Organising and developing story ideas

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narf
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Organising and developing story ideas

Postby narf » Tue Oct 17, 2017 1:42 pm

Hi, this is my first post. I have a recurring problem with organising and developing story ideas. I'll explain my process that has evolved so far:

1. Free write the whole initial idea down from my head
2. Condense this out in bulleted note form
3. Write each note out onto paper strips, ordered chronologically, added any new ideas that came to mind (for this current attempt, well over 200 pieces)
4. When felt overwhelmed by this number, and unable to keep track, copied these all up into Scrivener in order, adding more notes as they came

At this point, in every attempt at a story, I can't keep track of my ideas. I'm certainly not short of ideas, but find returning after a short break overwhelming. I have to re-read the entire thing every time I revisit it, and struggle to see it in its entirety. An example of the opposite is when I'm writing music into a score software, I can just hit play and listen back to get me back in the zone. I can't do that with writing.

Also, do you mind map each little issue/plot hole you encounter? My story seems too vast to contain, despite me having nursed it from a seed. I keep losing track.

I'm completely self-taught, I feel there's something I'm missing that's making it seem harder than it should be. I've tried free-writing the whole story, to 50,000 words, but didn't find it helped much. Any tips, please help!

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ostarella
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Re: Organising and developing story ideas

Postby ostarella » Tue Oct 17, 2017 2:51 pm

I would suggest trying a couple different things. No guarantees, of course, but worth at least trying. ;)

1. Stop making notes the focus. Stop "free writing" (I'm assuming you mean a type of 'stream of consciousness' writing versus discovery writing). Write the story, thinking about what's happening, and what's already happened, and then what could logically happen next. Jot down notes BRIEFLY as you think of things and then get back to the story itself (I've found most ideas of any value will remain with you whether you write them down or not).

2. If this doesn't work, try an actual outline. There are many sites online that tell about the various ways to outline - check them out, try them, see if it helps. Don't be afraid to combine parts of one with parts of another, or with combining outlining with discovery writing. There's no right way as to how you write except the one that gets you to "The End".

3. Work on one story at a time. If an idea pops up that doesn't work for the current project, jot a quick note, file, then get back to current project. All the notes and ideas in the world don't mean anything if you don't actually use them. Force yourself to finish what you start until you develop the habit of finishing.

Basically, don't make the whole writing thing so complicated - just tell a story. Remember that you will write many, many, many stories before you find the method that works for you. Writing is experimenting in all things.

deddmann_writing
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Re: Organising and developing story ideas

Postby deddmann_writing » Tue Oct 17, 2017 8:45 pm

[quote="narf"]Hi, this is my first post. I have a recurring problem with organising and developing story ideas. I'll explain my process that has evolved so far:

1. Free write the whole initial idea down from my head
2. Condense this out in bulleted note form
3. Write each note out onto paper strips, ordered chronologically, added any new ideas that came to mind (for this current attempt, well over 200 pieces)
4. When felt overwhelmed by this number, and unable to keep track, copied these all up into Scrivener in order, adding more notes as they came

At this point, in every attempt at a story, I can't keep track of my ideas. I'm certainly not short of ideas, but find returning after a short break overwhelming. I have to re-read the entire thing every time I revisit it, and struggle to see it in its entirety. An example of the opposite is when I'm writing music into a score software, I can just hit play and listen back to get me back in the zone. I can't do that with writing.

Also, do you mind map each little issue/plot hole you encounter? My story seems too vast to contain, despite me having nursed it from a seed. I keep losing track.

I'm completely self-taught, I feel there's something I'm missing that's making it seem harder than it should be. I've tried free-writing the whole story, to 50,000 words, but didn't find it helped much. Any tips, please help![/quote]



==========
Two things to consider: Organising is one , creativity is another one.


1
It depends on you and your preferences as well as what you are trying to do. Free writing is a way to generate ideas. Brainstorming, mind mapping, and others can be used for the creativity aspect. I find it more productive to write phrases that remind me of what I want to consider instead of writing a large passage in formal English.

2
I take what seems to be useful and put it on 3x5 cards matching potential scenes that i can shuffle easily to rearrange the sequence and to spot holes and eliminate ideas that do not really fit. Some folks do this with computer software. I find it better to do that rearranging manually.

3
When i have the starter list of scenes lined up then I transfer the initial story structure to excel. I have columns for sequence number, what , who, why , where, when, as well as for notes when they are needed. When needed I fill in details. I do not try to fill anything in just to check a box off.

Related to this is a short summary of each character with key characteristics that are important. Again I do not fill out one of those character templates with a couple hundred items. I do fill it in with a few key items , then when and if, I ever mention others I add them so that I can have that for reference for future writing.

If your setting is not the normal world you might want to have a reference card or cheat sheet for that too.


4
It is easy to get overwhelmed. That is why the high level architectural view on excel is so handy. You see at a glance every scene and how they fit without the distraction of all the verbiage that the novel has. Look at writing a novel as a project. Break it down into many smaller steps and it is easy to do and to control.

--
As to mind mapping every little bit: I do what is needed and no more. I make sure that the plot makes sense by ensuring that the scenes flow from start to finish with each moving the story along without detours and that they are in the proper sequence without any holes or needless rambling content that does not make the story better. I find it easier to do that first rather than try to do it after I have a lot of content written.

Note that this is all done interactively and from the small size big picture down to the large size detailed final words. And interactively going between plot, characters, scenes, etc.

I start with the premise. Then the logline. Next a blurb, then the elevator speech. Finally a summary and a synopsis.
I fill in the documentation as I proceed. You may need to stop plotting to describe the character you just noted. Later
you may have to tweak the plot. That might ripple back to changes in the characters, or possibly setting. For sure it is not all linear from start to finish with each item done separately.

The summary and synopsis would be done interactively with documenting the scenes and their sequence.

I cant freewrite the entire story. At best I could do a draft scene that way. Some people can freewrite their entire novel but most seem to use at least some planning and outlining. My preference is to break the scenes down into beats. The why and what from the excel can be useful as a guide. I find it easier to be creative when I am looking at the larger picture rather than when I am down in the weeds as if I were in the forest looking for the path that could be easily seen from a balloon above the copse.

When you have all the scenes lined up properly and broken down into the beats then the writing part is very easy and there is no wasted effort because you make a detour or run into a blocked road writer-wise.

Look at the snowflake method. What I do is very similar to that.
https://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/articles/snowflake-method/

Also look at this site for a tutorial on everything about writing a novel.
http://www.how-to-write-a-book-now.com/writing-an-outline.html
http://www.how-to-write-a-book-now.com/
http://www.how-to-write-a-book-now.com/become-a-writer.html

And this one is excellent for the entire novel writing process at a high level.
https://www.novel-writing-help.com/novel-writing-roadmap.html

And of course, WD has many tutorials, seminars, and books on the writing process and the various parts including outlining and creativity.
WD has this about organising with spreadsheets:
http://www.writersdigest.com/online-exclusives/oct-16/use-a-spreadsheet-to-outline-your-novel

Here are some with more ideas for organising:
http://www.jillbarville.com/2011/10/28/excel-for-writers-organizing-a-novel-with-a-spreadsheet/
I found that one to be overkill.

http://www.adamblumerbooks.com/2014/01/31/how-to-plot-your-novel-with-a-simple-spreadsheet/
That was was adapted from James Scott Bell and his recommendation.

http://www.publishingcrawl.com/2015/06/17/outlining-on-excel-yes-thats-right-excel/
This one has an image of JK Rowlings hand drawn sheet.

http://thewritepractice.com/scene-list/
A great sales pitch for why scene lists are good and examples of Rowling, Norman Mailer, Joseph Heller and theirs.

Every writer is different. If you are having trouble then try some other methods that many other writers have used. See what works and what problems you still have.
Then take the parts that work best for you and make your own process. Most people will do well starting with the two sites that I noted above.

Finally I would suggest you start with some short stories first before you attempt a novel. Then build up with a novella and finally a full length novel. Experience and practice are important aspects of being able to succeed.

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Alice Holt
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Re: Organising and developing story ideas

Postby Alice Holt » Sat Oct 21, 2017 9:08 pm

I was exhausted by the end of your post. I have to ask, do you want to be a writer or are you a writer? Did you just decide one day "I think I can write if I put my mind to it" or are you compelled to push the stuff in your brain out onto a piece of paper? Are you into writing, in love with word flow, read 2 books a week? Or are you just trying to write something? Big differences here.

RobTheThird
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Re: Organising and developing story ideas

Postby RobTheThird » Mon Oct 23, 2017 8:42 am

narf wrote:
> Hi, this is my first post. I have a recurring problem with organising and
> developing story ideas. I'll explain my process that has evolved so far:
>
> 1. Free write the whole initial idea down from my head
> 2. Condense this out in bulleted note form
> 3. Write each note out onto paper strips, ordered chronologically, added
> any new ideas that came to mind (for this current attempt, well over 200
> pieces)
> 4. When felt overwhelmed by this number, and unable to keep track, copied
> these all up into Scrivener in order, adding more notes as they came
>
> At this point, in every attempt at a story, I can't keep track of my ideas.
> I'm certainly not short of ideas, but find returning after a short break
> overwhelming. I have to re-read the entire thing every time I revisit it,
> and struggle to see it in its entirety. An example of the opposite is when
> I'm writing music into a score software, I can just hit play and listen
> back to get me back in the zone. I can't do that with writing.

There's one idea for returning to a work in progress that has worked for me when I lose connection to the story.

Copy the last page of your work into a different document, and then write that page back into the original. Don't copy it back. Actually type it back in. It's not foolproof, but many times, this has helped me to get back into the train of thought I had in writing that past page.

>
> Also, do you mind map each little issue/plot hole you encounter? My story
> seems too vast to contain, despite me having nursed it from a seed. I keep
> losing track.

Consider that this is a clue that you're on the wrong track. A story "too vast to contain" may be the wrong story. You may be writing an epic tale of conflict between two vast cultures, with war, and spies, and sabotage, and vrious other kinds of skullduggery. But maybe the real tale isn't the pig picture? Maybe it's one man (or woman, or beast) trying to figure out there they fit within their experience. Or something else. Something smaller, or intimate.

You're not connecting with your story. So find the story that you DO connect with.

IMO, of course.

>
> I'm completely self-taught, I feel there's something I'm missing that's
> making it seem harder than it should be. I've tried free-writing the whole
> story, to 50,000 words, but didn't find it helped much. Any tips, please
> help!

It sounds to me like you're trying too hard to make something that, maybe, just isn't there. Consider: The Mona Lisa is just a portrait. So why does it capture so much attention? I say it's because the artist took a simple portrait and found something magical in the making of it.

I could be way off here, but it sounds to me like you're wanting to write so bad that you're not waiting for the right story to write. Maybe this is the right "universe," so to speak, but not the right story. Maybe you weren't meant to write the "big" story. Not yet, anyway.

Figure out where you connect, and go there.

deddmann_writing
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Re: Organising and developing story ideas

Postby deddmann_writing » Mon Oct 23, 2017 11:28 am

> >
> > Also, do you mind map each little issue/plot hole you encounter? My story
> > seems too vast to contain, despite me having nursed it from a seed. I keep
> > losing track.
>
> Consider that this is a clue that you're on the wrong track. A story "too vast
> to contain" may be the wrong story.

Good catch. It might be that he is writing War and Peace and should have tried something smaller.

OTOH he may be two deep in the weeds to be able to see the forest for the trees.

200 items is more than enough scenes for 2-3 novels. If those are really beats or parts of scenes then
he may be able to keep track better by moving up a level or two to look at scenes or sequences instead.
Then only descend in the area that he is working on writing in detail from that outline.




>
> You're not connecting with your story. So find the story that you DO connect with.
>
> IMO, of course.
>
> >
> > I'm completely self-taught, I feel there's something I'm missing that's
> > making it seem harder than it should be. I've tried free-writing the whole
> > story, to 50,000 words, but didn't find it helped much. Any tips, please
> > help!
>
> It sounds to me like you're trying too hard to make something that, maybe, just isn't
> there. Consider: The Mona Lisa is just a portrait. So why does it capture so much
> attention? I say it's because the artist took a simple portrait and found something
> magical in the making of it.
>
> I could be way off here, but it sounds to me like you're wanting to write so bad that
> you're not waiting for the right story to write. Maybe this is the right
> "universe," so to speak, but not the right story. Maybe you weren't meant
> to write the "big" story. Not yet, anyway.
>
> Figure out where you connect, and go there.


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