A Thousand Pieces of Story

Have you ever read a great book and asked yourself how on Earth the author came up with such a complex plot? 

Well, the process is a cycle. First the author has an idea, which they often need to research, before shaping it into the basis of a scene. They consider how that scene might come about or what it might lead to, which gives them another idea, and round they go again. 

Eventually they have lots of pieces of story, like pieces of different jigsaw puzzles, which have to be tried in various combinations to see which of them fit together. Some will not fit and will have to be discarded.

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Some authors start writing once they have the first scene in mind, while others create an outline before writing (an outline is the initial summary of a story, before it is written. For more information about book summaries, see my post The Great Summary). The process is much the same, it’s only the stage of writing it fits into that varies.

For example, there are writers who prefer to start with a basic idea and just write. This obviously saves time at the outlining stage but causes a great deal more editing because as well as adding scenes, they often have to remove scenes. Once they can see the plot forming, it’s easier to identify which pieces don’t belong in that story. 

Some authors start writing once they have a clear idea for some of the scenes, and let the others come to them as they go along. This involves a basic outline that can be added to as the plot develops. Some scenes may need to be rewritten to work with the new material and occasionally a new scene idea may supersede an existing one.

I prefer to work from a detailed outline, which takes a lot of time to begin with but saves time spent on rewrites. Plus I don’t have to delete whole pages of my work!

The intricate process of piecing together a plot is such a satisfying experience, starting with nothing but imagination and experience, and ending with something that is significantly greater than the sum of its parts. And that’s just the beginning of the story. 

There are still many drafts to go before the story is polished into the final version of a book. But all its potential is right there in the plot, whispering: write me.

Even knowing the process well, I suspect there may be a little bit of magic involved.

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