On Writing: Mapping Out a Story

“The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”

 –  Sylvia Plath

 

Starting a novel.

It really isn’t difficult. Writing a book isn’t hard…it’s writing a good book that’s the kicker.

But here’s something I keep in mind: if you’re writing this for yourself, then it doesn’t matter if it’s terrible. And even if you’re writing to impress and become the most awesome kid in the school (good luck with that one) or maybe, just maybe, get published…well, in that case, revision exists for a reason. As someone who’s been revising their own manuscript for close to four years, I can say you won’t be able to escape it, no matter how perfect you think you can make it the first time around.

But I’m getting off topic. So, you have a story and you want to turn it into a novel. Whatever shall you do?

Of course, there’s no right or wrong way to do it. That being said, I can tell you what I usually do: I generally open up a word document and make a bulleted list of everything I know about the story from my head. Who’s the protagonist? What do they want? How do we first meet them, and what happens from there?

And for the record, no, this isn’t really outlining. Not unless you put it in the roman numeral form with the hanging indents. Which, I always do…but after I make the bullet list. The list is just a dump so you can empty your brain before playing around with the contents.

After the list is finished, I open two new documents: one being called “Untitled, Character Outlines” and “Untitled, Plot Outline.”

And then I start to piece it together. I spill everything I know about the characters and everything I want for them. That means appearance, personality, abilities, backstory, etc. (I promise my next post on writing will talk about character creation and development).

As for the plot outline, I usually get to that once I’m done with rough outlines of my characters. Because once I have them, I can start putting them together in a story.

If I still have no clue about plot details—just a vague overview—I’ll keep it in bullet form and worry about breaking it down into individual chapters later. But eventually, I always do, because I’ve found I can’t write a book if I don’t have a clear vision of where it’s going.

 

Another perfect example of where I may be horrifically wrong, or maybe you just want to do it differently. There really isn’t a best way…Stephen King is famous for not outlining beforehand. As he said in his fantastic memoir, On Writing, he prefers to develop strong characters right off the bat. He then sets them all up in an opening chapter and lets them “write the story for him,” in that he gets inside their minds and decides what they would do next to make the plot happen.

On the other hand, J.K. Rowling had the epilogue scene of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows written up, polished and tucked safely in a folder before Book One even hit shelves in 1997. According to her, it stayed there for ten years and was put into the final story with minimal editing. So, it’s up to you to decide how much of your book you want to map out beforehand.

One more thing: I think it would be unfair not to address anyone interested in writing a series, as I myself want to.

What I’ve heard most literary agents and publishers recommend is this: have a vague outline drawn up for future novels, but only focus your energy on writing and developing the first one. Because if that one is terrible, it won’t sell, and the world won’t get to read the rest of your series, which happens to turn amazing at book three of six.

But, publishers and agents are an entirely different topic, and one I’m not particularly well-versed in. So enough for now.

Well, that’s a solid intro, at least. I think that’s about all I have to say concerning the point at which you come up with a story to the point where you have it all outlined chapter by chapter, ready to turn it into a book.

 

No, that might not seem like much.

But it is. Even J.K. Rowling had to start somewhere.

Of course, if you want to write me off as a rambling idiot, that’s fine too. I’m not published, after all, as I’ve so persistently reminded you. But we all have to be stupid somewhere, and to me a blog seems as good a place as any.

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