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Author Topic: Critical Mass
Member # 8329

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A novel plotting project has me thinking.

These days, I like to structure my stories ahead of time, and with a novel find that this gives me a logical, consistent framework with nice escalating tension and rising stakes. What I find very, very difficult, is getting started in the first place.

I might start off with a central idea, inspired by something I’ve seen or heard or read recently, but then... nothing. I’ll sweat over a blank page (or screen) for days trying to come up with a compelling way to turn that into a plot. Part of this block is the realisation that I want critical plot points to be contributed by their own compelling and believable motivations – substories I don’t have yet, because I don’t know what’s needed. Catch-22, and I find I’m stuck (tangentially, I heard a great term for this today: Analysis Paralysis).

Maybe it’s sheer willpower, or just the result of fomenting an idea in one’s head for days, but gradually things start to take shape. The character list swells and grows, the characters’ motivations and stories and parts start to take shape, their influence on the main character(s) take shape and it seems like it reaches a point of critical mass where, finally, fleshing out the bare structure of the story is easy and enjoyable. As if by magic then, somehow, the page is not only no longer blank, but begging to be written on.

I find the hardest thing then is not writing, when I know that I need to put just a little more thought into the consistency of my story so I’ll not automatically be just throwing away the first few pages.

So do you get stuck plotting like this? Do you find you get to a point where you reach critical mass? What do you do?

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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It will always be rewritten, no matter how much you plan.

If you don't write when you just have to, you can lose your momentum. Catch the wave and go with it.

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Member # 8501

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I agree with Kathleen.

For me the process of writing gets the thinking process going. Once the words start getting put down on paper, if you've written a good plan, enough of those elements should come out and break the dam open. If you've got a plan you like, start with quantity, then edit for quality.

Two of my last three projects had starts that didn't make it into the subsequent drafts... part of the Chapter 2 rule. Often you can just chuck Chapter 1 and start with Chapter 2 where the real start of the story will likely begin.

You can't get to Chapter 2, however, until you have written Chapter 1, so the most important thing to do is get things down on paper no matter how uninspired you think they may be.

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Bent Tree
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I am a bit conflicted and tend to disagree somewhat. I feel that in my case it is better to let an idea come to full fruition and there are many ideas and processes involved in a good novel. I find it better to have a notebook or file for a novel where I can, over a span of time, compile notes, character development, rituals, wheather patterns, etc... anything and everything related to the millieu or story. Which in a sence you are writing and therefore developing dialogues etc... but it is not something I have to spend a thousand hours editing.

Just my thoughts.

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Member # 5638

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"it is better to let an idea come to full fruition"

What is the sign that it has come to full fruition, if not when the page is begging to be written on?

For me, as the others have said, that is exactly the moment to start writing, because passion for the story is strong. Sure, it will be imperfect and will need (painful) revision; wait too long, analyze too much, and the passion vanishes.

Whenever it gets written it will surely need revision anyhow. Better to revise a story written with passion, than something logical but flat.

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Member # 8140

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What is the sign that it has come to full fruition...?

When you realize the deadline is only ten days away.

[This message has been edited by rich (edited March 25, 2009).]

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Member # 8250

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I agree with Kathleen, you don't write when the urge hits, then you're missing your best chances. During that time your speed and enthusiasm will be unmatched. Sure, you'll have line-edits that need to be changed, and you'll have to edit for consistency, but if you expect that, it's not so daunting.
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Member # 8250

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So to get past the chapter 2 rule, I'll just start a new document and the first two words I'll write will be "chapter two".
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Member # 2733

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I've found that the best starting point for me is a character with a goal (one that's all-important to him) that something is preventing him from achieving (or something he highly values that's being taken away).

In general, I'm in agreement with Kathleen and others in the thread in that it best for me to start writing before everything is completely worked out in my head. But I understand that that approach isn't for everyone.

The way I might start if I wanted, say, a love story, might be.

"William loved Leona more than life itself, and when he heard she agreed to marry Clint he was devastated. He knew he had to act now."

And just kind of follow that idea in an expository sense until enough of a vision forms that I can go back and start showing the story in dramatic scenes. In a sense it's a "prose" outline for the beginning of the story, and I draft from there. The revision process is where I start to look at the overall story structure and try to architect it. That's just the way that works best for me now, and different approaches will often work better for other folks.

For me, the critical mass you describe comes pretty early on, as soon as I have a character with a good conflict, and if I delay writing to keep working on the downstream details, I'll lose the critical mass.

[This message has been edited by dee_boncci (edited March 25, 2009).]

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Member # 8434

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I have to side with Kathleen and the others on this one. There comes a time when the voice in my head just screams "WRITE, YOU IDIOT". What I end up writing may be mindless drivel, but other thoughts and threads tend to fall out of it and before long I have three or four chapters or at the very least a pretty plump outline with ideas to build on.
There is a flip side to the coin, however. Sometimes I find if I leave the writing for a day or two and go back to it things make a little more sense and I can add bits and pieces I was too short-sighted to see before.

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