I wish I knew the best way to create a story. I’ve tried planning and I’ve tried going with the flow and both have their pros and cons. It’s more than likely a personal choice thing and there’s no advice that will truly hit the spot until I try it on for size.
I absolutely hate planning though.When I was working in a proper job I would never plan. It just wasn’t part of who I was but then I became a Project Manager. The whole job was about detailed, OCD planning of not just your time but everyones. I learnt some skills there that I then brought to this writing lark. But what’s best?
I was absolutely convinced that the best way to go was a detailed plan, chapter by chapter, and then when it comes down to write just fill in the gaps. If you do it this way then you know the beginning, the middle and the end from the off. You know if the story’s plausible, consistent, and has those nice little bits sewn in to the story that gives it the direction.
But… if you have such a robust plan what happens when you think of something else while you’re writing. It could be a gem of an idea and then you have to throw the plan out anyway.
The reason I’m questioning the approach again is that I’ve been reading Stephen King’s On Writing. In this book, which is amazing by the way, he talks about how he goes about crafting a story. His method is to come up with some characters and a situation, then just take it from there. He sometimes knows how it’s all going to end but how the characters get there is unknown even to him. He claims that he is the first reader of the story and so he wants to know what’s going to happen as much as the readers he’s writing it for.
This sounds cool. I like the idea and I love the other advice he gives in the book so I feel a responsibility to at least give it a go. I think there could be a lot of wasted time if you end up writing a story for these characters and it turns out that they go to the shop and then they get a takeaway and then go home to watch a film. I don’t know if I truly buy in to the fact that the characters lead the writer.
His justification to this approach is that story’s that are planned always seem to be formulaic and obvious. Where as if he doesn’t even know what’s going to happen in his books then they’re definitely not going to have obvious endings. We’re not talking about any old hack here, we’re talking about the author of The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, The Shining and Carrie. You can’t argue that his stories don’t have great, unexpected endings.
His advice comes with some clout so I’m thinking seriously about it. I may well tentatively go for a hybrid next. Come up with a situation and then roughly outline a plot that they’re going to follow. Have you tried different approaches, what do you find works best for you?