Other than “Where do you get your ideas from?”, the next most asked question to aspiring writers is often, ”How do you do it?”
“How long have you got?” pops its head up again here.
American commentators have categorized a dichotomy that, in my view, is quite accurate. You are either a PANTSER or a PLOTTER.
A Pantser writes by the seat of their pants i.e. randomly, and a Plotter creates a plot or plan of the story and then writes to that plan/plot.
Sometimes it’s a hybrid.
I started out as a Pantser courtesy of Kate Grenville’s THE WRITING BOOK. She proposes a solution to the question, “where to start?” called piling; making small ‘piles’ of story. Whether it be character studies, action pieces or conversations, write what’s in your head. Do this enough and eventually you’ll have sufficient piles to start stitching together the bones of a story. That narrative critical mass will then feed off itself. Hopefully!
As my stories evolved I found I gravitated towards more and more plotting. If I’m stuck, I’ll write randomly but it’s usually not long before an overall strategy intrudes. Can’t complain, it’s made getting the word count up a whole lot easier.
I’ve found that a multi-part story structure works for me; 7 parts generally.
From David Trottier, the Magnificent 7 Plot Points are:
Number One. The Back Story haunts the central character. Sometimes referred to as Introduction or Exposition. It sets up the characters and at least hints at the premise of the story.
Number Two. The Catalyst gets the character moving. It’s a further part of the story’s setup.
Number Three. The Big Event changes the character’s life.
Number Four. The Midpoint is the point of no return or a moment of deep motivation.
Number Five. The Crisis is the low point, or an event that forces the key decision that leads to your story’s end.
Number Six. The Climax or Showdown is the final face-off between your central character and the opposition.
Number Seven. The Realization occurs when your character and/or the audience sees that the character has changed or has realized something. Often called Denouement this is where you wrap up loose ends or drop breadcrumbs for future stories.
Regarding Number Four. James Scott Bell’s Write Your Novel From The Middle has been pivotal (yes, pun…) for me. His examples ring very true and when I checked my own work I found the stories fell into the patterns Bell describes. It was a very liberating experience and well worth the read.
The other aspect of story which arose early for me, was the balance between description and dialogue. I didn’t intend to do it but have found that I tell a story through dialogue more than the average. Or so it seems to me. There’s an inherent challenge in creating dynamism within dialogue that is my touchstone. If the conversation is not building tension in some way then I automatically step away and review it. I can be a very talkative introvert but sometimes I bore even myself, so … self-editing can be cruel but it is very necessary.
I’ve been complimented on my action scenes more than once. Where did that come from? Beats me, I just started doing it! It might have something to do with my history as an amateur gymnast and martial artist or it might just be a knack I have. Again, can’t complain and I look for opportunities to make that skill work. It has become a ‘beat’ for me, part of the rhythm of a story or a set of scenes. Jim Butcher does this very, very well and I enjoy reading it enormously.
Another touchstone for me, a conscious filter, if you will, is thematic content. Character development and esoteric information are the spices in my story stew. If I can’t get them in there then the story dies for me. Those aspects are the ENGAGEMENT mechanisms that I believe hook readers who share my broad interests and those who have similar sensibilities even if the specifics are new to them. Can’t remember where the advice came from but “… write what you would like to read,” remains a maxim.
I hope I haven’t bored you. If any of this helps, you’re welcome. I have benefited from the generosity of others so I hope to contribute in some small way also.