I don’t have much writing progress to talk about this week, as I spent most of the week fighting a cold and doing some paid work. So I thought I’d talk a bit about how I choose what to write about.

I have a lot of ideas. They come to me in dreams, in conversations, just out of the blue. I put them in a spreadsheet I developed (which I keep revising, because I love playing with Microsoft Excel) and when I eventually get to them, I develop the idea and start writing.

I try to write character-driven stories, which means that if my idea is a situation, I will develop characters whom I put into the situation and then see what they do to get out of it.

When I was first writing, I would have an idea and start writing, and then just see where the story took me. That method resulted in a fair number of false starts and pointless stories. Yet I wrote with that method for most of my life!

Not anymore. Now, I try to plan the story a bit ahead of time.

For a piece of flash fiction (under 1,000 words, with a goal of 500 as best) I will write down the main problem and three plot points (the last of which is the ending).

For a novel, I try to start with a basic premise and expand it gradually by factors of three until I have what I feel is a solid outline. Then I write the story in short-form, planning one chapter per paragraph, to see where it might take me. I don’t include any dialogue in this story: it’s just the basics.

Short stories (1,000 — 10,000 words) are somewhere in the middle. I don’t plan them as strictly, and I often start out with a question I want to answer, then drop some characters into the situation suggested by the question and see what happens. I find it much easier to cut the excess from a too-long story than to add words to something that’s quite focused.

One of the reasons I write character-driven fiction is that I love to explore characters and learn how their minds work. Holly Lisle likes to say that when you’re writing fiction, you’re writing about what you would do if you were someone else, and that’s what I’m talking about here. If I took a basic plot outline and changed the characters, little things about the story would change, because the characters would make slightly different choices. Imagine The Hunger Games with Tris from Divergent instead of Katniss, and vice versa. How would the stories be different? How would they be the same?

Creating characters and telling their stories is the fun part of writing. Making the story work within word count constraints is the hard part. I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t think it was worth it.

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