Idea to First Draft

My writing methodology has evolved over time and by necessity varies from story to story. That being said, there is generally a definable process. At the beginning is always an idea: it could be a situation or a setting, a character, a feeling, a fragment of a dream, or any number of other things. But it’s definitely not a story yet. The tricky part is turning that idea into a story.

The process starts with some heavy brain-work. It may appear that I am just laying around on my bed, sitting in the bathtub, or staring out the window, but bit by bit I’m building the makings of a story around my initial idea. I try to figure out who the protagonist is, the central conflict, and get some sense of a beginning, middle and end.

Once I feel like I have a bit of story, I really try to refine it, sometimes in my head, and sometimes on paper. The essence of this step is telling the story to myself over and over and breaking it down into scenes. Each time I revise a little, adding new images, taking out plot that doesn’t work, refining the plot that does, until I have an outline with a well defined conflict and a clear beginning, middle and end mapped out in scenes. At this point, I may have a sense for what the story is about thematically as well.

Then comes the actual writing. Generally I follow my outline, but there are always surprises, details to be worked out, and new things to be discovered and invented when putting the words on the page. There is also the craft and the art of the language to attend to as well. Mostly I just try to plow ahead toward the end, not editing or over-thinking too much.

The editing/rewriting process is still to come, but it’s a great feeling when you get to the end and have a first draft. That flicker of an idea, whatever it was, is now a story, and despite all the work, there’s something sort of magical about that.