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This quote from David Morrell got me thinking:

 

"An idea for a story has taken control of you, and you're eager to put it on the page.  What happens next?  I've heard of (a) few occasions in which a story came to a writer perfectly formed.  Most of the tie, your idea needs to be focused.  You need to make decisions about characters, setting, viewpoint, and so on."

 

Is it really true that sometimes an idea comes to a writer fully formed?  Do you have to plot out something before you write it down?  Or are you like me- you don't have a clue about what you're writing about until you sit down at the computer and actually write?

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Lately I don't have a clue about anything I'm doing. So I just do what I can and work it out from there. 

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I sometimes plot a few scenes ahead of where I'm writing. Other times, I just write :D 

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I generally start with a loose idea, maybe a few scenes that are fully formed. After a while it tends to start taking shape by itself, but I do need to make some conscious decisions as described in the quote shared. 

 

Interestingly, though, I do have to write the story to discover what it's really about, as in what the theme or takeaway is. 

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Really, a few scenes fully formed?  That must be nice!  But I like what you say about having to write the story to discover what it's all about.

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I'm a plotter and not a pantser. I tried starting out as a pantser because that was the only thing I knew. Then, I read a few craft books (best one was Anatomy of Story by Truby) and that really solidified me as a plotter.

 

I much prefer to architect out everything ahead of time before I start writing too much. So, I'm writing stuff down and bits and pieces of dialogue and such, but I'm not really getting going until I've figured out a bunch of rather cool stuff about the characters like their weaknesses and motivations, how they'll change by the end of the book, what roles they play in the story structure, etc.

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I usually have a solid idea before I begin to write. This is not to say that I have plotted it out (sorry, Johne), but I have some details in mind. I had a story about a white pony working around in my head for months before I figured out how to make it work. Most of my stories (usually short) just start with a basic concept and go from there.

 

In other words, I'm a pantser (not a panther, as the spell checker suggested).

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54 minutes ago, carolinamtne said:

I usually have a solid idea before I begin to write. This is not to say that I have plotted it out (sorry, Johne), but I have some details in mind.

 

That's the way it is with me, Carolina.

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I'd say I'm a plantser, but only because so many stories went down rabbit trails that I couldn't write my way out of. I write a first scene and a last scene, then I start mapping out the steps I need to get from one to the other in that lovely curve called a three-act structure.

 

 

 

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14 hours ago, EClayRowe said:

in that lovely curve called a three-act structure

My early struggles with plotting improved dramatically when I learned the three-act and four-act structures. I start with a few chaotics ideas, often a premise and maybe an ending. Then I write down the formal structure as an outline and fill in the blanks for the major inciting incident, some reversals and disasters, a climax, a few twists, and voila, I have a loose story outline. I try not to make the outline too tight, because then I lose the surprise that comes with discovering what makes my characters tick.

 

Once I have a loose outline, I brainstorm (using an Index Card app on my iPad) and come up with ideas, sorting them into order according to the outline. 

 

I used to skip around in my writing, opening scene, then the closing scenes, then a few in the middle. Now I mostly write the story straight, beginning to end. If I get ideas for later scenes, I sketch them out in the outline, but don't write them. Then at the end I will add in a few extra scenes scattered throughout for side plots.

 

One benefit of writing straight through is that if I decide a change in direction is needed, I have less to throw away and rewrite. In one fantasy novel, I decided at midpoint that the heroine should lose her murder trial, not win as my original plot dictated. It heightened the drama, raised the stakes, exposed a critical character flaw and because it took me by surprise, might also take the reader by surprise. 

 

I also like to play with who the villain is. In one book, I went through five choices for the main, secret villain. I wrote each of the five characters as if they were the villain and only unmasked the true villain near the end. One candidate was flawed but heroic. Another was villainous, but merely a puppet. By leaving it ambiguous, events that in reality were beneficial to the good people of my story at first appeared catastrophes because the "wrong" person won an election. This effect is difficult if you bake in your climax from the beginning by writing it.

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On 5/7/2020 at 8:24 AM, paulchernoch said:

I used to skip around in my writing, opening scene, then the closing scenes, then a few in the middle.

I tried that once, until I discovered that I kept putting in the middle, scenes that referred to later scenes as though they had already happened. (Grammatically, no commas, but for clarification, I'm putting one after "in the middle".)

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On 5/6/2020 at 12:01 PM, suspensewriter said:

 

Is it really true that sometimes an idea comes to a writer fully formed?

 

I'd say "no."

On 5/6/2020 at 12:01 PM, suspensewriter said:

Do you have to plot out something before you write it down?

 

I think that's for the perpetually organized.

 

I find that, even when I'm writing code, I'm working with what I'm writing like a sculptor does clay or stone.  Sometimes the end product is already there, but you need to work with it until you get what you want in the end.

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Well, "Frankenstein" by Mary Shelly came to her fully formed.  And I've heard of other writers who had an idea fully formed, too.  Usually, it came to them in an unusually vivid dream.

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Coming late to the party, but here's my penny's worth.

 

I get chunks of a story come to me fully formed and other parts I have to chase around like one does a rabbit. ( and they are hard to catch.)  

 

I have just written the last chapter of part 1 of my WIP and it has taken two weeks and several rewrites to nail the ending scene. The 1st chapter and the end-of-the-book chapter came quickly and more or less got written as I imagined them.

It is the same for characters - some easy, some hard to develop fully.

 

 

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Sometimes I'd say the general plots of stories come to me fully formed, but in writing it, I just sit down and start writing whatever comes to mind. It's like the skeleton of the story just appears before me, and I have to dress it with muscles, sinew, skin and clothing (hope that's not too graphic an analogy). The strangest thing about it is that when the plots come to me, it always comes when I'm dreaming.

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Really?  Dreaming seems to play a bigger role in writing than has been talked about.  Thanks a lot for bringing that out, Jared.

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4 minutes ago, Jared Williams said:

I have to dress it with muscles, sinew, skin and clothing

 

I like that analogy.

 

I have written many a good scene/ got a good plot whilst doing some different only to lose to when I get pen and paper together. However, I have learnt the great stuff resurfaces later on. All is not lost.

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My last two stories were inspired by historical accounts. I ran across a bit of history that fascinated me, and then started playing around with characters and a plot idea. I'd call myself a plotter as I like to envision the story from start to finish before I really dig into the scenes, but once I outline and start going one scene at a time, I often rabbit trail from my original plan. So my finished product often only has elements of my original vision. And once I have a draft, I become a compulsive rewriter, and can end up spending years on one manuscript. (Which is a shame.)

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