In the days I have spent writing and participating in writer groups, there have been ample number of debates regarding the writing process. There have been many people who say, “I have an idea. I just do not know where to start”, “I wrote the first chapter. Now, I am stuck. I don’t know what to do. Help!”. Or some come to the middle of the story and then having no idea where the story is leading, they let go. If you have a story to tell, develop it fully and complete it. If you are bored of it then it implies that the readers will also be bored of it. And to gather a reader’s interest, a writer needs to tell a story which has a beginning, a middle, and an end. The story needs to get everything right: the characters, the conflict, the stakes involved, the goal, etc. If anything in the list is missing from the story, let me blunt, it is bound to fail.
When first you start to work on the story, ask yourself: Why do you want to write this one? What is there in this story that is so appealing to you? Because if it does not appeal to you, it won’t appeal to anybody else. Remember that.
Every story needs an objective. There must be a clear, defined goal for your story. What does the protagonist achieve in your story? My suggestion: whether you are pantsering or plotting, write a SYNOPSIS. A One Page Synopsis will also do. You don’t have to be detailed. In the synopsis, clearly define who your protagonist is, who the antagonist is, the conflict between them, the events leading up to the conflict in brief, and how the conflict resolves itself. Remember, it is not the pitch you send to the publisher; it is just a synopsis meant for you to understand where you are going. You define the objective here - the goals of your story. From here on out, the pantsers and the plotters part ways.
Let us see what each of them does.
A PANTSER does not know the whole details beforehand. He/she vaguely knows where they are going. They let the turns and twists surprise them. They evolve the story as they write.
A PLOTTER knows most of the plot beforehand. He/she might change later on depending on the circumstances, but this happens on a minor scale. They know every turn and twist before they even pen down a single word. No surprises. Plotters usually develop chapter by chapter outlines, Overall story outlines, character story arcs.
Each of these methods have their own pros and cons. A writer must choose what works for them best. Personally, I am a Plotter. Well, really, I am a hybrid. I mix both the techniques and let me say, it has worked for me always.
I am a computer graduate and when I was studying it, I came across the term OOPS (Object Oriented Programming Structure). Here, there is a class which acts like a template and there are objects which are based on classes. There can be multiple classes which may be related to each other. More of this can be learned online. I cannot teach that to you here since it is a vast concept. But let me show how this concept has been useful to me in my writing process. I generally write high/epic fantasy. Yes, the decision to plot or pantser depends upon the genre. You can pantser in a high fantasy work, but since high fantasy involves creating separate universes, you require some pre-writing work. OOPS has helped me do a lot here.
My first step is to create a world. So here I do the maps. Now, these maps need not have places or cultures. Not as of the moment. It is just a drawing with nothing marked on it. However, the geography I decide on. Where the mountains are, where the deserts are, etc. Then I take a sheet of paper and draw four columns - North, South, East, West. I write under each column which mountain, river, or any geographical item falls under which region of my world. The second step is now I create an OOPS Diagram. This diagram helps me understand the world I am creating - helps me build a clear outline and puts all information in one place. A World is a primary class. A World has Maps, Cultures, People, Magic Systems etc. Maps have Regions. Regions have Kingdoms, Kingdoms have cities, towns, and villages. Regions also have mountains, rivers, streams, deserts etc. Kingdoms have kings. Kings are Characters. Characters are People. People belong to a Society. Societies have Cultures. Cultures have Rules and Traditions. Some People use Magic. Magic works according to Magic Systems. Magic Systems have Rules. Magic also has different Types. Anything which I have marked with the initial letter being capital letters can be termed as Classes and each class is related to each other in some way. This relation can be interdependent or inherited. Once I draw these, this acts like a template. For each class, I assign variables which are nothing but properties of the class. Let me say: Characters have Names. I will declare Name as an array (a collection of similar items). Each element in the array is referenced to a region or a kingdom. Each character name has an arc. It also has other properties like personality, behavior, looks, etc. I define all of them in this stage. Then for each character, I develop a story arc. Where each character goes, what each character does, what difficulties he/she might face, and with whom the characters interact. All these character arcs are written after I develop the overall story arc, which goes on to around 25-50 pages in MS Word.
Once I have developed the story outline and character outlines, I write a chapter by chapter outline. Now at this stage, I am clear whether it is a single novel or a trilogy or a huge epic series. Once this outline has been written, I move on towards writing this story in a screenplay format. Each chapter becomes one episode. Each screenplay is around 30-55 pages. This helps me develop the action and the dialogue. Once I have developed this, all I got to do is novelize it. When novelizing it, I change the tense and write descriptions and develop the inner thoughts. This results in a first draft of the novel. The subsequent drafts are rewriting of either individual scenes or chapters. Remember that this works well for an epic fantasy, but fails for other genres. When I am writing another genre, I just do basic plotting and outlining. I don’t use OOPS.
Now, you have decided to plot or pantser. Now, I suggest you follow the FIVE ACT Structure for each novel.
The Five Acts are:
TEASER: This is the PROLOGUE. Now, you should deem it whether you require a prologue or not. Some stories may require it. Some stories might not.
ACT ONE: EXPOSITION: This is a vital phase. Introduce your characters gradually and properly. Bad Exposition makes for a bad book.
ACT TWO: RISING ACTION: Build a conflict here. Write a series of events that lead to a point of interest.
ACT THREE: CLIMAX: This is the turning point which turns a protagonist’s fate.
ACT FOUR: FALLING ACTION: Here, the conflict unravels itself.
ACT FIVE: DENOUEMENT: Conflicts are resolved here.The story ends in a denouement.
Now, I am not saying the OOPS or the 5 Act Structure has to be followed. OOPS is a difficult topic to comprehend. It works for me because I have been a programmer and I always used to design the system first and then code it. I do similar. I outline the story first and then write. Depending upon feedback, I do pantser within the first draft which acts like a prototype. The second draft incorporates feedback from my beta readers. And so on. You don’t have to follow it if it complicates matters. Just know that you can either pantser or plot the story beforehand using the outlining method. Or you can use good points of both methods together. Always do whatever works for you best. You are the best judge of what you want. But I do recommend that you follow the FIVE ACT STRUCTURE as it will help you a lot in structuring your novel.
Once you have completed your novel, send it to an EDITOR. If you cannot AFFORD one, then at least have it beta read by unbiased readers and critique forums.
Hope this is useful information for you to start writing.