Monday, November 22, 2010

Ten Stages of Story Development

This is a totally pretentious, self-referential blog that probably will have little relevance to the manner in which you prefer to write. Nevertheless, I want to get down the method that I have found most useful.

Step 1: Concept.
All stories start with the germ of an idea, a thought, or perhaps just an interesting title,first line, or ending. This germ sometimes forms the basis for a story which, after a few hours or days becomes so strong that I have no choice but to commit it to "paper." This leads me into:

Step 2: Drafting

Drafting is simply noodling with the idea, getting whatever comes to mind regarding the idea down into editable form. This step might produce a bit of characterization, a setting description, an interesting plot point, a pencil sketch of a gadget, or even a bit of the story itself, be it narrative flow or dialogue. The point here is to get whatever you can - a few thousand words, perhaps - into a form that you can review and consider before committing to:

Step 3: Plotting

Plotting is deciding what goes into the story. Have you all the pieces you need yet? What might be missing? Examine what your noodling has produced and decide if all the elements needed for a complete story are there. Do you have the set-up to lead the reader into the story? Do you know what the ending will say? Have you thought of a way to develop the exposition? Do you have an idea for the characters? Do you have all the "facts" you need? If the answer is yes then you are ready to start:

Step 4: Arranging

This step is simply rearranging the scenes you've produced into some semblance of order, hopefully an arrangement that reveals what might be missing e.g. how to get from here to there. There is no simple answer as to how to do this. The final story sequence is not yet important so long as some logical order of the story elements emerges. If you have no idea of what might work then try a simple chronological order. Hopefully, this step will reveal more missing pieces that you'll need to add before you start:

Step 5: Production

Yes, this is more noodling, but this time only to fill in the blanks, be they facts, transitions,or bits of dialogue. While doing this I usually go over earlier material and make necessary changes,additions,etc wherever I see the need. This step produces a rough draft that must then undergo:

Step 6: Polishing and Smoothing

This is where the writer parses the sentences so that they sing, eradicating false notes in the narrative and correcting the "wrong" voices in the dialogue. Grammar and spelling are corrected in this step as well. Once the polishing and smoothing are completed you will have the penultimate draft, one which is mechanically suitable for publication. That is, if you don't want to start:

Step 7: Re-Arranging.

Maybe the best way to tell this story isn't what you originally thought. You might want to play with the time line or move the scenery about to make the epiphany or ending more (or less) profound. Maybe you don't want the murder to take place first but be developed later in the tale. Maybe some plot element would work better as backstory, or maybe a bit of foreshadowing should be added. You should always feel free to play with the story sequence if nothing more than to see what happens. I once committed scenes to cards and the shuffled them to reveal a more interesting order than I was working with. Play around and see what comes before you start:

Step 8: Layering

This is the enjoyable step where you add little bits of detail here and there; adding some symbolism if you wish. Layering is just like decorating the Christmas tree with tinsel. A word of caution: a light touch usually works best.

Step 9: Final Polish

Going over the finished draft with an objective eye is necessary. You have become so familiar with the story by this time that you cannot, will not, be able to see the glaring flaws. Put the printed draft aside for few days so you can return with fresh eyes and make corrections. Reading the story aloud to yourself often helps.

Step 10: Submission

No story is complete until it is published and that will never happen unless it is sent to an editor for consideration. Always assume that the first few submissions will be rejected and be prepared to send it out again the instant a rejection arrives. Persistence is frequently successful but understand that rejection is a fact of the writer's life.

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