I just finished the first draft of a short story titled “The Plum” which (dare I say it) I’m really quite pleased with and I thought I would share a little of the process I have gone through with it so far.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m definitely more of a planner than a pantser. I used to get struck with a half-formed idea and sit down and start writing it in a fit of inspiration–the way people imagine writers do–but after a while it would peter out because ultimately everything that happened in that scene was meaningless. The conversations were not building towards anything, there was no conflict, and there was no sense of what was important. This was all because I had no idea of the overarching scheme of things and therefore my scene had no purpose. I know a lot of writers prefer to plough along anyway and mould the structure out of this raw material later. To an extent, I do this as well, but personally I find it impossible to maintain motivation to keep writing if I don’t have a specific direction in mind for each scene.
For this reason, I started planning. Which is not to say I plan in meticulous detail and is certainly not to say that I prioritise sticking to this plan 100% as I go along. I think it’s definitely important to leave a good amount of space for spontaneous elements to emerge and evolve along the way.
This particular piece ended up being around 7,700 words at the end of the first draft. I definitely didn’t have a specific word count in mind when I started but I guess I had a vague idea that it wouldn’t be super long (as short stories go) and that it probably wouldn’t be shorter than 5,000. For this much writing, my plan was around 1 handwritten page of A4. It consists of bullet points giving very brief descriptions of the scenes I could easily envisage, in the chronological order in which they would occur. At this early stage I was picturing some scenes more clearly than others but I tried to fill in the blanks as much as possible and give a rough idea of what I thought would happen at each stage of the story.
There is one resource that I find particularly helpful when it comes to this stage and that is this guide from How To Write A Book Now on creating a plot outline consisting of eight simple elements. I have used this guide time and time again and found that it works for short stories as well as plays and longer pieces. It is a really helpful tool for generating ideas and mapping a rough structure for your piece in the early stages of writing when inspiration may have struck but may not yet have taken a palatable form. In the past I have used this guide to generate a rough idea of the scenes I will need to include, which I have then jotted onto index cards so that I can arrange and rearrange them as needed. I always do this part by hand because it somehow feels much more rough and adjustable to me.
One thing I never do at this stage is too much work on character. This might seem totally wrong to some writers but there is nothing I find more dry than producing detailed character biographies and that sort of thing before I allow myself to sit down and get on with the story. I find that if I do this I tend to end up shoe-horning an already fully-formed character into an already vaguely-formed plot structure. I much prefer to write the story as I have (however loosely) planned it and come back to flesh out my characters later. This does not necessarily mean that my writing is not character-driven, but just that I get to know my characters as I go along rather than birthing them fully grown.
When it came to actually writing “The Plum” I found (much to my delighted surprise) that it flowed quite easily. Since I had my handy plan, I always had a purpose for each scene in mind that kept things moving forward. I did get stuck once or twice, and when this happens I find it really helps me to stop and make a much more detailed plan of the scene I am about to get into. Again, I usually map out in bullet points exactly what needs to happen to keep the story moving and to achieve my purpose for the scene, and I will always do this part on paper. Sometimes this plan can be so detailed it will include actual lines of dialogue or description that I will copy straight into the story. I find that once I have a more detailed outline of the particular scene that was holding me up, it comes much more easily.
I have been working on this story since August but the vast majority of it was done throughout September. I did not work on it every single day by any means, but I have found that what they say about the act of writing generating more writing tends to be true. Equally though, sometimes a couple of days’ space from the piece you’re working on can be really beneficial to me, and I try not to feel guilty about it.
The next stage for me will be redrafting which, to be honest, is not something I have perfected or even had very much practise of at all so far. I would love to know what your writing process looks like and particularly what tips you have for the redrafting process. Where do you start? Do you leave your work alone for a while and come back with a fresh pair of eyes? At what stage do you ask others for feedback, if at all?
Thank you for reading!