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message 1: by Andrew (new)

Andrew Chamberlain (andychamberlain) | 272 comments Mod
Hi Andrew.

I am an aspiring writer. I feel like I understand the elements of story quite well; the importance of writing believable characters with integrity, conflict in a story, and many other elements that are considered integral to story.

I seem to fall flat when it comes time to put all of it together. I know I sit somewhere in between a 'planner' and a 'pantser', but I feel as though I have never found the right pre writing structure that works for me. I have the ideas in my head, I can get general ideas down on paper, then I hit a brick wall.

Have you experienced anything like this in your career? Any input, advice, commentary, etc would be welcome. Regardless, thank you for the podcast, and keep up the good work!



Thanks for your email.

There are four steps I recommend you go through, I've described them here in order, and I recommend you follow them in this order, but you might find some more useful than others.

First, I recommend you try the 3 synopses exercise, which is a headache inducing but often produces excellent results. In this exercise you have to do the following:

- Write a 15 word synopsis of your story
- Write a 50 word synopsis of your story
- Write 300 words / 3 paragraphs synopsis of your story.

For added headbangingness (no that's not a word, but you know what I mean) when you do your 15 word synopsis, ask yourself the question "What is my story really about". This is the creative writing equivalent of a multiheaded monster disguised as a cuddly rabbit. When you come up with your first answer to this question you have to then ask the same question again, and again, and you keep asking it until you really know what the story is about.

Second, to give your synopses some structure, try to translate your story into the six stage model that I use for stories. This model works for stories in any genre (I am not sure what genre you write in) but if you have an idea for a story in mind, see if you can fit it into these six stages:

1. Stage one is the start, where you grab the reader and set the context for your story.

2. Stage two is the inciting incident – there’s a huge amount has been said about the inciting incident, how it works, what it is. Basically this is the point at which the story really gets going, and we’re going to explore this more fully in the next episode. This, like stage 4 is a 'moment' in the story.

3. Stage three is rising action or momentum of the story (sometimes this stage is called the rising action of the story) – stories are often represented diagrammatically as a hill – and this is you climbing that hill, and you need momentum to climb a hill, you need energy!

4. Stage four is the crisis. It’s inevitable that we would get here. It had to happen. This is not the big fight, it’s not the climax – that comes next. This is the inevitable point that the momentum of the story must reach, it’s like the tipping point before the climax where everything must be resolved, one way or the other. Again, like stage 2 this is a moment in the story.

5. Stage five is the Climax – the battle – although it by no means has to be a physical battle, in fact there can be no violence at all. This is the point where the crisis of the story is resolved.

6. Finally we have the resolution, or falling action which is the consequences of the outcome of the climax, and then the close of the story. I put this resolution and the close together because I think they are part of a whole, they are together.
See if you can fit your story into these stages.

From there you can start to flesh out the story, especially stage three, which is usually the largest part of the story, and I'll be giving this some particular attention in future episodes.

Which brings me to suggestion 3 - get yourself a packet of decent sized post it notes, some felt tip pens, different colours, and a clear vertical space - ideally a wall.

Write three headings on the post it notes and space them across the top of the wall, the headings are: characters, other stuff, and storyline. What you are going to focus on in this exercise is the storyline. Write brief descriptions of events in your story on the post it notes and start to put them on the wall. Try to start with the first and last event in your story.

You'll hopefully find that you soon need to move them around as elements in the story come to you randomly, that's fine. If you think of something to do with your characters write that on a post it note - different colours for different characters, and put them under the 'character' heading. If you get some ideas about setting or other stuff, put them under 'other stuff'.

What you should end up with is a bunch of post it notes which mark out the points in your story, plus a bunch of other ideas that crept in.

If you can't do this with your own work, do it with a book or film you've read / seen recently and see if you can get to the heart of the story. But you'll need to be able to do this with your story before you start it.

Finally, stage 4. Take a photo of your post it notes so you have a recording, before someone makes you take them down! Then use this to create a chapter and scene structure. So you are noting down the chapters and the scenes within them and writing maybe three or four lines on what happens at each scene. Again this will require some reshuffling, some bits you thought were chapters will shrink to a scene or nothing, other bits that you thought were minor might grow to two or three scenes, this is okay.

What you should be left with is a chapter and scene plan for your story.

As a general observation writers tend to be 'plot' people or 'character' people. This is not something I've explored in any great detail in the podcast yet, but basically what this means is that some people enjoy putting the plot, and the storyline, together, other people are taken with characters. If you prefer characters, then this might explain why you are struggling to pull a story together. It's not enough to have a collection of engaging characters, they need to have motives and objectives, something to strive for, and something to oppose them.



message 2: by Meaghan (new)

Meaghan | 16 comments Thank you Andy for these great exercises and ideas!
I have definitely followed these steps at different times (though instead of sticky notes I use whiteboards, mind maps, or charts on the computer). I have definitely done and re-done my version of the sticky notes many times while working through my story.
One thing I've found useful when I feel like I've done some planning, have some ideas, but still feel stuck with the overall story or where to go next is to pick a scene I feel invested in, that I can really picture in my head, write a brief intro (if I haven't actually written the part that comes before it) and then just start writing. This is where 'pantsing' can really help with the planning. Write the scenes you know about - maybe the inciting event, maybe the end, maybe the major conflict, maybe one tiny interaction that you don't know where to put yet. I have found that just writing it out frees up my mind from having to keep track of what I've already decided and triggers lots of ideas of what needs to come before and after or who my characters really are. As these ideas come to you, add them to your sticky wall and keep going. When you finish that scene (first draft only, no editing required) go back to the planning wall and see if the new ideas help organize the rest a bit.
Hope this helps.

message 3: by Andrew (new)

Andrew Chamberlain (andychamberlain) | 272 comments Mod
That's a useful exercise Meaghan, and I especially like the way this allows a bit of 'pantsing' in amongst all of the planning.

Thanks for sharing this with us


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