Blogfest: What’s Your Process?

Check out all the other entries over at Shallee’s Blog!

So the idea is to tell you a little about how I write, the ways I create characters and stories and such. Since I’m a bit of a “pantser” (I write “by the seat of my pants” or without any pre-planning) that’s a little complicated. Every story is different, but I’ll detail some general things.

First, I get the idea. This can come from anything, from a story prompt to a dream. Story prompts rarely inspire my imagination, so I rarely look at them, but once in a while one will spark something for me. I’ve had several rather good ideas from dreams however. I get vivid dreams when I’m in a certain state, where I can almost control the characters and the dream (unlike most) has an internal narrative consistency. It’s kind of cool, but I always wake up before the story is finished so I never know how it ends, and somehow the ending I come up with never quite meshes wholly with the rest of it. I imagine that will get better with practice.

After I get the idea down onto paper in a general sort of way, I write an outline. My outlines are pretty bare-bones general stuff, and usually only follow the main story-line, so any sub-plots get worked in later. This helps me preserve my sense of adventure while I’m writing the story because there’s lots of room to maneuver without writing myself into a corner that the outline can’t rescue me from. On the other hand, I need that guide to help me through rough patches where my characters have done something and I can’t figure out where I’m supposed to be taking them next. Sometimes the basic outline changes several times because of unruly characters (I’m looking at you Zona and Gabby from TBG) but usually it is general enough to account for these deviations.

After that, I usually dive in and start writing. Sometimes I get many chapters into the story with no problems, and sometimes I stall after a few thousand words because I need to do some research to flesh out a plot point. The characters themselves are a bit easier. They tell me who they are and how they’d react to various situations as I go along without too much extra thought on my part. Occasionally I have to stop and think and get myself wholly into the character’s head, but usually it just sort of comes to me. During this drafting process I keep an Excel file open. In the file I use different pages for different things. Usually I have one tab with the outline in it, one tab for characters and one tab for the world or whatever. These are important, especially the character and world tabs, because they help me remember that the female MC has a problem with her right arm but not her left, and that the main villain’s eyes are black, and the last name of the supporting character who takes the hero in. I’ve experimented with the Freemind software, and it does approximately the same thing, but in a more organic fashion. I prefer the Excel spread-sheet, as it is neater and easier for me to work with. Because my first drafts are so messy, I need my notes to be neat and organized. Otherwise I get totally lost and start to twitch.

Once I get to the end of a story, the next step is to go back and fill in all the details I left out. I write in a Word document, so I leave myself little notes using the comment function in the reviewing tool-bar. These are usually along the lines of “Look up types of Amazon fruits” or “Flesh out this scene.” This way I can move past difficult patches without stopping to look up all those minor details and interrupting my flow.  After that is taken care of, I have a complete first draft and it is time to revise it until my eyes bleed. However, I’m not very good at that part yet, so I think I’ll leave it at my first draft process.

There you have it, my writing process as of now. My process always seems to change a little with each new project, as my techniques become refined with practice. Maybe in a year I’ll revisit this topic and see how much I’ve changed. Don’t forget to check out all the other entries in today’s blogfest over at Shallee’s blog, linked above.

Currently Reading: The Vorkosigan Companion by Lois McMaster Bujold



  1. Geoffrey Cubbage said,

    January 18, 2011 at 11:35 am

    What is “The Vorkosigan Companion”? Not that I couldn’t just Google it, but, you know. Comments make a body feel loved.

    • Lia said,

      January 18, 2011 at 12:28 pm

      Indeed they do! The Vorkosigan Companion is a book my cousin got me for Christmas. It’s basically a compendium of interviews with Bujold, essays written by and about her, and some other random stuff pertaining to the Vorkosigan universe. It’s pretty neat, still working my way through it though.

  2. Elaine said,

    January 18, 2011 at 5:09 pm

    I hadn’t heard about the Freemind software but I love the idea of actually having a use for my excel programme. I use MINDKIND ideas for my planning especially the idea of using concept diagrams.

  3. Sari Webb said,

    January 18, 2011 at 8:07 pm

    You’re kind of like an organised pantster. More preplanning than the extreme pantster but still more organic than the plotter. I use excel in a similar way. I find it useful to keep track of plot points I’ll need to explain later, to avoid leaving a gaping plot hole.

  4. Kari Marie said,

    January 19, 2011 at 12:22 am

    I wish I could do the dream state thing. It sounds really neat. I enjoyed reading about your process.

    • Lia said,

      January 19, 2011 at 10:17 am

      Elaine and Sari: Yea, Excel keeps me from making huge mistakes like changing eye-colors and such. I was pretty lost before I heard about using excel like that.

      Kari: Thanks! The dream thing is pretty cool, I just wish it occurred when I was deeper asleep so I didn’t wake up mid-story so easily!

  5. January 20, 2011 at 7:29 am

    You seem pretty organized!

    It must be something to experience a dream state like that. Great post!

    • Lia said,

      January 20, 2011 at 9:03 am

      Thanks! I guess my inner organizer and my inner pantser duke it out sometimes, because I really do think of myself as more towards the pantser end of the spectrum.

  6. Marieke said,

    January 25, 2011 at 3:23 pm

    I’m a week late, but catching up on this blogfest now after I finally put my own entry up =)

    The dream state sounds amazing! I do daydream about stories, but that’s not quite as hard as actual dreaming! 🙂

    • Lia said,

      January 26, 2011 at 9:35 am

      Hey, better late than never. Thanks for commenting, so I can go check yours out too. ^_^

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