Guest Post: Putting the Pieces together

Tick tock, tick tock… my client W.E. Larson‘s writing functions like a well-oiled mechanical device, in the best sense of the phrase. I don’t mean that there’s no humanity in it, but rather that all the plot pieces fit together and unfold so gracefully, like clockworks or the inside of an old fashioned music box. And he has fun while writing. Imagine that?! Here’s what he has to say…

Something I’ve learned about myself while writing novels and stories is that there are parts that I work on before writing the story itself and parts that I don’t. It isn’t that not working at something means you’re better at it– it could be quite the opposite–but that it doesn’t feel as if it gains you anything.

Some people work on characters before starting the novel. I’ve come across character templates to fill out, advice to write vignettes in each character’s voice, and other exercises for developing the characters in the story. When I’ve done that work, it never seemed to change the characters from how they were born in my imagination. Only by writing the actual story do they evolve. I know them well when I finish that first draft and move on to overhauling the manuscript.

For me, the same applies to the setting. In a fantasy story, you can spend a lot of time building a world and crafting all sorts of details. This is something else I like to leave until I start writing the story itself. I create details as I need them, and during rewriting and revising I assemble them into a setting and flesh it all out. Though this doesn’t work for me in some science fiction where I need to make things plausible.

What I work on the most before writing is the plot. Some people can plunge in and create a plot by the seat of their pants, but that isn’t me. Fortunately, I like plotting. Why do I always imagine myself sitting in a chair stroking a white cat when I say that? Anyhow, I enjoy the puzzle-like aspect of it all.

Somehow I’ve got to take all the scenes and characters in my imagination and fit them into a whole. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle where I’m making the final image at the same time as I’m fitting in the pieces. I start with the key scenes and make sure I have some for the beginning, the end, and save or invent some good ones for the middle. I always want to save a nice juicy event for the middle. Maybe the scenes are pivotal events, or pivotal emotional moments, or pivotal turns in a relationship, but they are the scenes that make me want to write the story.

With some milestones anchoring the plotline, the fun begins and it’s time to dream up the scenes that put everything together. They’ve got to advance the story to one of the milestones while keeping characters in character, avoiding impossible timelines–no two hour nights, and providing motivation to push the characters along the storyline.

I try to make every scene both snap into place with the adjoining ones while also making sure each one contributes something to the whole. For me, this is where pacing comes into play. If every scene contributes without a string of pieces all contributing the same color, then the final picture won’t have dull stretches of a single color. Maybe a bit of a simplistic analogy, but it’s the way I think about plotting out the story. If I didn’t think of it that way, maybe it wouldn’t be as fun.

What do you work on before you start that first draft?

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5 responses to “Guest Post: Putting the Pieces together

  1. Erica

    I’m in the process of revising my first novel, and I’ve been more of a seat of the pants writer…making it up as I go along. But the main characters and world and the nucleus of their story were bouncing around in my head for ages before I got the guts and motivation to try putting it down. Once I got going, I sometimes found it beneficial to write a sort of flow chart for something that I was stuck on. another thing that works for me is to skip parts of a difficult scene or chapter and come back to it later.

  2. Pingback: I’m a Guest Poster | W.E. Larson

  3. I love to read about how other writers get organized around beginning to write — so fascinating! I’m with you: plot is the most important thing for me to puzzle out prior to starting to write. But I also pre-write information about main characters (which is critical for me before I start writing) and the setting (which is often like a character). And when I sit down to write, I find that even what I haven’t written things down, much structure has often been pre-written in my mind.

  4. Good post. As you say, everyone has their own approach, and sometimes different stories need different ones. I’ve done everything from a detailed outline to staring at a blank page, and they all have something to commend them.

    I agree about characters, though. The most I ever do before I start writing is a couple of paragraphs of general description, and usually not that. I don’t think there’s any substitute for knowing the people and following them into action.

  5. Before I start the first draft, I need to think my way through at least one heartfelt conversation between the protagonist and someone she loves or knows well. I can write the conversation out or go over it so many times that it’s etched in my mind and can be easily retrieved, but that one conversation really helps me get an idea of who my protagonist is and what makes her tick–what she wants to know, what she resists accepting, what she desperately yearns for. But it is so true that until you start writing, the character templates mean nothing.