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Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Biggus Beardus, Jan 2, 2022.

What should I develop first?

Poll closed Jan 9, 2022.
  1. World

    37.5%
  2. Characters

    37.5%
  3. Plot

    25.0%
  1. FifthView

    FifthView Vala

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    I'm not disputing the value of short stories, nor short story writing as a discipline, only that it's a required first step for novel writing.
     
  2. Mad Swede

    Mad Swede Inkling

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    And I'm disagreeing with you, and arguing that writing short stories is an essential first step for novel writing. And my reason is that successful short story writing places a premium on two of the most essential skills for all good fiction: characterisation and plot development.
     
  3. FifthView

    FifthView Vala

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    Again, those things can be learned through writing novels. So we'll need to agree to disagree on this one. (y)
     
  4. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    >arguing that writing short stories is an essential first step for novel writing
    How about merely asserting that such writing can be helpful? Essential implies it is impossible to write a good novel without first writing a short story (however poor). That is readily disproved.

    Short stories do place a premium on characterisation and plot development, but surely so does a novel? Perhaps the shorter form focuses one's attention more on those, though Poe argued that theme or emotion was the key with a short story. And surely the genre matters here. Writing short detective stories isn't likely to help much with writing an epic fantasy.

    Still and all, there's something to be said for the short story from my own experience; namely, getting done. I've argued regularly that a hugely important step for any author is getting that first story done--by which I mean written, edited, and submitted for publication. It's part craft and part psychology, but the benefits were tangible and important for me. I've heard similar from other authors.

    It's indisputable that it will take less time to write a short story than to write a novel, so with that in mind I could urge a new author to go for the short story first. I didn't. I tackled the novel, but along the way a couple of other stories intruded (mainly because the novel took several years), so I was able to see those benefits of the short story fairly early on.

    So, I would encourage, but I would not require.
     
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  5. Mad Swede

    Mad Swede Inkling

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    No, I think it is essential. I've explained my main reasons as an author earlier, and I won't re-hash those arguments again.

    To those arguments I would add that starting with short stories lets you try different genres, different styles and different approaches to writing. It is, in my view, the best way of honing your fiction writing skills. (This is the way Terry Pratchett started.) It's an easier way of finding what works for you than starting something novel length and then finding half way along that you want to start again because it isn't working. And as you say, there is also the psychological boost of actually finishing something.

    It's also easier to find a home (as in publisher) for short stories. A lot of the web magazines pay little or nothing, but some anthologies and magazines pay professional rates and qualify you for things like SFWA membership. Get enough short stories published and you start to build a name, one which you can use when you want to publish your novel. Marketing and publicity are a lot easier if you're already known, and that is good news if you're self-publishing. If you're going the traditional publisher route then most agents and publishers like to see some form of track record when you submit to them. Being able to list a few published short stories is a good way to open doors, especially if you got them into SFWA qualifying magazines - because it proves you can write to high standards.

    So yes, I think that starting with short stories is essential. But that's only my opinion based on my experience.
     
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  6. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    >But that's only my opinion based on my experience.
    Not trying to argue here, but I think it's important for a noob to hear different perspectives. I'm going to go beyond personal experience to point out that a great many successful and famous authors have begun by writing a novel first. Some even wrote novels and never wrote short stories. So "essential" really isn't the right word here. Essential for some, sure. Essential for all, that's demonstrably untrue. The list of exceptions to this essential is very long, from John Bunyan down to J.R.R. Tolkien (whose first publication was The Hobbit). Anna Sewell (Black Beauty) wrote only the one story, but it's a classic. Ross Lockridge Jr is another. And so on.

    Writing short stories is hard. All writing is hard. I wouldn't want the noob to try to start with short stories, struggle, and decide they're not good enough to try a novel. Just write, sez I. Worry about length and form later, after having written.

    BTW, it was an interesting exercise to go see who has written short stories and who has not. There were some surprises there for me.
     
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  7. Rosemary Tea

    Rosemary Tea Archmage

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    Okay... so who's having these adventures?

    Is it you? Your alter ego with a different name? A D&D type character? An ordinary person who's suddenly been sucked into a game world like Alice through the looking glass?

    Maybe you are the dungeon master, but suddenly the characters develop minds of their own and start doing things off script.

    Think along those lines, and next thing you know you'll have a character or a few and the beginnings of a plot. You don't have to know where this is going when you start. Why not roll the dice and see where it goes?
     
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  8. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

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    There's no right or wrong to this or order of operations that one must follow. Every writer has their own process, and one of the things a new writer has to do is to wander around and find theirs. A lot it is about knowing what questions to ask yourself in order to find your way to your story.

    With that said, here's a broad strokes approach that I use.

    1 - The Idea/Spark - this is the seed from which I grow every from. It can be a vague notion of a character, a world, an interesting dilemma. etc. It doesn't matter what it is as long as you're willing to nurture the spark into something more. From this, I ask myself what kind of stories can I tell with this spark? What kind of stories do I want to tell?

    For me, I like to use the M.I.C.E. quotient as a starting point. Orson Scott Card’s MICE Quotient – The Writersaurus

    Because some stories don't need deep characters. Some stories don't need exhaustive worlds. Etc. Different types of stories require different things. And I don't think any story can do it all. A story that tries to do everything ends up doing nothing.

    2 - Once I have an Idea of what type of story I want to tell, I'll start to sketch out characters, world, and plot. I'll look at the main character(s). Who are they? What do they want? What's stopping them from getting what they want? The answers to these things are what comprises the engine that makes that character run.

    With the world, I ask myself how much of it do I need to develop/show. Depending on the story type, there may be a ton of work to be done or not. I mean there's a difference between the worlds of a small, intimate story set in a tiny village vs. that of a story that spans kingdoms and continents and all the different cultures that live there. Then I ask myself how does this setting relate to my charter(s) and their struggles. Regardless of setting, people tend to have similar problems, BUT, those problems manifest differently depending on your setting. A simple farm boy with big dreams is going to have problems manifest differently than a kid from the wrong side of the tracks in a big city trying to make something better for themselves.

    When you have a character with a problem and a setting, from those things you can find your plot. What a character wants is what the story is going to work towards, the character finally getting what they want. In between is the plot, the obstacles the character must overcome in order to achieve their goals. You can think of the starting point of a story as having character be in position A and the ending as the charter being the opposite of A.

    For example Star Wars. Luke Skywalker at the beginning is a simple farm boy. He wants to be a pilot like his father. Despite having a family, he longs for connection to long lost family. At the end of the film, he's a hero of the rebellion. He's flown an X-wing in combat. He's found connection to his father through learning to use the force, and through his adventures, he's found friends, who have become family.

    But none of the three things, character, world, and plot are developed in a vacuum. Change a bit of plot and suddenly you have to tweak your character, but then that tweak makes you decide to chance something about the world. It goes around and around until you figure it out.

    At the end of the day, to learn to write, you have to write. AND you have to take your bumps. Make your mistakes and learn from them. Also, it doesn't hurt to read some books on writing. There are lots of books on character, plot, and setting floating around. Not every one will click with you, but when you find one that does, it'll be infinitely helpful.
     
  9. Miles Lacey

    Miles Lacey Maester

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    It's good that the original poster has a rough idea about their main character and a few place names on a map of some sort. Their desire to know where they should start from - world building, character development or plot - is admirable. Their desire to write is obvious. What's missing is what's driving them to write their novel in the first place.

    A few weeks ago I was looking for a public domain image of someone who was poor and I was struck by how many of the images featured shabbily dressed people sitting in the street with cardboard signs or looking as sad and pathetic as it was humanly possible to look. Various searches related to the poor featured drug addicts and dealers, drunkards and victims and perpetrators of domestic violence and other crimes. I thought: if this is what comes to mind when people think about the poor then something is seriously messed up.

    My work in progress was dispatched to the recycling bin (literal, not electronic). That anger that has been boiling inside for such a long time has become my work in progress that's rampaging across my pages. I love the fact fantasy allows me to create a Great Depression type society where rapid advances in technology, social attitudes like those of the 1920s sin cities (Berlin, Paris and Shanghai) and mass unemployment, factory closures and grinding poverty exists side by side. But, mostly, because things can be written about in fantasy that real world fiction won't allow.

    Tolkien and other fantasy writers have not inspired me as far as my writing is concerned.

    Charles Dickens, John Steinback, Stephen King and George Orwell are the ones who inspire me. They not only wrote about poverty. They experienced it first hand. They've all created characters that we remember because they were the creations of people who had something to say.

    I suggest: dig deep. Find that passion or rage deep within you. Let your main character be the one who brings that passion or anger to life. Let your world reflect the things that you love and hate with passion. Then put it down on paper or screen. Run with it. See where it goes. When you finally write The End on the last page you've done the first draft.

    At least that's how I did it with my first novel which shall never be mentioned.
     
    Last edited: Jan 3, 2022
  10. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    Essential? No, not even close, depending on the precise definition you use of essential. I don't even think it's a possible argument as I define essential: necessary. Understanding character and what to leave out can be learned writing anything from a screenplay, to a short, to an epic, to a stage play, writing campaigns for RPGs, or video games. The only time I really write a "short" is when its a piece of something bigger that I leave out, heh heh.

    It might be analogous to saying "You must write screenplays in order to learn writing dialogue." While writing screenplays will teach dialogue skills and might even be the best way, it sure isn't essential.

     
    Last edited: Jan 3, 2022
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  11. pmmg

    pmmg Istar

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    I dont know how to vote. I would say any of the above.

    I also see Fifth got a few replies already ;) which is what made me want to pop up a post.

    When I began writing, i dived right into the Novel writing aspect. I wrote three novel length stories right off the start. And I will say about that, that is a very slow pace to useful feedback. I moved into short stories solely to get to the feedback portion better. But, I dont really have a mind for short stories. Every concept I come up with blows up fast into big multibook epics, so I dont think short stories are really my path. I do think they are useful to do to once in a while, just to stay tuned in to what is going on in the writing world and to get people to look at your stuff.

    My Current WIP, began with a lose concept of plot and characters, and world building was not as strongly required. I do wish I had spent more effort on world building. I fear I may have to go back and add it at this point.
     
  12. Mad Swede

    Mad Swede Inkling

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    Except that your examples are not newbie authors. John Bunyan had already published more than 20 works by the time A Pilgrims Progess was published. Anna Sewell had spent several years editing her mothers books before she wrote Black Beauty. Tolkien was a published (academic) author long before he wrote The Hobbit. So too was Ross Lockridge jr - and he'd had one novel rejected and abandoned another part-finished novel before Raintree County was accepted on condition that it be edited.

    And you Skip, you weren't a newbie author either. Neither was I. You, like Lockridge and Tolkien, worked in academia and a part of that is publishing papers and essays. I spent many years writing military plans, orders and reports. Other non-academic examples would Terry Pratchett, David Gemmell and Dick Francis, who all worked as journalists. We all had writing and editing experience. No, we weren't writing fiction (although Tolkien wrote a lot of poetry before he ever began The Hobbit), but we were writing for an audience and we had some form of message or point of view to convey. The same was true when you gave lectures. Generally, we didn't write long papers/essays/documents (yes, my thesis was 75000 words, but it was an exception), we had to keep it short for our audiences. What we all had in common was the need to develop writing and presentation skills for our work, skills which we then applied to writing fiction.

    Somewhere along the line we as authors need to develop our writing skills, our styles and our writing voice. Sure, as a newbie you can start by writing a novel. But as you say, all writing is hard. I wouldn't want the noob to try to start with a novel, struggle, and decide they're not good enough to write at all.

    Quite honestly, keeping things short is in my view a better and quicker way of learning what works for you and your audience. Thats especially true in the modern media landscape, where just about anyone can self-publish any dross they like. You have to learn what works, and learn fairly quickly if you want success (whether that be financial, critical, popular or all three).

    In many ways, trying to make it as an author is like starting out as an actor, a stand-up comedian or a new rock band. You have to learn the craft in small venues doing short sets before you can expect to get the big bookings. It takes time. It takes effort. And you die a lot of deaths on the way.
     
  13. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    None of those were short stories, mate. I chose those examples with some deliberation.

    Truly, I'm not at all opposed to short stories. I'm only opposed to words like "essential" and "have to" when giving advice.
     
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  14. Mad Swede

    Mad Swede Inkling

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    Which is to miss the point I and people like GRR Martin are trying to make.

    The point is that as a newbie you HAVE TO gain writing experience.

    I and GRR Martin think the best way to do it is to write short stories - assuming that you lack any form of writing experience.

    NONE of the authors you named as examples lacked writing experience when their first novels were published. Neither did you or I when we started writing fiction. We were not newbies.

    But with that last paragraph written, I have never regretted first writing short stories. It let me develop my voice and my style, and I found out which genre I preferred writing in. The first two or three stories I wrote were awful. The later ones are much much better. My first novel was a hell of a lot better for my having written short stories first. The story arc worked, and so did the characterisation. And for once I could leave things in... :)
     
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  15. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    You seem to be making the argument that in order to write and publish a well-received novel you need writing experience, not that you need to write short stories, which was the previous assertion.

     
  16. Slartibartfast

    Slartibartfast Minstrel

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    When I first started I also thought about my projects as being made up of these three things, plus a fourth: the story. The most productive thing for me to do was to open up four documents, one for each of characters, story outline, world, and the story itself.

    I'd usually have to give myself some sort of well-meaning target to get things going, such as to write a thousand words, or to plan half a dozen chapters. Pretty often, it just wasn't happening for me, so I'd switch documents from whatever I'd intended to do to something else. It was surprising how often I was able to salvage what would otherwise have been a couple of hours staring at the screen then admiting defeat. I find confidence and momenetum to be extremely helpful and this gave me the best chance of being able to get into a groove of some sort most of the times I sat down to write. It was a bit fragmentary and weird, I certainly did a lot of things in a non-optimal order, but I did write regularly and I learned to enjoy it.

    There are dangers to this of course. Now that I'm in more of a routine, I do find it helpful to use targets to make myself do things that I otherwise wouldn't. It's now less productive for me to decide that my x number of words aren't coming very easily and that I'd be better off doing something else like worldbuilding (which for me often amounts to little more than literary doodling - only one step up from watching YouTube videos of cats). Now that I write as a habit I can force myself to take on specific tasks without losing the will to write at all. Back when I started, the most important thing was to keep words coming out because I was far more prone to wobbling and losing all momentum (still happens a lot, just less).

    That also goes for the format you write in (which I can hopefully address without becoming caught up with the other posts). The format which nets you the most experience and progress is likely to be the one in which you feel most comfortable and the one which you most enjoy at the time when you sit down to write. It can be something which looks like a saleable product (like a book), or it can just be writing (like a single scene between characters you've never writen before and never will again). I used to do all kinds of stuff when even my four documents failed me: Fragmentary scenes, conversations, sketches, the blurb for a book I had no intention of writing. It's all experience and even if you never use a single word of it in a 'serious' project, it can be part of the thinking process where you play with ideas, styles or narratives which maybe you will end up using in something 'real'.

    Let us know how you get on. :)

    TLDR: The right writing is the writing you write. Right?
     
  17. Biggus Beardus

    Biggus Beardus Acolyte

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    I agree. I've been wanting to write novels since 1995. Non-writers always said "Why don't you start with short stories?" And I'd always say, "Because I want to write novels."

    That being said, writing anything could be good exercise.
     
  18. Biggus Beardus

    Biggus Beardus Acolyte

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    In regard to adventure writing for an RPG vs. writing a novel/short story, what I meant by it's not the same is you can't fill in everything with an adventure module. You have to leave everything open ended with no definite path or outcome. Plot and character arcs happen organically as the game goes on. I don't even write out super detailed notes for my games anymore, because every time I spend time planning something, the darn players mess it all up or do something COMPLETELY unrelated to anything I had planned. LOL
     
  19. Biggus Beardus

    Biggus Beardus Acolyte

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    Thanks for your input! Characters aren't really my problem. I mean, I still need to develop them in detail, but I can come up with characters relatively easy. If you were talking about turning a D&D group of players into a story, its been done multiple times and it's not my thing. But thanks for the idea!

    I do use character inspiration from my D&D characters. ;)

    I need conflict... the protagonist's problem... the call to adventure. My characters are a little flat without it and no plot comes to mind. I know of "things" I want the characters to do, but there's still no real conflict/problem. As I try to figure out the conflict, I keep coming across setting questions I need to answer. Which brings me here with my original problem: what do I develop first?

    I appreciate you taking the time to respond.
     
  20. FifthView

    FifthView Vala

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    Characters can do that also, heh.

    Your reply very much points at a common theme in this thread. The areas of world, plot, and characters develop together, interacting and modifying one another to fit the final story. Believe it or not, your experience describes the experience of a lot of writers, especially "pantsers," i.e. those who don't outline everything from the beginning.

    Even outliners experience this at first when they begin to imagine the story and start writing an outline.

    I would say the process is very similar, but the primary difference is the inclusion of players who, in a way, co-write the story in an RPG. Remove the players and...what do you have? So you need to become the players. Otherwise, it's just you and the blank page.

    I do think an adventure tale might be similar to a D&D campaign—depending on the type of D&D campaign being imagined.

    1. Players/Characters start out in a location, typically meeting there by some design, and make plans to accomplish X or to travel to Location Z.
    2. Some sort of intervening conflict might occur—proverbial "someone breaks through the door/enters the tavern"—perhaps a pickpocket or assassin—maybe ambush on the way to location where primary quest begins.
    3. Else, a short interlude for preparing for quest: shops, fortune tellers, random dude selling suspicious items under a lone tree halfway to quest location (heh)
    4. On the way to quest location, Players/Characters might bicker, tell jokes, brag, daydream, whatever.
    5. They arrive at location and begin quest.
    6. [Insert all obstacles between initial start, A, to ultimate end, Z.]
    7. Whoever survives #6 enjoys the spoils, perhaps setting off for retirement or else a new adventure. ("New adventure" is like Batman being handed the joker card at the end of Batman Begins.)
    This is bare bones spitballing. You can find some helpful "Beat Sheets" with more detail to guide your story creation process linked here. I'm just trying to draw a line between your experience (maybe?) and writing an adventure story. Other types of story might be quite a bit different.

    Indeed, even for an adventure tale, more detail is needed at each of these basic steps. For instance, #'s 2-4 probably ought not be totally random encounters and interactions, heh—because a story is not a video game or RPG game. Also, background and setup might be needed before the meeting in #1. The longest bit of your adventure tale, #6, will almost be a constant loop of #'s 2-4, heh, but with much variation. But you get the idea, I hope.

    BTW, you might be a pantser or an outliner. I don't know, and you won't know until you try. It's not necessary to have the entire world, plot, characters, etc., totally outlined before you begin to write. A lot of it might come to you as you write.
     
    Last edited: Jan 5, 2022
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