The Creative Process


Photo by Wojtek Piekutoszczak from FreeImages

I’m constantly fascinated by the creative process, at least in so far as it applies to my writing.

I constantly read articles about how to write stories or even novels. The secret, apparently is to plan everything out, usually based on some scheme or template. You have to develop your characters, maybe give them a backstory, a history. Then there must be a problem, an issue, or a difficulty, otherwise there is no story of course.

Only when all this structure is in place can the poor author actually write the story. Avoiding adverbs of course. This works for some people, and there are programs out there to help you if you write in this manner.

There is another way. Draw up a piece of paper or open a word-processing document and write. This is the way that I do it. Oh, I do get an idea in my head, and it does bounce around for a while, attracting characters, plot points, problems and so on, well before I touch a keyboard.

Take the piece that I am writing at the moment. (No, not this post, Johnson!) I’ve already written two stories about a group of people, and I wanted to close out a trilogy. I don’t know why. It just seemed right.

So, there’s a group of characters. They’ve jelled as a group, and are comfortable with each other. I’m comfortable with them, but I can’t just write about their normal lives. No dramatic tension.

So, I just write. I assemble them (it’s the beginning of term), and I have an idea. They’re college age, so boyfriends and girlfriends! They have classmates, and they don’t like one of them, and that character becomes their antagonist. The story is starting to take off.

All the while I am thinking about them when I’m not writing. What if they do this? What if they do that? I guess in a sense that I’m writing the story even when I’m not actually writing the story. I’m considering what they will get up to while I’m wandering the aisles of the supermarket.

Gradually I get an inkling of the main thrust of the story. Obviously, I have my team, I have their antagonist, and maybe their antagonist has a team too. The differences between the two groups escalate, and need to be resolved.

In addition, key scenes occur to me. They may not yet be linked into the story, and not all of them will be in the story in the end, but if I decide that they do belong in the story, the narrative must lead naturally to them.

As regards my current story, I do not have a resolution to the conflict, and only a vague idea of a conclusion, yet, but they will come, inevitably, as I continue to write the story.

The planning approach. It’s not for me, but it may work for you. I’ve tried it and I got nowhere. It may help some people to get their thoughts in order, to steadily work through the plot from introduction to conclusion, but that changes it, for me, from being enjoyable to being, well, tedious. Work, in the negative sense.

But… I can’t emphasise this enough, planning everything out works well for some people. So try it.

But even if you think that you would do best with a well honed plan, I believe that you should try to write a story without a plan. It may be that the method that works for you lies somewhere between the two extremes, and only by experimenting will you work out the way that suits you best.

Rule one of writing is that there are no rules.

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