferior, and he needed to have a story complete and polished in his head before putting anything down on paper, at which point he pretty well stopped writing except when when a class demands it. He's 15 now. And he loves Digger.

And I keep hoping he'll write again, 'cause I know the stories are still there in his head.

I went through a "damn my juvenilia is juvenile" phase between sixteen and eighteen, snapped out of it during a crazy con weekend, and am happily noveling away these days (okay, banging my head against the screen more often than not, but hey.) And I think it might have actually not been bad for my writing, in the long run, to sit on it for a while; the part that counts is that I stopped sitting on it and started doing again.

Mind if I add you, by the way? I'm a pre-med and Pagan, and the balance your profile describes trying to strike is becoming very central to my thoughts.


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