When does your story open up?

I'm always interested to see other writer's creative process. I've learned that as writers we share so much, yet there is so much individuality in methods. This post may be more for me than for you, but I would like to document my own creative process.

*I find my stories start in different ways--sometimes it's a character, sometimes a setting, sometimes a song inspires me, or a book or funny anecdotal story.

*Writing the first chapter almost always reveals the arc of my novel.

*After I know the arc, I write down an overreaching, very broad outline in my notebook.

*I think and think and think about my characters motivations. I ponder them when I'm washing the dishes, folding the laundry, laying in bed at night, listening to music.

*The nuances creep in at random times (often early morning or right before I fall asleep), and I must act. I keep notebooks everywhere. At the beginning of the school year Walmart had one subject notebooks on sale for .05 each. I bought one hundred of them, literally. I use the notebooks to write down details of my story, or I go to my computer if I can and type them at the bottom of my manuscript to use like a checklist.

*I would say, in general, by the time I've reached ten thousand words I know all the major plot twists and the ending of my story. At which point I may, or may not write a chapter by chapter outline.

What about you? When do you know the whole story? Do you outline everything before writing it? Are you a free-writer who discovers your story all along the way? What works for you?


  1. I'm a free-writer for sure, I tried the outline but realized I didn't know the whole story so I opened up microsoft word and began to write... 3 1/2 weeks later I'm 61K words in!

  2. Jen,
    That's amazing. I'm in awe of people who can write whole books in a matter of a few weeks. Free writing obviously works well for you!

  3. Thank you Candice you are too sweet!! I just woke up with the idea one day and since then my wonderful husband has helped me keep everything under wraps when needed!!

    Thanks for the sweet comment on my hair!!!

  4. I tend to have an outline, although not extremely detailed.

    The write and write until I have a first draft.

    Then put it aside for a good while, before coming back and working out what is right, or wrong.

    The rewrite tends to be much more free with whole sections appearing out of nothing, and sometimes whole sub-plots and characters disappearing from the tale.


    Publish or Perish

  5. I have an award for you over on my blog!!! Check it out when you get a chance :)

  6. Once I get an idea, I usually end up brainstorming the different directions I could go with it. After that, a skeletal outline comes together. Then I write and write - making a detailed outline as I go to help with the synopsis later.

  7. Al,
    That's interesting that you add whole new subplots to your story after finishing. I think my editing would be a smoother process if I were able to do that more easily.

    Synopsis. Gah!! I cringe just hearing the word. But I agree, an outline makes it so much easier to write one. I'm working on a Synopsis right now.

  8. I don't know my whole story until I write the last word. Sometimes I think I know my whole story and then it goes and changes on me. :) But I'm like you with the notebooks. Although, I haven't ever bought 100 of them! Seriously? :)

  9. I free wrote my first draft. THEN I outlined it. As for beginnings, I wrote my beginning five times until I found one that worked.

  10. I am not an outliner. Like Kasie, I think I know my story from the start, but little surprises always pop up to change things.

    In addition to the notebooks, I have scribbles on napkins, grocery lists, et all, as well as voice messages to myself on my cellphone.

  11. Oh, wait, I misread Kasie's comment. Nevermind. I'm not like Kasie at all. She's brilliant!

  12. I usually think I know the whole story when I start. Then, the story grows and grows until it something alive and breathing and entirely out of my control! :-)

  13. My mom goes CRAZY with those notebook sales!

    I'm definitely like you in that I keep a checklist at the bottom of my manuscript (or at the bottom of each chapter). It's a great way to stay on task. :-)

    For my book, The Key of Kilenya, a normal outline didn't work. I had to draw a map and use that as the outline. :-) Though, normally, I'm an outliner. :-)

  14. Hi Candice! Just hoping over from Jen's blog. Congrats on the award!

  15. Great process!

    For the most part, I'm a panster. I know the beginning of my story and the end, and even a few spots along the middle, but that's about it. However, before I start writing each chapter/scene I make the outline thing I talked about on my blog =)

  16. Pantser here. I wish I weren't, though. I promised myself I would try an outline and synopsis this time to compare the difference. How can I ever know if one works better if I continue the same ole?

    I begin an organized journey for one minute then I drift off to the la la land of what is comfortable.

  17. Hi Candace!

    I really don't have a one size fits all for every story I write!

    There are times when I just write an intro and I leave it like that until I'm ready to write. Sometimes I have ideas of what the story will basically be about and I'd just fill in the gaps. I am also a free-writer and write what comes along.

  18. Well since I've only been working on one book my experience is limited, but for this book I had to do a lot of research and the ideas kept coming and coming. About 20,000 words in I wrote an outline so that I wouldn't forget any of them. I know all my major plot lines and twists and I know the ending. I just need to connect everything together now.

  19. This is my first go-around, having recently switched genres from short story to novel. I tried free-writing the story but only got so far before I realized I needed some structure. I went back to the beginning and now, with some serious plotting and outlining underway, I have a hold of the reigns again.

    In general, I'm a character-driven writer. I see the evolution of a character immediately and his or her arc is a snap to design. It's the plot that has been my greatest challenge.

    Looking forward to following you!

  20. Thanks everyone for sharing your process. I love hearing about how your brilliant minds formulate stories!

  21. Usually for me, it starts with a concept, then from there, I try to set it up in a very specific outline format to help me break down just what, where, who, why, when etc...

    After my outline is all nice and shining, then I take to the opening line. Normally, I write a few chapters and just let it flow, but then after I get toward the middle of the novel, I end up having to plan a bit more.

  22. I didn't do an outline at all for the one I just finished. I kinda wish I'd used an outline or at least a calendar so I didn't have to do so much cutting and pasting. But even when I get close to the end and I think I know what will happen, sometimes I'm still surprised. The process of writing helps me figure it out.

  23. I'm in awe of people who can write whole books in a matter of a few weeks.
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