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Hello! The name I was given at birth is Michael Robinson. You may have seen something I wrote in the past. Only a handful are worth preservi...

June 28, 2019

How I draft stories

I discovered that trying to write one big blob does not work for me. I can get as far as 2000 words before the volume overwhelms. As with many things in life, breaking it down into pieces helps a lot! This is where most outlining writers suggest a big bulleted list where you work out all the beats of a story.

That's gonna be a no from me. Tried it. Didn't work. My method uses stubs. Here's an example. The example character is named Bean. While this uses a fiction example, it works for nonfiction. I developed this in college to get through all the things I had to write.

[Story opens with Bean climbing an ancient ruined skyscraper]

The brackets help set the outline apart from the story. Paragraphs grow off these bracketed stubs.

Here's some more.

[Bean climbs into a room][finds some food so she won't die]

I don't always do one per line. Sometimes I have to map out an entire paragraph to write it. Something about the noncommittal nature of stubs makes it easier, and then it's less stress to write actual story.

Personally, I start with dialogue.

[Bean goes through the room's door and meets another traveler]

"Hello," Bean said. The stranger's hand moved to grip their side. "I come in peace. Don't shoot."

The stranger's grip loosened. "I don't like surprises."

"Sorry. I didn't know anyone else came here. I'm indifferent to surprises." Bean took a deep breath and extended the hand opposite the stranger's, still on their side. "I'm Bean."

"Coffee?"

"Cocoa. My parents loved chocolate when you could still get it."

"No, I mean would you like some coffee. I found some that's still fresh."

[the as-yet unnamed stranger makes cowboy coffee in an old stainless steel pot with a fuel cell-powered portable stove]

[they spend the evening getting to know each other]

I do another writing pass to fill out senses, stubbing it out to write later unless I know exactly how I want to proceed. Every writer has at least one persistent foible. Mine is talking heads suspended in dark rooms. They project words at each other without the slightest awareness that other people are talking. I do a writing pass to build senses, then another to show how characters react to what's happening. Trying to compress these steps into a single pass makes my writing slow and stilted.

Think of it like the way painters work. Some of them draw outlines. Some of them block it out with big forms then refine them. Some of them do sketches on paper. Every person who creates develops their own process with enough practice.

The writing passes you make will probably be different.

[Bean wakes to the smell of stale coffee in the pot]

[Bean hasn't had coffee in a long time and tried to drink it stale and cold][reaction goes here]

I try to write every sense for every beat in a scene even if not all of them make the cut. Doing that builds the scene in my head so I know what I'm working with. Beyond that, I keep stubbing and writing until it feels like a whole story. I sit on it and start on another story, then come back to edit it weeks later.

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