Writing Question of the Week: What Story Development Processes Do Writers Use?
Chris Mojo asked this question of Janalyn Voigt on Quora.
An idea might start with a character, a theme, or even just a title. Writers use a variety of story development processes to take an idea from a concept to a novel. I find that the story itself often suggests the approach. I’ll explain that in a bit.
Story Development Processes
- Organic writing, also known less elegantly as the seat-of-the-pants (SOP) method, is when the writer does little-to-no pre-writing or plotting but simply lets the story flow. This method works best for those who are highly intuitive. Pros: Advantages for this particularly writing process are that it’s easier to tap into creativity, the plot is more nimble, and the writer can dive right into a story as soon as inspiration strikes. Organic writing saves time in the plotting process but can take longer. Cons: Sometimes a first draft comes easily, but when it doesn’t, using this method can lead to frustration. It’s not hard to paint the story into a corner or take a wrong turn and become stuck. Using the organic writing method can lead to rewriting to fix plot holes or editing heavily to align the story to a chain of events the author wasn’t aware of at the outset.
- Plotting a novel around a central theme and story problem using a three-act plot structure appeals best to those who enjoy order. Pros: Plotting your novel takes an investment of time up front but can expidite the writing process. Because plot questions have been thought out ahead of time, writing can flow unimpeded. Plotting a novel can also reduce the amount of time spent editing it. Cons: Some writers feel locked in by the plot, which can stymie creativity. Plus, writing a plot in detail makes some writers feel as if they have already told the story, killing the creative spark for them.
- A hybrid method such as plotting a novel by the numbers gives writers the best of both worlds. They can write organically within a plot guideline flexible enough to change as the story unfolds. Pros: This method requires little set-up time and reduces the need for heavy editing. Cons: Those who function best by writing organically may find any form of plot prohibitive.
These are the basic styles used in developing a story, however countless variations exist. I prefer a hybrid method to plot and write most of my novels, however there are times when the needs of the story call for organic writing or outright plotting. Mystery novels need more structure, so I plot them more heavily. A character-driven story often derives power from organic writing.
It’s important to discover what story development process most often works for you. But watch out. Just when you become set in your ways, a story may surprise you.
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©2014 by Janalyn Voigt