I’ve touched on this topic before on several occasions, but I really do get a lot of questions on it. Now that I’ve been dealing with a few issues of my own when it comes to finishing stories, I have a bit more to add on what’s helped me.
As you will notice, most of this is centred around planning. As I discuss my points, I hope you’ll see why:
1) Plan your plot
I feel I may have wrongly downplayed the importance of a good plan in previous posts. It is true I don’t like planning every minute detail of my story before I write it because I don’t want to inhibit any sudden bursts of plot twist inspiration that may grip me as I work through the story.
I assume all of you have read TGM, so I’ll use that as my example. In my original plan, Theo wasn’t going to come back, Anka never existed, and Helen was going to die somewhere in the end of Vol II. This was written in my ‘general plan’ when I first started TGM.
As I worked through it, however, I felt that her death wasn’t quite right and didn’t fit with Sirius’ character from the books (he was bitter, but not the right kind for someone whose ‘love of his life’ was murdered. As I reached closer to Helen’s scheduled death, I took some time out from writing and re-evaluated where I wanted the story to go. I slept on it, and the next morning I suddenly remembered Theo and was struck with the concept of her marrying him and everything that followed. As soon as I got up, I planned the rest of the story, which largely adhered to the revised plan.
Many of you probably think Theo was planned. What I’m trying to say is that characters you might add as ‘fillers’- like Theo, on revision, could end up playing quite a big role who add another dimension to your story, which will always begin in a rather 2D manner. There is one such character in Stained Glass. Initially, she had such a minimal role (those of you who read the first draft will probably notice this). Upon re-writing the story, I was struck by an idea which, again, added another thread to the plot line and changed the story quite significantly.
So don’t feel your story plan is a sentence. You don’t have to stick to it absolutely and, if you are struck with inspiration, GO WITH IT. Sometimes I’ve deleted scenes when I feel they’re taking the story in a bad direction or that my idea was a bit too extreme but, mostly, these whims are good.
Having said that, a plan is crucial because, if you have no idea where you’re going, it’s very difficult to carry on writing. I know, because I’ve got countless unplanned stories where I thought up a concept I like, didn’t other planning it properly, and started writing a chapter aimlessly. None of them have ever come close to completion.
The only stories I’ve ever written that have been completed are those that I’ve planned (quite extensively).
I like to have a few plans. One is a timeline of the plot with months and dates. You don’t have to include these dates in the body of your writing, but it’s useful for you, as the author, to have a timeline of your characters’ lives.
Next, I like to have a chapter-by- chapter plan where I jot down the main points I want to explore in each chapter. These are usually the vital points I need to cover for the sake of the plot -
i.e. (actual ‘chapter plan’ from a recent WbaP chapter)-
- Full Selene/Alphard explanation.
o Al angry, blames death of mother on her, says he could never trust her gets angry
o S doesn’t understand why he’s so angry- asks if it’s about kids
o Ends worse than ever.
- Distraught, S goes to orphanage and decides she won’t have a man. She’ll adopt the girl alone and live happily. She does. As they are walking out of the orphanage, they are surrounded by Death Eaters who come to torture other muggles while Tom kills girl
- When T sees S, suddenly falters. S & T have very big mind conversation where S tells him he owes her this one girl and to spare them both. In front of the DE, T is torn. He says he’ll have to duel S to make it look convincing, but will give her & girl a chance to escape.
- While S & T are duelling, a DE kills the girl. T sees it first and tries to stop the DE before it happens, but it’s too late. S goes crazy and T has no choice but to either kill her, or capture her to ‘torture her for information’
If you’ve read the chapter this comes from, you’ll see I covered most of the points. What I almost never plan are scenes that are ‘fillers’, or comedic. I feel comedy should be something quite natural and if you plan it too much it makes it too serious. In such instances, I like to let myself go a bit and see where the scene takes me.
2) Plan your characters
And I mean REALLY plan them. No matter how much you plan them, they still won’t be so real to you until you really get into your story. Nonetheless, the more you know your character, the easier it is to write them- because you then have a clearer idea of who they are, and their voice carries strongly through your narrative. You don’t want to have several characters in your story who all have the same voice. The more distinctive your characters, the better.
Things to include in your character plan are birth dates, death dates (if applicable), appearance, talents and flaws, and personality. Compare them to characters from other novels/movies if you like regarding certain aspects (but not all, because you don’t want this character to be a copy of another’s, but your own).
Basically, form your character into a person. As a writer, think of your characters as real people. (But, as a person living in a society where psychiatric wards exist, refer to them as simply being ‘characters’!)
3) Put your story online
A few of you have expressed concerns about not being able to get published should you put your (original) story out there. Having spoken to other published authors on the matter, and even a few publishers… I can tell you not to concern yourself with that.
Many people read fanfiction online. Very few people read original fiction online and, if they do and you have a good response to your story… then that’s only going to work in your favour when it comes to getting an agent/publisher. If you can show them that your story is relatively popular and that there are people out there who are following your writing and loving your works, then they’re going to feel much more confident in signing you on than your being an unknown with a manuscript they like, but aren’t entirely confident will sell (and you never can be when it comes to publishing).
So I hope that’s answered qualms about the ‘publishing’ after publishing online issue. Honestly, it’s very easy to take a story off a website should you ever strike a deal.
Now, I think writing online is great because it gives you encouragement and criticism as you go. Also, if you’ve got a few people who are reading your work and expecting a new chapter, it can be a good incentive to keep writing. If no one is expecting a new chapter and you’re not feeling particularly inclined to write at the time… then your chances of finishing that story start to decline.
Obviously the flipside is that you might encounter negative comments which can also get you down and have the opposite effect of encouraging. Hopefully, your readers will offer you an actual reason for why they’re not enjoying a particular aspect of your writing. If many of them are saying the same thing, then they probably have a point and you should seriously consider having another look at that chapter/re-think where your story is headed. If it’s only one person’s opinion, take it on board, try to objectively see if you agree with them and whether you could change that aspect for the better. If so… that little sting of criticism might have done more good than harm in the long run!
Another little note people always mention about me is this- answer your readers! They’ve not only taken the time to leave you a review, but to read your work. For them to do that, they must have some kind of interest in you and your work… which is not only very flattering, but rewarding for you as a writer. There is nothing more inspirational and fun than discussing your own story and characters.
4) GET IN THAT ROOM!
I have to admit I never used to have any issues with writing until this year. For the previous 3 years, it would be a huge effort to LEAVE my computer and my characters. I was well and truly enamoured with writing and a day never went past without my writing quite a significant amount.
This year, however, the honey-moon period with writing seems to have faded a little. I’m not ashamed to admit it. It’s much like anything involving obsessive love- whether it involve a man, or another hobby. Eventually, that blind love disappears and you have to learn to love it even on days when you’re feeling a bit indifferent to it.
Very recently (i.e. the past few days) I’ve found myself writing a lot again. The only thing I can attribute this to is my spending significantly less time on Ask Anya where I finally put my foot down and decided to stop taking relationship questions.
It’s very easy to let distractions get in the way of your writing, which usually involves a computer. Sometimes life itself gets in the way- school, work, family, social commitments- and it’s important not to let these very ‘real’ aspects of life slide for the sake of writing.
But then there are some not-so-vital or necessary things we might let get in the way- like online sites such as Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr etc… which are all well and fun, but largely useless. Or maybe you watch too many movies or tv shows. I’ve been through that too. (If you really feel like watching a film, make sure you watch it on your tv, not computer. That way you can do a bit of writing with the tv on in the background… though it’s not ideal as you’re not completely involved in the scene).
Basically, you just need to get in your room (preferably away from family and friends) and start. Starting is always the hardest part of writing. Most people find that once they get into a scene, it flows very naturally and actually becomes enjoyable again… but you have to have the discipline to get yourself through that painful starting process to reach that stage.
I think those are my main points. There are only four, but I think they’re the most important… because, after you get in that room and are on that word document, if you’ve got a really good plan and know your characters well, writing is pretty easy. And it really is if you’ve put in the planning groundwork- so don’t overthink or overanalyse how to do it. It should flow through you naturally by this stage. Kind of like ‘connecting the dots’ … and that’s when it becomes really enjoyable and rewarding.
Hope that was useful!