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How much of your plot do you work out prior to actually writing?

For me, I have a skeletal outline that I follow, but fill the rest of the gaps in as I go along.  Is that pretty much what we all do, or do we have a J. Michael Straczynski here who can do it all without so much as an outline?
 

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Funny I just posted such an answer only a few moments ago to Melanie about not working with an outline.  I thought I was some sort of freakie-deek for not having one, but my characters just seem to come alive after I get the premise for the book and then I seem to be following their lead rather than the opposite.  Of course, I usually have a final outcome in mind and my characters seem to vaguely agree with me that they will make my dreams come true, but getting there is sometimes quite frustrating.  I had the idea of killing off this one character in my first book in the series and eventually that did come to pass, but not before muchas aguas ran under the bridge.  (Pardon my bad Spanish... one of my characters is Italian and thinks he knows how to speak Spanish :-\)  Of course I don't know who that person is you cited in your post, but it is an interesting name.  I hope that working without an outline does not make me less of a writer.  I'm very sensitive and self-critical and could be crushed at any moment.  In answer to your question, no outline, vague ideas and gazing at the clear blue sky is what I use.  :D 
 

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My work has always been more character-driven than plot-driven. I spend lots of time 'getting to know' my characters (in fun writing exercises lol) before I start the actual writing. The plot comes from their resulting conflicts. It's probably a backwards way to go about it, but it works for me.
 

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I am not an author. I just write for fun when there's nothing else going on and when I can't work up the gumption required to draw.
I believe it was J.R.R. Tolkien who said that his tales "grew in the telling". That is how I write and it's always worked out well.
 

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rjkeller said:
My work has always been more character-driven than plot-driven. I spend lots of time 'getting to know' my characters (in fun writing exercises lol) before I start the actual writing. The plot comes from their resulting conflicts. It's probably a backwards way to go about it, but it works for me.
That's very similar to how I work. I tend to know my characters inside out before I start writing, and I have a strong idea what the story is about and how it will unfold, but I very rarely outline and I prefer to just write and see what happens.

I end up editing quite a bit of extraneous material and stage-direction type filler, but it's the way that works best for me.
 

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For me, it was almost automatic. Start at the beginning, move about meaningfully, end up where you started. Unconsciously, I was following the exact monomythic path of Joseph Campbell's 'Hero With A Thousand Faces,' which I read only recently.

CK

Should we move this over to the other Author thread? Just wondering.
 

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I prefer to use different writing techniques depending on the book that I am writing. For most of my writing life, I used the "meandering method". That's the phrase I use to describe making it up as you go along. It is perhaps the most liberating and sometimes rewarding way to write because you never know where your story is going to end up. Unfortunately, this method tends to prolong the writing process (for me at least) and also creates writer's block. When you make things up as you go along or rely on improvisation to tell your tale, you often end up creating a situation where you don't know what to do next. Writers who use outlines rarely face writer's block, because they have mapped out their stories long in advance. The downside to using outlines is that if you don't allow yourself to deviate from your outline you are likely to write a story that's rather tame and predictable ultimately taking all the drama out of your story.

Professional writers (or perhaps I should use the term "writers who work under contract", don't have the luxury to spend 14 years trying to figure things out as they go along as Tolkien did when he wrote The Lord of the Rings. These writers have to submit premises and outlines to their employer under strict time limits and thus end up with very structured stories. You'd be hard pressed to use Joseph Campbell's "The Hero's Journey" archetypal  story model if you don't use an outline. Unless you're keenly farsighted, you'll end up trapped in revisionist hell trying to sort things out without some kind of outline.

That's why I prefer to use an amalgamation of techniques when writing my stories. If one of my stories is heavily laden with dialogue, I'll generally write out the story like a screenplay and worry about exposition later. If a part of the story requires me to describe complicated action scenes, I'll outline these scenes so that I know what's going to happen in intricate detail.

I find that if I'm writing an epic story that takes place over the course of several books, it's best to create a story bible just like television writers do for their shows.

To sum it all up, I find that using different writing methods gives each story I write a unique personality and style. If I use one writing technique, I tend to fall into predictable patterns that sometimes stifle the creative process. But in the end, my advice would be for every writer to use whatever writing technique works best for them.   

 

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I usually don't us plots. My stories evolve from characters, events and situations. Even my whodunit mystery Turning Idolater, was written without a notion of a plot. In the 4th revision, when I new who the murderer was and the big twist (it was a surprise to me, and thus is always a surprise to my readers), I peppered the work with red-herrings to heighten the surprise. In m not so humble opinion, plots, like outlines ruin a book, stifle character development and flatten a story to a thin blurb in TV Guide.

Edward C. Patterson
 

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That's why we have Dickens and Virginia Woolf. Dickens believed a sentence should be as long as it should be and Woolf believed that a sentence was 200 words long and in want of commas only. I believe (and have practiced  this belief in several works, some 100 pages, others 700 pages), that story emerges, and readers experience it, while a plot is a choo choo train track, and a reader can recite it and find another one much like it at the next train station. No one is wrong here, but my style clings more to Dickens (finding what emerges and settling it revision) than Woolf (following the bread crumbs and allow them to overtake the art). Art then craft. Not craft then art.

Edward C. Patterson
Also know as Humphrey the Adamant
 

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edwpat said:
That's why we have Dickens and Virginia Woolf. [etc.]
Edward C. Patterson
Also know as Humphrey the Adamant
Mention has been made of 'skeletal outlines.' For me, the plot is the skeleton, and a shapely and symmetrical one will lead to a creation resembling Han Solo more than Jabba the Hutt. Some may prefer Jabba, which is their own affair. :D

Every author I've ever studied (lots of famous names like the ones you mentioned) tended to believe that craft came first. For what it's worth, I never cared for Woolf's novels; she dithers too much for my druthers there, although her essays are spot on.

I always thank my editor, a brilliant and merciless woman, for making my manuscript drop ten dress sizes.

As I said, time sorts it out. I've been blessed with good readers.

With malice toward none,

CK
 

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I start with characters (some I know well and others I do not) and a mental outline.

I liken what happens next to driving at night to a known destination. I know where I'm going, and I even know how to get there, but as I write, like driving at night, I have to concentrate hardest on what's immediately before me, in the headlights.

Eventually, I arrive, sometimes surprised at what has popped up along the way.


 

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I mention Woolf because I don't care for her either. Dickens, Melville, Austen, Twain and King are my bibles - all authors that ashewed outlines and plotting - art before craft. The craft part is for revisions. My novels drop several pants sizes duirng the revision period, which for me is anywhere between 4 and 8 revisions, and sometimes over three to six years. The fact that I'll have 22 novels out there over a 3 year period only means that the stew pots, which have been simmering and boiling for decades are finally ready for serving. The Academician took 37 years. nother year and it might have burned. The jade Owl dropped from 300,000 words to a neat 183,000 words. The latest entry in the series is a skinny 250,000 down from 480,000. Still I get complaints that Bobby's Trace is too short. ;D

Edward C. Patterson
Old codger with pen
 

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In a perfect world, I have an outline in my head. Then the monster comes out. He kind of looks like "Hungry" from the Weight Watchers commercials. He sits there on the corner of the desk and goes 'hah, you're going to write THAT?' So I bite, and I say, "what would you suggest?" And Hungry replies. "More sex."

 

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BrassMan said:
I liken what happens next to driving at night to a known destination. I know where I'm going, and I even know how to get there, but as I write, like driving at night, I have to concentrate hardest on what's immediately before me, in the headlights.
This statement applies to me too. My headlights tend to shine out about 2 or 3 chapters in advance. As I get toward the end of the third chapter, I start to get sweaty, and then suddenly, inexplicably (adverbaoverly) 3 or so more sequences come to mind which become the next few chapters. Then I plow through those.

Occasionally a skunk runs onto the dark road. When that happens, I have to decide whether to step on the gas and run him down or try to swerve and miss him, which leads to different paths.
 

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I should clarify my statement on Virginia Woolf, because she is unique. I love her use of language. It soars and sings and wings and waves and waffles. Its like reading a gorgeous clarinet solo over a steady stream of marsh wind. Her description of sounds on the street as they gather into a swell of gossip, is perfection. BUT, that being said, her lovely turn of phrase usually puts me to sleep. Her work is enjoyable and her greatness is undeniable. However, I cannot use her as a model for novel structure or even character development, which is my main suit (or at least my readers and reviewers tell me that). Virginia Woolf needs no defending. I mean, look at how many readers detract my main mentor, Stephen King, and yet there are some novels he penned with a big scribble marker or his heavy branding iron.

Edward C. Patterson
A pissy, hissy opinionated sissy, but always a reader's advocate
 

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edwpat said:
My novels drop several pants sizes duirng the revision period, which for me is anywhere between 4 and 8 revisions, and sometimes over three to six years....The jade Owl dropped from 300,000 words to a neat 183,000 words. The latest entry in the series is a skinny 250,000 down from 480,000. Still I get complaints that Bobby's Trace is too short. ;D

Edward C. Patterson
Old codger with pen
A successful book is not made of what is in it, but what is left out of it.
- Mark Twain in a Letter to H. H. Rogers, 5/1897

CK
 

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look at how many readers detract my main mentor, Stephen King, and yet there are some novels he penned with a big scribble marker or his heavy branding iron.
I think it's much too fashionable to malign Stephen King. He ain't perfect, that's for sure, but he's written a lot of brilliant stuff. And I'm not just saying that because I'm from Maine.
 
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