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Old 07-01-2012, 12:42 PM   #16
J Winterbottom
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I try to outline as much as I can, but I find that the characters tend to hijack the story a bit and often won't allow me to take them on the path I planned out.

I've never had to completely "burn down" a story, but the novel I am just finishing has had a few major changes. This included taking out a full chapter, which I was a bit gutted about but it didn't add anything to the story.
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Old 07-03-2012, 12:12 AM   #17
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I try to outline too, but more often than not the outline rarely lasts for very long. So I've reserved myself to writing notes, and then just exploring the story from there. Heck, I took a huge chunk of my current story that I'd written yesterday and rewrote it today. Some of it was to fix a plot hole I had developed, and the other was to improve the way a new character was handled.
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Old 07-05-2012, 01:15 PM   #18
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I try to outline as much as I can, but I find that the characters tend to hijack the story a bit and often won't allow me to take them on the path I planned out.
I find that generally means you didn't outline enough. Your outline (and notes, especially character notes) should include enough detail to ensure your characters WILL go in the direction you desire, even when they themselves don't want to. If the action doesn't feel natural to them... work on the outline and notes some more.

There's no point writing a story that hinges on a character's particular reaction... only to reach the critical point and realize your character won't go there. You're the author, and you're in control; don't let your character-creations control you.

(On the other hand, I'm a failed SF author, so any advice I give is pretty much worthless! Listen to Lake, and just write like he does; you'll be better off.)
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Old 07-06-2012, 11:36 AM   #19
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[...](On the other hand, I'm a failed SF author, so any advice I give is pretty much worthless! Listen to Lake, and just write like he does; you'll be better off.)
I don't think outlining is necessarily a problem, not if it feels natural to you. From what I have read, many successful authors work as you describe, but not all - it's not the only way to write. It's not the only way to succeed, and it's not the only way to fail. There are hazards with either approach, and the author must work to overcome the problems inherent in their chosen method.

I remember reading of a public argument between two famous authors: one saying that the characters told the story, he was just the cipher; the other saying that the author must have control over his characters. ... But I can't remember the author names (I think they were both men). Anyone here remember? (I had it in my head that C.S. Forester was one of them, but Google doesn't show anything like that for him.)
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Old 07-06-2012, 12:39 PM   #20
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I don't think outlining is necessarily a problem, not if it feels natural to you. From what I have read, many successful authors work as you describe, but not all - it's not the only way to write. It's not the only way to succeed, and it's not the only way to fail. There are hazards with either approach, and the author must work to overcome the problems inherent in their chosen method.

I remember reading of a public argument between two famous authors: one saying that the characters told the story, he was just the cipher; the other saying that the author must have control over his characters. ... But I can't remember the author names (I think they were both men). Anyone here remember? (I had it in my head that C.S. Forester was one of them, but Google doesn't show anything like that for him.)

Yep, there have been any number of those discussions/debates. All methods can work, it just depends on what works for you.
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Old 07-06-2012, 01:33 PM   #21
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I remember reading of a public argument between two famous authors: one saying that the characters told the story, he was just the cipher; the other saying that the author must have control over his characters. ... But I can't remember the author names
You've got me; but I definitely fall into the latter camp. I often think of the former camp is simply fooling themselves: Ascribing characters that the author created to telling the author's story, out of the author's control, sounds mildly schizophrenic. But yeah, whatever works.
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Old 07-06-2012, 01:53 PM   #22
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You've got me; but I definitely fall into the latter camp. I often think of the former camp is simply fooling themselves: Ascribing characters that the author created to telling the author's story, out of the author's control, sounds mildly schizophrenic. But yeah, whatever works.
I know. When I hear people say they have to write because of the voices in their heads, I get a little weirded out, but as best I can tell they are serious.

I don't think I can imagine characters so real they talk to me or have their own emotions/drives. And I also think those that work that way are really doing it subconsciously and working things out. .... but yeah, schizophrenic...
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Old 07-06-2012, 02:14 PM   #23
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You've got me; but I definitely fall into the latter camp. I often think of the former camp is simply fooling themselves: Ascribing characters that the author created to telling the author's story, out of the author's control, sounds mildly schizophrenic. But yeah, whatever works.
Well how I do it is...

"Billy Bob is very reactive, so if I put Billy Bob in this situation he would grab a bat and..."

So not sure how you would label that, but I see it as character driving the story.
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Old 07-06-2012, 02:31 PM   #24
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I think either way you have to "know your characters" and they have to act "True to their nature"

I think for some people it's easier to just imagine that situation and let it play out in their minds (or even subconscious), for others it is more of an intellectual process.
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Old 07-06-2012, 02:40 PM   #25
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Well how I do it is...

"Billy Bob is very reactive, so if I put Billy Bob in this situation he would grab a bat and..."

So not sure how you would label that, but I see it as character driving the story.
I wouldn't say that: You made Billy Bob a reactive character, and therefore you drive his reaction when put into that situation.

Often, when I write a character, I might consciously base them on a particular TV or movie character... say, Sam Spade. That often makes it easy to say to yourself, "What would Sam Spade do in this situation?" But the decision to base the character on Spade was still mine; and I can manipulate the goings-on around him until I can get him to do whatever I want, and still remain in character. I remain in control.
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Old 07-06-2012, 05:15 PM   #26
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I think either way you have to "know your characters" and they have to act "True to their nature"

I think for some people it's easier to just imagine that situation and let it play out in their minds (or even subconscious), for others it is more of an intellectual process.
This is how I work.

Sure I create it all, but its different ways of getting there... So building on Billy Bob he uses his bat to adjust the attitude of the bar tender ... well of course the bar tender is a smart fellow and has a gun and his bar hop in the back sees the whole thing. She is the kind that would call the cops. And so on.

I see it as set the scene, put my characters in it and star "see" or "working out" what they would do. The characters have to live and breath or the story will be flat. They have to react as if they were alive... so I imagine them alive and watch what happens.

Sure it is still all me (well plus my editors and pre-readers), but it is a METHOD not a madness.
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Old 07-06-2012, 11:52 PM   #27
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I know. When I hear people say they have to write because of the voices in their heads, I get a little weirded out, but as best I can tell they are serious.

I don't think I can imagine characters so real they talk to me or have their own emotions/drives. And I also think those that work that way are really doing it subconsciously and working things out. .... but yeah, schizophrenic...
I don't literally hear the voices, but sometimes it doesn't feel far away from that. I think it's just a frame of mind thing.

When I'm programming I usually* sit there on the outside of a new problem and think things through logically: I break each piece down smaller and smaller until I get something I can write, and then I write all those small pieces and put them together until I get the big result. So I know how such things can work, but when I tried writing stories that way all I got was text that sounded like one of my software manuals.

My best writing seems to come when I immerse myself in a scene. It doesn't feel like an intellectual exercise**, though of course it must be. I let my mind do whatever it is that it does, without consciously trying to force the steps - sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't - but, if I can't place myself inside the story nothing happens. To me the experience, that feeling of involvement, is a little like reading a very good book, but more intense and over a much longer period. I suspect it is that very similarity that drives me to write: I want to repeat that experience, I'm addicted. But it doesn't just happen, it doesn't always come, so I have to keep striving at it, looking to find that place again.

As an ostensibly logical person, I need to be for my paid work, I know that what I describe for writing sounds strange, perhaps even schizophrenic. It certainly took me by surprise when it first started happening for me. It's almost like reverting to childhood and the ad-hoc games I used to play (my sister reminded me of this recently) pretending to be Zorro or Tarzan. I never cared, back then, whether the imagined events made any sense to anyone on the outside, that didn't matter, the mind just came up with the next bit as needed. Now I let much the same happen, the difference being that I come back later to see if it worked.


* As I suspect may also be true of writing books, but I haven't been doing it as long as I've been writing software, different programming problems can respond better to different methods of attack - but again it's often a personal thing.

** Of course there are deliberate intellectual aspects to writing - the review and editing processes, the checking that what has been written is logical and consistent and so on - although some of this happens almost automatically as I re-read what I've written almost constantly as a way putting myself back in the story.
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Old 07-07-2012, 12:41 AM   #28
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I see it as set the scene, put my characters in it and star "see" or "working out" what they would do. The characters have to live and breath or the story will be flat. They have to react as if they were alive... so I imagine them alive and watch what happens.
Yeah, I do something similar to this as well. Sometimes I even become the character and act out what they're saying or doing (the latter is done very minimally as opposed to the fore, which is done generously), and literally living out the scene as them. It's putting images to words in my mind, and it does a lot to help me sort out the scene and where it should go.

One way to imagine how that would work is to picture how Tony Stark interfaces with all of his holographic screens, pulling stuff together, swapping stuff out, and beta testing his ideas in a virtual environment before putting them into physical form. It's sort of how I assemble my stories, and more often my individual scenes. I take the rough plot idea I have in my head and start building it through experimental writing until I have the intended final design. Of course, as the story settles down through numerous edits, entire sections can change (ref, burn down) to better fit my vision of the character and make a more believable and enjoyable story.
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Old 07-07-2012, 06:20 AM   #29
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I don't literally hear the voices, but sometimes it doesn't feel far away from that. I think it's just a frame of mind thing.

When I'm programming I usually* sit there on the outside of a new problem and think things through logically: I break each piece down smaller and smaller until I get something I can write, and then I write all those small pieces and put them together until I get the big result. So I know how such things can work, but when I tried writing stories that way all I got was text that sounded like one of my software manuals.

My best writing seems to come when I immerse myself in a scene. It doesn't feel like an intellectual exercise**, though of course it must be. I let my mind do whatever it is that it does, without consciously trying to force the steps - sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't - but, if I can't place myself inside the story nothing happens. To me the experience, that feeling of involvement, is a little like reading a very good book, but more intense and over a much longer period. I suspect it is that very similarity that drives me to write: I want to repeat that experience, I'm addicted. But it doesn't just happen, it doesn't always come, so I have to keep striving at it, looking to find that place again.

As an ostensibly logical person, I need to be for my paid work, I know that what I describe for writing sounds strange, perhaps even schizophrenic. It certainly took me by surprise when it first started happening for me. It's almost like reverting to childhood and the ad-hoc games I used to play (my sister reminded me of this recently) pretending to be Zorro or Tarzan. I never cared, back then, whether the imagined events made any sense to anyone on the outside, that didn't matter, the mind just came up with the next bit as needed. Now I let much the same happen, the difference being that I come back later to see if it worked.


* As I suspect may also be true of writing books, but I haven't been doing it as long as I've been writing software, different programming problems can respond better to different methods of attack - but again it's often a personal thing.

** Of course there are deliberate intellectual aspects to writing - the review and editing processes, the checking that what has been written is logical and consistent and so on - although some of this happens almost automatically as I re-read what I've written almost constantly as a way putting myself back in the story.


I appreciate this a lot because I think one of my hardest obstacles is writing fiction is exactly this being able to imagine/put myself in the scene and/or as the character. I tend to approach it all too logically -- more like the programming (which I've done for 30 years now!) method described above. I'm have and am working to get beyond that but it is difficult for me. I noted in the Faulkner Advice to Writers thread I started where he appears to just "follow the characters" in order to get the book written.

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Old 07-07-2012, 07:17 AM   #30
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I appreciate this a lot because I think one of my hardest obstacles is writing fiction is exactly this being able to imagine/put myself in the scene and/or as the character. I tend to approach it all too logically -- more like the programming (which I've done for 30 years now!) method described above. I'm have and am working to get beyond that but it is difficult for me. I noted in the Faulkner Advice to Writers thread I started where he appears to just "follow the characters" in order to get the book written.

I wonder how many programmers there are among us here. I have have been writing software since 1983...starting to wonder if there is over lap in the skill set for writing software and books.
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