Recently, a friend (okay, it was Allison) asked which part of writing people get stuck on.
And the number one and two responses were planning and drafting.
You almost have to combine the first two items because without one you can’t really do the other.
At least, I can’t.
For example, authors might get stuck halfway through their story – but that’s because they didn’t have a good plan for where it was going to go.
By the same token, if you plan on every single detail, it starts did not seem very fun.
What I do, is I get in idea and I jot it down and throw it in a folder. Right now I have an idea for a small time drug dealer who decides to become big time and in doing so decides to grab the media spotlight and just become a sensation nationwide.
He’s charismatic, but his way of getting TV attention is just absolutely insane – killing people on live TV – but how could you NOT watch that? Even if you were outraged, you would have to tune in to see that it happened so you could be properly incensed.
Anyway, it started with a really outrageous idea. But that’s all it was. An idea. Maybe a paragraph.
So I threw it in a file and I went away.
I came back a few weeks or a month later when another idea came to me that I thought would go well with it. And then on the treadmill I had another one. Then mowing the lawn I had another one. They all went into the file and on a rainy Saturday I sat down and looked at the file and I said hey, this could be a story, and this could cause this and this and this…
Now I have an idea – the one I just related to you.
Is that enough for a story?
Well, my next step would be to list it all out. Kind of like I am here, but with a little more detail, but only in bullet points. This happens, then this next thing happens, then this other thing happens, on and on.
Like, in one scene he’s holding a gun to a hostage’s head and after he kills the man he says wow if we wanted to be terrorists we would do more of this or do it on a bigger scale or… what about on TV? What if we created a “game” where we pitted gangs against each other with live video feeds? Kill Club, we could call it…
His idea is, the headlines would take off and in doing so propel him to stardom.
Anyway, in order to tell somebody your idea, you do it like you’re telling them about a movie you just saw. In five minutes you explain everything that happened. So you don’t get into the color of the dress and every detail about how it was made and what kind of thread they used and how many whatevers, you just say she had a nice dress.
When you’re done you’ll have what I call a good outline. Something more than “beginning, middle, end” but less than something that has lots of details.
If you start writing it at that point, you will be able to finish the story
– but as you read it you’ll get other good ideas.
Some will fit and some will not.
Jot each one down and throw it in the file see where it fits in the outline. The ones that fit, you’re all set. The ones that don’t, they don’t.
Next in the outlining step,
I would list every plot point as a bullet point.
Some of them turned out to be combined with others to be one chapter and other ones get fleshed out bigger and become several chapters.
When I have what I would approximate to be 20 or 25 bullet points, then I know I can write the story.
Here’s the math: I estimate 3,000 word per chapter. More and readers can feel bogged down, less and readers feel it’s not substantial.
A novel is usually about 80,000 words. Mine are usually longer.
20 chapters at 3,000 words each is a 60k novel – pretty small, but I’m not often lacking for words. I tend to add as I write, not subtract. I shoot for 30 bullet points/chapters, knowing some will be longer and some will be shorter, and I watch the word count as I write.
And at that point I’ve usually already started but reassessing as I go. After I write the first half dozen plot points, I see I only have 10 left and three of them could be folded together, so this is going to be a novella.
Other times I start in and most of it doesn’t look too good and it’s a short story.
Other times I keep getting good idea after good idea and it looks like it’s going to stretch to 120,000 words (and I write the whole darn thing and then turn it over to critique partners who hack it up and help me condense it down to a really fast paced story that is somewhere between 80,000 and 105,000 words). Believe it or not, if the story is fast-paced, 100,000 words goes by quickly. Or aa somebody once said, if the story is good I always find it too short.
That’s why I don’t get stuck.
Because I don’t start before I know where I’m going.
I don’t GET stuck because I START stuck. I don’t start before I have so many ideas I can’t NOT start. It’s what some people refer to as reaching a critical mass. Once you get that many good ideas, whether it’s 10 or 15, you see each one could be a chapter and now you’ve got half a book or so – you will want to start to write it!
But going from one idea to another to another, you’ll reach a point where you’re getting lots and lots of ideas and they’re coming faster and faster and you will want to start. That’s critical mass, when you can’t resist the urge to start.
So you start.
That’s my process – a plotted course, for me to follow.
On the way, if I come up with a better ending, I go there. If other interesting things come to me, I go there, too. But without divine inspiration intervening and guiding me, I have an ending. That prevents me from getting stuck.
Dan Alatorre is the author of numerous bestsellers including the paranormal thriller An Angel On Her Shoulder. Click HERE to get Angel now!