A few days back I was asked by someone how I make up stories. It was funny because the asker was an artist and sculpture himself, and obviously has a creative process that is as alien to me as mine is to him. I didn’t quite know how to answer him, so I said, “I just make it up as I go along.”
That is is partly the truth, but it got me thinking.
Making up a story can be complicated even when you’ve got a cracker of an idea simmering in your head. I know a lot of writers who have very structured processes—some make chapter outlines, others have cue cards and flash cards, and recently I came across this nine-box method for plotting your book that I’m dying to try out (even though I know it won’t work for me). Many writers start from page/chapter 1 and write sequentially to the end.
The scatterbrain method
My preferred way of writing is to start with a triggering event, not necessarily the beginning of the book, and then work around it. I find this works for me because this event or idea is what I’m most enthused about and a collection adrenaline-fuelled fits of writing usually produces satisfying results. In the Shadow in Eternity/Maya books, I worked by writing the major twists and triggers first and then filling in the bits in between. In fact, I wrote the ending to all three books a long time before I’d finished the rest.
The major disadvantage of this “scatterbrain method” is that I often feel my beginnings are weak. This is the case in There’s a Ghost in My PC. There is a way around it—and that is to pretend the book is a short story and you need a hook in the first sentence. (This isn’t rocket science, but it clearly didn’t work in Ghost…!).
The other disadvantage of my method of writing is that I hit roadblocks very easily since the plot isn’t mapped from one step to another. This is what’s happening in Amazing Grace, a sequel to the Shadow…/Maya series, mainly because it’s been a work in progress for almost five years now. (And yes, I have the ending written out already.)
Technically speaking, “making it up as you go along” is really the main trick to writing fiction, but it’s easier said than done. The constraints of your world (especially in fantasy) and your characters can be limiting factors. Ultimately, it’s all really about putting your head down and doing it.
And switching off the Internet works wonders for my productivity at least.