Furry Writers' Guild Forum

Writers - What's Your Workflow?

Literature & Latte launched a podcast last week; the show format involves interviewing an author about their work for the first half, while the latter half is spent exploring how they use Scrivener to structure and format their works in progress for their day-to-day writing process. I picked up a few good ideas from that discussion. I’d love to hear from my fellow writers on their own workflows, especially how my fellow scrivenerheads use the software to format and structure their work.

I’m a serial plotter, so detailed outlines are my wheelhouse: to steal a line from @Resolute, my finished outlines are basically draft 0.5. I think the digital artist’s methodology of “sketch, line, color, shade, polish” is highly applicable to us, and I approach writing in the same way. Really, I think the only difference between plotters and pantsers is that the former does a few more passes beforehand, while the latter does a few more passes afterward.

Starting from the very beginning, I use writing exercises to get the general shape of the story. These are mostly question-answer exercises adapted and refined from craft books I’ve studied, particularly The Anatomy of Story.

While this stage remains highly mutable, it’s essentially an outward spiral: I write a succinct premise line, consider its possibilities and implications, and break it down to its essential parts (the “designing principle”/unique twist, protagonist, central conflict, character arc, theming, etc). Then I build on that foundation with further writing exercises, this time with a focus on adding depth and complexity. Here’s an overview:

The value of some of these writing exercises varies depending on on the story; if it doesn’t feel worth the time spent doing a specific exercise, I just skip it.

Once I feel like I have a solid sketch of the whole story, I do scene outlines. One of these exercises, “Story Events”, is my dumping ground for scene ideas, generally written in one line and ordered chronologically. I adapt these scene lines into scene-level synopses, often combining several into the same scene, and then write a beat-by-beat outline:

(“TP” means “turning point”, which is the beat that determines who got what they wanted out of the conflict and who didn’t.)

I’ve been having success with a five-part “setup, conflict, crisis, climax, resolution” format for most scenes; some will have elements deferred to earlier scenes (setup) or later ones (climax, resolution), especially more action-heavy scenes. Credit to John Yorke’s Into The Woods for this format.

Once this outline feels satisfactory, I shunt it over to the “notes” section and start outlining the next scene, reserving the main body of the document for the actual prose. As I work, I add to and revise the Story Events, using it as a chronological overview of the outline. Then it’s the actual “what the reader will see” and revision, revision, revision.

What about you? How do you develop and organize your stories?

To your painting simile, mine is as follows:

stare at the blank canvas for days, possibly months, even years, thinking about the sketch
do a very rough sketch
attempt to add everything else all at once. cry, a lot
polish so the editor doesn’t yell at me again
editor takes the story away from me
avoid ever reading it again, I hate it forever now

I’m a big, big fan of Scrivener - I don’t know how I functioned without it. I usually have a rough idea of how long a story will be, so I chunk it into scenes and set myself wordcount targets for those scenes, as well as an overall target for the story. I also give myself a daily wordcount goal.

I’m a pantser; I usually have a beginning and sometimes an end too, but very little idea what will happen in between. I might have a one-sentence summary for each scene or I might just wing it.