Most of my writing happens on the computer. That’s the way it’s been ever since I started. Word served me well for over a decade, but for the past couple of years, I’ve been experimenting with different software. I was curious if my beloved Word was really the best and only tool I needed. The experiment is terrible as far as producing drafts. However, it has been an enlightening reflection on my process.
I am a planner. I like to know where the story is going before I start writing. Depending on length, these notes can be extremely detailed. Sometimes, I go so far as to write out scenes in script form to nail down the dialogue before I start adding in the narration.
However, I plan with the full knowledge that my notes aren’t rules. They’re guidelines. I intentionally leave holes where I can insert new characters and new scenes as I write the first draft. When I started my latest novella this past April, I didn’t plan to have a character named Sergei. But now he’s the Russian grandfather my main character never had.
I’m a plot-oriented writer, meaning that is the aspect of the story I address first and spend the most time perfecting. It’s what I consider the most important ingredient.
Now don’t get me wrong. Characters are vital. Setting is vital. Being aware of your story’s message or theme is essential. However, in its basest, simplest form, a story is an account of a sequence of events – a plot. To neglect your plot is to neglect what makes your story a story. I firmly believe that characters are the most interesting when they’re doing something, and a location is the most interesting when something happens within or to it.
Because of those last two points, all I absolutely need to write is a plot sketch and a cast list. For novels and series, a gazetter and other world-building notes become necessary. The last three are really just so I don’t lose track of people and places and to keep things consistent.
I used to make outlines, either in a Word document or in a Powerpoint presentation. But then I realized that my bullet points were never a phrase or one sentence. They were entire paragraphs – paragraphs so long that they should have been broken up into multiple paragraphs.
When I started this experiment with my writing workflow, I stopped making outlines and instead “thought on paper”, describing the plot in sentences and paragraphs. Now I could spend a page or so going into detail on that one pivotal scene without my notes looking awkward. Coincidentally, the sentence-paragraph form has forced me to come up with ideas on how to fill up otherwise dead space. For example, a bullet point that might have read…
Heroes hike up mountain to find giants
…now reads more like this:
The three heroes get up bright and early to begin their hike up the mountain. Along the way, they trade bits of stories about giants. All of them paint the race in a bad light.
Every writer has their own process. What’s yours? Are you a planner? Or do you write by the seat of your pants? What do you need before you write that first draft? Let me know in the comments below.