How I plan a story + story updates

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Greetings readers! Today I come bearing a handful of Million Eyes updates, and a bit of insight into how I plan and develop stories.

Million Eyes 

Work on the first novel in The Million Eyes Trilogy continues, and the end is nigh. I’m currently rewriting the very last chapter of the novel, and I’m in the process of reading the chapters immediately preceding it to my writers’ group, Rushmoor Writers, for their input.

Then there is an extra chapter I need to add much earlier on in the novel. After that, it’s a case of going right back to the beginning for the final edit. As mentioned in a previous blog, I’m waiting to hear whether I’ve been accepted for this writing residency in Switzerland (staying and writing in a treehouse in the Swiss Mountains!). In the likely event that I haven’t, I’m planning a writers’ retreat in Dorset.

Publication news for the Million Eyes Short Stories

Last year was a good year for the Million Eyes Short Stories. Three stories were published—The Charlie Chaplin Time Traveller, Rachel Can See and Paul—in Tigershark Magazine, Metamorphose Volume 2 and Storgy Magazine respectively.

The Babushka Lady has been accepted for publication by Indie Authors Press for their time-travel-themed anthology, The Chronos Chronicles. You can read my blog from Sunday for more details.

I’ve also submitted Who is Rudolph Fentz? to Storgy Magazine. Storgy ask for unpublished stories, and Who is Rudolph Fentz? was published in Issue 68 of Scribble Magazine in 2015. However, I’ve said to Storgy that Issue 68 is now out of print, so the story isn’t actually available to read. I’m hoping that because of that, they’ll make an exception. We shall see…

Meanwhile, two other stories have recently received accolades. The Quiet Invasion has been shortlisted for publication by New Myths, an online speculative fiction publisher. I will hear by the end of April on whether they actually want to publish the story. And Rachel Can Still See, winner of the Rushmoor Writers Hyde Cup 2016, was shortlisted in the Writers’ Forum monthly short story competition. I’m just waiting for the final results. If I make it into the top three, I get published in the Writers’ Forum magazine and win some money! Whoop whoop! 😀

Finally, I recently developed a plan for a new Million Eyes Short Story about a timey wimey incident aboard a train.

Talking of planning stories…

How I plan a story

As people know, I’m a plot-driven writer. As in, I start with a story I want to tell, and then write characters to fit that story. A character-driven writer would start with a character they want to write about, and then create a plot to explore and develop that character.

The distinction can be seen in TV shows as well as in books. 24 is a plot-driven series; the characters are secondary. Every episode functions to advance the plot at a lightning pace, and the characters are along for the ride. Don’t get me wrong. 24 has some great, well-written characters, and as the story progresses, the characters develop with it. But it’s not about them. It’s about stopping the terrorists who are trying to nuke the US or assassinate the president etc.

The Affair, on the other hand, is a character-driven series. The plot happens because the characters are disturbed/selfish/broken/misguided. It’s about seeing them attempt/fail to cope with their complicated, messed-up lives. In each episode, the story is told from one character’s point of view (and, innovatively, with memory bias), the purpose being to explore their relationships with each other. Some people might consider this approach boring, and if your characters aren’t compelling, it can be. Fortunately this isn’t the case with The Affair.

With that in mind, as a plot-driven writer, these are the steps I take when I plan a short story or novel.

  1. I start with a concept/idea and write it down. Sometimes I’ll start with just a paragraph or two, outlining the point of the story, the reason I want to tell it, or the origin of the idea.
  2. I will start to flesh out that idea into a plot. For me, that often involves rabbiting on for pages and pages. I brainstorm, writing down exactly what I’m thinking. This means I’m detailing several directions the plot could go. “This could happen, or perhaps this could happen, or maybe even…” You get the picture.
  3. I go back through my jumble of plot ideas, make a decision on what directions I want the plot to take, and hone the ideas into a loose narrative. You know the drill: beginning, middle and end. A skeleton of the story.
  4. Characters! Previously, while working out the plot, I might have had some rough designs on characters and character motivations. Perhaps none at all. But once I have a skeleton narrative sorted, I start developing characters to fit it. I work out who my characters are, what drives them, what their issues are, and how the workings of the plot are going to affect them/change them.
  5. A detailed plan. If I’m writing a novel, I will start creating a chapter by chapter summary. If I’m writing a short story, I will still set out a summary of each scene and plot development. This is the stage where I start to flesh out my characters and the finer details of the plot.
  6. WRITE!

Once I start writing—be it a novel or a short story—the detailed plan will change. Often, in fact. I’ll discover plot points or character developments that just don’t work, and need to re-plan. And when I’m writing a new draft of an existing story, I’ll go back to my detailed plan and do a new summary for each chapter or scene before I write it.

And yes, I always make sure I have an ending in mind before I write. Parts of that ending can change, but the fundamentals need to be there. It makes me feel organised as I craft the story. Makes me feel like the narrative is going somewhere, that it has a point, a message, an endgame.

That’s how I role, anyway. What about you? How do you plan a story, and why does it work for you? Feel free to comment below! 🙂

Next week: 9/11 victims reincarnated?

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