Have you ever gone to work on a new idea and then, when you go to write it down, you start feeling almost suffocated?
Writing your ideas down somehow feels like you’re setting all of it in stone, and you can no longer think of anything else. But you still feel like things are missing, and there are gaps in the plot line.
I’ve done that before. I’ve even waved it off before, just pushing through the outlining process and trying to ignore the persisting feeling in my gut that I was still missing pieces to my story. (that’s not a good thing to do, by the way; don’t copy me 😂)
But something I quickly pinpointed was how I even ended up in that place of mental suffocation and pushing through: a vital first step that I’d missed.
By the time you finally start working on a plot bunny, it might have been a few months, or even years, depending on what you were working on when you had the idea. You pr obably have some vague ideas floating around in your mind, and, if you’re anything like me, a couple concrete scenes that you just keep seeing.
When you have a plot bunny, all you want to do is play around with it. You make an inspiration board on Pinterest and start hoarding pictures, writing down snippets of scenes that came out of nowhere, and play the initial scene that gave you the idea for it over and over again.
When I sat down to work on my idea, I just kept the ideas in my mind and tried to mentally place where they might land in the plot. I loved them, but the further in I got, the more I felt like something was wrong. It was like things weren’t landing in the right place, and not enough was happening – and then too much was happening in other places.
I had to finally come to terms with it – but I only did that after I reached the climax.
The problem for me was that things weren’t lining up right. I had things I knew I wanted to happen, but I’d left them all for the climax – and it was way too much to put in. One thing in particular would need way more time to grow, and just the climax wasn’t going to cut it. I would need to push all this back to the beginning of the 3rd Act, or even into the 2nd.
The first thing I did was complete that missing step that I should have done before I even spent hours upon the planning process:
I wrote down what I knew I wanted to happen in the story.
And then, I wrote down any ideas I had, even if I didn’t know if I would use them or not.
See, the imagination is a fickle thing. You can get more and more ideas and answers to problems if you start writing things down. It can bring you joy. Plus, we’ve all be in that place before where we think of epic stuff, don’t write it down, and then forget it. Trying to find that idea again after that is impossible. 😂
Pantsers are afraid of plotting because they believe it will box them in. Plotters are afraid of working without an outline because they want to know what will happen next. But if there’s one thing both of them should do, it’s to know what they want to happen. The only way to do that is to use your imagination. As writers, when we sit down to actually work on a story, that takes the form of brainstorming.
Those things you imagined when you were playing with your plot bunny? Those should all get written down. They are what will spark excitement in you over this story, and allow you to daydream even more about it.
Not only that, but after you write them down, you can start to pinpoint where some of them need to fall. That will help you know where you plot line is headed, and your characters will then be able to always move forward with purpose.
The Big Picture
Something else I’ve noticed through experience is that, the deeper in you get, the easier it is to lose sight of the big picture. Once I start plotting, I can think so hard about emotions and character arcs that I can lose sight of what my character is actually like – and therefore, how they actually should react.
It gets even worse when I write. Going into my characters mind, I only see the scene I’m working on and the thoughts and feelings they have now. I depend on my outline to keep me on track with their character growth and the advancement of the plot line.
That’s why this first step is important. Once you start brainstorming on paper, you can get a feel for who your character is. Writing down what you want them to be like will allow you to see the big picture. That’s very important, as once you start getting into the minute details of outlining and writing, you could potentially lose sight of that. And, yes, that was another problem I had when I was trying to outline my story. 😅
What Do You Not Want?
I think something else I usually miss is writing down what I don’t want. If I can identify and put into words what I don’t want my story to be, then it won’t slide it without my notice. By skipping that step, then I might accidentally put those things into my story and then feel like something is off – but I won’t know what it even is. For example, you might not want your story to be a romp, serious, or full of mUrDeR.
Different stories should contain different things – and shouldn’t contain different things. While one of your stories might need to have a pretty chill atmosphere, a different one might need lots of tension and mystery. In The Storm Inside, there were a lot of scenes where I just had the character going about her day-to-day life (though each scene had a purpose) making a rather calm atmosphere. But in my new book, I don’t want many scenes that break up the action and intensity. Yes, once again, that was another problem I had: not enough happened during my plot, and I couldn’t pinpoint that that was the problem I was feeling.
As you can tell by this point, I had quite a few problems because I skipped these steps. Whenever I rewrite anything, it’s usually the first thing I do now: I identify what I liked about the old draft and want to keep, what I want to add, and what I want to get rid of. Starting on this new story, I forgot to do that, and instead just relied on my brain to keep things straight – which didn’t work out very well, as you can tell from this post. 😆
Brainstorming is a very important step when it comes to story writing. It allows you to not only remember everything you thought of for the story; it also lets you come up with new ones and figure out what your book is going to be like and what you want it to become.
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Have you ever skipped brainstorming on paper before starting to outline?
How often do you think of how important it is to do that?
Have you ever had the same problems that I did?