Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Bare Bones of Your Story


I’ve been doing this writing gig for quite some time. I’ve met all sorts of writers, those who enjoy the research, take a ton of notes, read all the “how to” books, and yet they never finish a novel. What’s the deal?

Perhaps it’s the bones of their stories. What are the bones?

Dwight Swain gives a good list of elements (bones) to get you going:

1. a focal character
2. a situation in which this character is involved
3. an objective Character seeks to attain
4. an opponent who strives against Character
5. a potential climactic disaster on which to hinge the resolution.

As you work on this skeletal frame, you will see that pretty soon your story will flesh out with the characterization of the players, the setting, the theme, plot and etc.

Some people use these bones to help them outline a story so they know exactly what is going to happen in each chapter. Other people find that outlining smothers their creativity.

I’m somewhere in the middle. I like to think of the opening scene, then I plan the closing scene. Once I have a good idea how I want those to work, I can sit down and write. Research fills in the holes as the story progresses.

How do you work with the “bare bones” of your story?

26 comments:

  1. I think I may be more like you. Inspiration for something comes-I ponder it, I do a bit of research, but then I get after it-to have a novel you have to have a story. The only outlining that ever really occurs is that pondering phase where I contemplate inciting incident and climax-its then a shining path of discovery for me to get from A to Z.

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  2. David,
    I hear you! I love the pondering part. As a matter of fact, I'm doing that right now on another book idea.

    I'm glad I'm not alone on the inspiration part of writing. And I love going down that shining path of discovery!

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  3. You know I've tried all the methods, Kathi. My first book (you remember, Time Weaver?) I wrote pretty much by the seat of my pants. The next three were along the same road but with each I did a little more structuring ahead of time. With my fifth book, To Have and To Hold, I did all the charts: characterization, scene-sequel, plot point diagrams. I've always felt To Have and To Hold was my best-written book, but I've realized lately that the more I got into all that charting, the less I enjoyed the writing. Some of the books I did the most work on, I never finished. Guess that might say something, right?

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  4. Your skeletal points are very nice! I'm somewhere in the middle regarding outlining. Too much outlining feels a little like the story is already told. Too little and my characters wander. :)

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  5. I have the tendency to think my idea through first and then outline it in terms of plot. I also enjoy the whole research phase. It thrills and inspires me. Then comes the best part . . . the writing!

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  6. Stacy,
    That's how I feel! I hate it when my characters wonder off the story. Thanks!

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  7. Roxy,
    I love hearing how other writers work. And you're right the best part is the writing. :)

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  8. Charlene,
    I remember. Interesting path your writing has taken. And it's good that you felt as though your writing got stronger with each book. That's what all writers hope for.

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  9. I don't do any formal outlining, although on my latest MS, I came up with chapter titles that captured the essence of the action. I usually have places that I know I want to go, but I leave the getting there to inspiration. I'm often very surprised at what comes out of my head! It's so much fun that way, and I could definitely see how I would feel stifled if I put too much into an outline.

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  10. Tracy:
    I understand what you're saying. I don't want to get stifled. I like surprises especially when they make the story stronger. Good idea just using chapter titles. :)

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  11. With historical fiction, my bare bones are the main character and her story. For Hatshepsut, I knew a lot because there's a fair bit of documentation from her reign. For Nitokerty, the protagonist of Book #2, there's really only one sentence from Herodotus.

    Big differences, but same idea. Write a story about the life of these amazing women.

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  12. Hey Kathi. Great blog!! Thanks for the tips and I like the pic. =D I have an award for you over on my blog.

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  13. I need to work out the start and end in my head before I ever start writing - and then it's right to the outline. I save any research and filling in until the revision stage. It's easy to get caught up on research instead of writing - and plus, research is my least favorite part.

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  14. I work pretty much like you do. Beginning and end, a few plot points, characters, setting, and press go.

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  15. Stephanie,
    I can totally see starting with history as you begin to formulate a story. Your books sound wonderful. :0)

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  16. RaShelle:
    I'm glad you like my blog. Thanks for the award. I'll stop by and pick it up. :0)

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  17. Jaydee,
    We're very alike in our methods in that we both need to have the opening and closing of the book in mind before we start writing. I've never thought of writing the entire book first and then doing the research. Hmm...something to think about that's for sure. :0)

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  18. Carol,
    I like your "press go" after you know the beginning and ending of your story. If only it were that easy for me. Maybe we need and "Easy" button like they use in the Staples ads. :)

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  19. I have a couple of Dwight Swain's books. Of course, I'm not all the way through them.

    Thanks for posting it! I've recently tried improving my plotting and those bare bones steps should help me with the basics. :)

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  20. Suzie,
    Dwight Swain is great. I especially like his take on scene and sequel. Thanks for stopping by!

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  21. Even in the early to mid-stages of my novel I'm constantly outlining. The outline evolves as the story progresses. It's too daunting to try and figure it all out at once.

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  22. Anne,
    Constantly outlining is a good way to go about it. It would not be restricting, but fluid as the story flows. Good point.

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  23. I used to not plan anything, but now I write one or three chapters, and then write out the basic Events that happen in each chapter. Then, when I come toward the end when I want to shoot myself in the leg, I just look at what Big Events I need to happen, and it helps me be able to finish.

    Oh, and thanks for the tips :) Yay!

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  24. AchingHope,
    That's a good way to do it. I may have to work on two books at a time and this would help keep the story lines straight. :)

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  25. I like this list Kathy. I know when I wrote my first book, I didn't have a clue about the bones and soon I learned them but still have to be sure my book has that structure. Now I'm adding the meat!

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  26. Terri,
    I know what you mean. I didn't understand the "bare bones" with my first novel either. That's probably why it didn't sell. I'm so glad I learned from my mistakes. :)

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