A little while back on BookLikes, I promised to do something of a series of posts on my writing process and methods which I use to influence/enhance that process as I move along. This series is going to be equal parts reflection on my part and instruction, but I'll try to break it up into digestible sections so if there's a section you guys want to skip to or is more relevant to you, you can do so. But if you read it in any capacity, I salute you.
Starting Points: The What-Ifs and Brainstorming
First and foremost, many people may ask: "How do you get your ideas for writing story?" and "How do you start planning for it?" Two separate questions with a multitude of answers, because no writer has the exact same process they come up with ideas or even how they go about the process of planning/writing it.
For me - this has no easy answer, because all of my projects end up being sourced from different influences. My ideas come to me based on the things I read about - in fiction and real life, the media I consume, the dreams I have - things that somehow "spark" my interest. So, for anyone who's looking for things to write about - read, write, watch, learn, consume - be receptive to ideas that come from around and within you. Do things that feed your well for creativity and ideas. Look for disparate elements that don't seem like they go together, look for things that are unusual, interesting, things that make you go "Hmmm." You could even build stories using common ideas as well, but to make it interesting, you have to insert another element to it - something that makes the matter stand out. It's no fun to do what ten billion other people have done, unless you add something to it that makes it stand out among the crowd.
I then try to shape that interest in the form of a "what if" question to capture the intrigue.
"What if a time traveling serial killer targeted a boy in the present day who inadvertently thwarted the villain's plans to change history? What if the boy himself was also from a distant point in the future, living in the present day while his father conducted research in another time and it would endanger his family if anyone knew his secret?"
"What if the search a boy takes to find his 'stolen' family ends up with him in the crosshairs of an assassin and soldiers sent by the society he thought he escaped?"
"What if a girl learned her teacher was taken over by a mutant spider from another dimension...and she has severe arachnophobia?"
"What if every time a teenage Georgy Porgy kissed a girl, it killed him and the only way he could be brought back to life is if he were kissed again? How long would it take for him to get to a point where he wouldn't be able to be brought back?"
(I've written all of these stories, btw, so they are actual "what if" questions I've used in the past.)
From then on, it's a matter of brainstorming different scenes. Sometimes they come to me in snapshots that I'll write down because they excite me. Othertimes, they play out like movies that I'd see in my mind's eye. I'd see just about every major plot point, character, and interaction the story's to have, only have to transcribe it as I go along.
It's weird, but my process following my initial "What if" question always varies depending on the story that's being told. The more complex the story, the more likely I am to outline it. The lighter the story elements, the more likely I am to discovery write.
I consider myself both an outliner and discovery writer (or pantser) - for me, it really depends on the project and how detailed I want it to be.
I take time to brainstorm the elements of my story: the plot, the characters, the locations. I always build (before or after I work on a narrative) what some call a "Story Bible" - which really helps whether you're planning a series (ESPECIALLY if you're planning a series) or a stand-alone novel. I may craft a post on story bibles later on just to show how I make one, but I'm only making mention of the kinds of things I do to help myself brainstorm and build the realm and scenario I plan to write.
Then it's just a matter of determining the process of how I'm going to write the work.
I tend to search for different ways to help build the momentum of me telling a certain story. I'm going to go through just some of the methods I use to help me "put the pen to the page." (In citing that, I'm reminded of the song I penned as a part of my review for "The Goodreads Killer" a while back, but that's a tangent I won't get into.)
This is sometimes the very first thing I'll do if I have a certain idea in my head. I'll write the scenario or "spark" scene that comes from my head. I'll feel out the characters, the conflict, the setting - it may not be completely vetted out, but it's a story seedling that I'll cultivate and grow into the larger plotline (or a part of it) in future terms.
This helps me because I tend to have trouble writing endings, but YMMV. It's a fun exercise though. If you already know what your ending of the novel's going to be, you can start writing the climax and the point where the tensions of the novel get really high, and that can excite you for being able to write how the story transpires through the rest. Of course, this is tricky because your ending might amend slightly as you're going along, and you may end up telling certain details where you'll have to go back and show them when you're editing once you're done. I'll explain this in a separate post about "writing backwards."
"Every Story Starts with a Sentence"
This is a method I use if I find myself taking a certain story seed I have and "growing" it into something fuller. I may have a sentence like this:
Jordan decides to go to the store.
And while it's bare bones, it can grow into something much larger. Because you have the who (Jordan), you have the motivation (his decision) and destination (the store.) But then you're tempted to ask the questions of who, what, when, where, why and how?
I can create a scenario just from this sentence alone. Wanna see?
Who: Let's say Jordan's a 19-year old college student. Dark hair, green eyes, not quite six feet, lean build. Plays Ultimate Frisbee on the weekends with his dorm mates. In Pharmacy School at his Uni. Mostly broke, though his job as a recreational attendant in the Student Union helps give him a little cash. You know, things that define the character you want in the scenario. You can create details as you're going along and based on the image you draw in mind.
What? Why? He's gotta go to the store for some reason. Maybe his roommate's like "Hey Jordan! We're out of soda/beer/milk/water! Move your ass to the C-Store and pick us up some. It's your turn!" Jordan's probably not happy about being his dorm mate's lap dog, but out of kindness (or maybe he's afraid of getting his butt handed to him), he does it anyway.
So establish what's going on and the motivations behind your character's respective actions.
When? Where? Middle of the day, Jordan's leaving his dorm room on campus. This is where you can determine setting and proximity to the goal that Jordan has. Maybe the C-store is on the other end of campus. Maybe it's raining outside and Jordan has to take the bus just to pick up a few things because for some reason, he doesn't have his car on campus or he's being conservative and not wasting his own expense on gas for the trek. Don't be afraid to make up details that create barriers or structure to what your character experiences in their environment, or even provide additional motivations.
How? This is where you can write the story. A sentence becomes a scene, a scene becomes a series, which builds a chapter. And a chapter can build into a series of chapters which builds the story you're trying to tell.
See how quick that is? I do this with my story building all the time, and I'll end up building a whole story from just that element - that sentence. It's all in the details. =)
I will sometimes take five minute timed sessions to imagine the scene (or series of scenes) in my head. I treat it like a meditation. Detail by detail. I'm a visualizer, so I will see things in my head a lot more vividly than others who may have different learning styles (and yeah, this would be a good time to evaluate what kind of learner you are or what gets your writer buzz going. The answer may surprise you.)
It's really easy for me to do this if the story or certain scenes of it are so vivid that they keep coming back to me. Then I just write them down.
Building a Soundtrack
I do this a lot with my novels, to establish mood and help with visualization and themes in the stories I write. Plus, it's just a lot of fun. I will usually do this before or during the early stages of writing, and I'll play songs on loop for certain scenes as I'm writing them to help with the emotional intensity or vetting of that scene.
I think those are the most common things I use in helping me put the pen to the page when I'm writing (or pounding out my words on a keyboard). I'll have more to offer in the next installation of this particular series on my process.