I visited my parents yesterday in the suburbs of Chicago and tried to fight the resentment I often feel thinking that I should be sitting in my chair writing, instead of wasting a weekend away from my desk. I often forget the importance of getting out and mingling with other people (especially family and friends) in order to execute real life research for writing later. Connections throughout our lives are important when becoming a true writer, one who experiences the everyday wonders of personal attachments and interactions. It’s funny because I always want to sit at my desk and make things up as I go, but in reality it’s absurd to think that staring at a computer screen will provide the material I need to develop a truly riveting story. Not to mention, research is the most frequented step when building the heart and soul of a short story or novel.
Everyone has their own methods for writing, but writing without a plan, with research and outlining is like a high school quarterback never practicing, and then expecting a Division 1 football scholarship. Forcing yourself out of your comfort zone and exploring the world provides knowledge rarely attainable through just typing and expecting your characters and plot to build themselves. There may be some prodigies out there who can pull it off, but a well rounded exploratory life and work ethic are a must for us normal folk. Here is a step-by-step process that I find helpful when building my stories. This helps me avoid the “Write As I Go” trap that usually ends with a big pile of manure (in the form of paper):
- Research – This doesn’t always have to entail sitting in the library scouring through piles of books. Research should consist of a healthy combination of reading, checking out libraries, interviews with experts on a subject and most importantly, observing friends, family and strangers around you.
- Outline – Workflowy is what I use for outlines, but feel free to use other software, a Word document or pen and paper. Jot every chapter down as you see it unfolding. Create another page to begin developing character names and descriptions. I always seem to come up with dialogue that would fit nicely whenever I am outlining, so include this in your outline as well.
- Character Description and Backgrounds – I use a software called yWriter for organizing my character descriptions and backgrounds. Although many writers still use pen and paper I would at least recommend experimenting with a software that organizes your chapters, characters and plot lines (also great with media for visualizing your settings and characters). You will find that when writing a 5,000 word short story you might be capable of handling all this information, but once you start reaching novella or novel length, your characters and plot lines can be tricky to keep organized. I avoid plot holes and forgetting about characters with software like this.
- Consult Your Journal – If you don’t have a journal, get one. If you already have one congratulations, this is your best research tool. After all what’s the point of doing all that research if you don’t remember it. I encourage you to consult your journal on occasion during the outline and character building process. Maybe you read a magazine with a picture of a short stocky read head kid and now one of your characters fits that description. Having a picture on hand in your journal will work wonders for painting a true picture of the boy.
- Research – Do it again. And make it fun!
- Explore The World – This is really just more research but remember to get out and see the world.
- Write Without Limits – Once all these steps have been performed I write my butt off. How can I not after acquiring so much information? The story writing process comes fluently when I have a plan.
- Revise – We all love this part. It may be tedious, but revision is what separates the minor league players from the pros. Good luck and let me know what works for you when planning out your writing.
See ya next time…