freshjaclyn's picture
freshjaclyn from Michigan is reading Beautiful You August 19, 2016 - 7:04pm


I know that this is complex and needs an intensive course to describe in detail. I'm not looking for detail, right now though. If someone were to prompt me with strict instruction, I could write it out...I have so so so so so so much trouble finding my own story that grows past the concept phase.

Help? Advice?

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal August 19, 2016 - 8:52pm

Define "concept phase" for us. Are you a panster and you have a half-written (or more) generic story? Are you outlining? What's going on here?

Sheri Attani Rohrbacher's picture
Sheri Attani Ro... from San Jose, CA is reading The Blindfold by Siri Hustvedt August 21, 2016 - 9:31pm

Hmm, I guess I'll just throw out my "process" and you can be the judge of whether or not it might help you.

My characters come to me, so to speak. Maybe it's the part of my brain that tells me that I can't actually give that smart ass reply to some real person or they will hit me in the face. But one starts talking then he/she is joined by another. They develop in my head and after a while I start writing down what they say and do. Basically I daydream about them I guess. But I start writing notes then I type the notes up in some sort of order so that there is a story, sort of. Then I begin with the rewrites.

I think there are many ways to spark your creative juices. One way which I use is the craft essay section here on litreactor. It's been a big help to me. I just sit here reading the different essays and most of the time I either get an idea or words start playing around in my head in a creative way. There is a wealth of information here and because the info is being presented by creative authors, attention is paid to their word choices, their phrasing, etc.

Obviously I'm a "panster" (?). I don't do much planning and my plots tend to develop themselves. If I do try to plan things out I always end up with crap. It's just how my brain works. Only you know what works best for you and the only way you can find out is by trying both ways. Preferably without stressing.

Jose F. Diaz's picture
Jose F. Diaz from Boston is reading Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel August 22, 2016 - 3:37pm

I map out my stories. Break each story into three acts, include the inciting incident, the point of no return, and the climb to the final conflict leading to the resolution.

Then, I spend hours ... days trying to figure out a clever way to twist a normally benign story. Sure, we can have a story about a woman dying of cancer. It straightforward, its touching, but what if she gets pregnant? Does she still go through treatment that "may" save her, or does she now forego treatment to ensure viability of the fetus?

It isn't a matter of discovering a story that has never been told, it's a matter of finding a clever way to combine circumstances into something wholly unique. 

As advice I once received, tell me a simple story, learn the basics of the story, how it functions, why it works, and then, through a wrench into the system. Zig where normally there is a zag.

Is the death of a person more or less sad because of X? Is the birth of a person more or less sad? Is the relationship better because of X? 

Run through Maslow's Hierarchy and see what happens if you have a seemingly normal person, couple, family, and then pull one of the foundations out. Can they overcome sudden loss of something vital? Do they turn on each other?

Or, if you want something more romantic and light hearted, force people to fall in love and then make it their only goal in life to stay together while others try and tear them apart. The judge and the convict, the lawyer and artist, the business person and mechanic, free spirit and whatever. You get the point.

So, write the simple story, then throw a wrench into the mix. As you get more comfortable with the process, then just get more complicated, more of whatever you want it to be. I deal with death and love and politics and science and the military. I try to show how death is good and bad, right and wrong. I show how love is good and bad, right and wrong, etc.

My ideas aren't epiphany, they're work.  

bethwenn's picture
bethwenn from Milwaukee is reading The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann August 22, 2016 - 7:20pm

I feel like such a spoiled shit. Mine hit me like lightning, They come to me in smaller pieces (images, places, and people), I fall madly in love with them, and then I spend all of my downtime living inside of them in daydreams and trying to figure them out. Some parts of the story I'll leave up to lightning strikes; others, I'll devote hours and days along the way to madly planning. It's intuitive, but at the same time it also requires a lot of hard work, planning, effort, and dry literary theory and analysis. But the idea has a logic of its own. I just try to keep the muse happy and follow the idea to its natural conclusion. She talks through the characters. Sometimes, if I do something to upset the idea, if I don't give certain things or characters proper attention and respect, if I misrepresent them, I'll know because she'll stop talking and they'll stop talking.

This is the best explanation of it I've ever heard so far:

I would just say, find an idea that you fall in love with. Go from there. It's okay to borrow as long as you're borrowing in a way that reinvents and makes things your own. Whatever speaks to your soul and feels like magic to you, really grips you, obsesses you, try to explore that more. Write, write, write. Don't stop writing. Once you've got the fire in your belly and the words on the page to work with, once you're invested in the story and care enough to put the work in without it seeming like oppressive work, then you can take it to the table, dissect it, and get the structure together.

But that's just what works for me.

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal August 23, 2016 - 8:31am

Ooookay, so if your plots tend to develop themselves, you're almost sure to run into big problems because making it up as you go leaves big holes, lacks foreshadowing... and you'll almost surely not have a great ending the first time around. That kind of thing (often?) requires a bunch of elements all culminating at once, and making it up as you go doesn't lay the groundwork for any of that. Especially if you don't know what the ending is. (Apparently great endings are one of the biggest difficulties for pansters). You might even write yourself into a total corner or dead end and have just nowhere to go with the story. You might even start a new draft without completing the first one.

What I've found helpful in this situation is a lot ofrevision. My big drafts look really, really different from early to later. Sometimes if I need to kind of force things along, I'll loosely outline with bullet points. Not all the way through, just getting through the sticking point.

Some people will also just skip parts where they're stuck and go back later to fill in the gaps. I've found this pretty difficult to do, but I've done it small scale a number of times and it eventually worked out.

All this can be aided by brainstorming with friends, writing out or talking out loud about what you want and why (sometimes, next thing you know, you're talking about why a plot idea won't work, and you realize the one that will!)... even looking at other plots from any media and asking either what worked for them, or what you think they should have done.

And if none of this works for you, good luck. The answer's out there, I'm just spitballing. 


freshjaclyn's picture
freshjaclyn from Michigan is reading Beautiful You August 24, 2016 - 4:28pm

@ Thuggish - I start writing thinking, "this is a cool idea," then get deep enough in and it hits a wall. I rarely ever get to the good stuff.

freshjaclyn's picture
freshjaclyn from Michigan is reading Beautiful You August 24, 2016 - 4:31pm

Thank you guys so much. I'm in a class right now and I'm going to use some of these ideas on my assignments. It is just so frustrating having stories die over and over.

Jose - I love the idea of a simple story with a wrench thrown into it. It seems more approachable than building it with all of the complications already embedded. Thank you!

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal August 24, 2016 - 6:22pm

Well what's the wall? When does it happen? If you know, why does it happen?

Jose F. Diaz's picture
Jose F. Diaz from Boston is reading Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel August 24, 2016 - 6:41pm

No worries, freshjaclyn. 

It's why you think the movie studios keep making the same movies over and over. It's because they do. They just add a twist on what works. 

Develop the basics. Understand why stories work. Then, you'll understand how to improve the system and make it work for you. Good luck.

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal August 24, 2016 - 7:18pm

Maybe this will be helpful:

It kind of ties in with what Jose just said about movies being the same (but not).