I have said it before, and I will end up saying it again: I don’t write the story. Well, I put it on paper, I type it, but I don’t dictate every little part of it. I sometimes call my stories wild rides, and that’s because sometimes I have no idea what’s coming next.
Some people sit down and write a full timeline before they start a story. I’ve tried it. It can be very useful. It can help keep a person focused. Or it can give a person a reason to write the later sections because they know what’s coming. Or at least that’s how I’ve misused it in the past.
After considerable exploration of the process over the last seventeen years (that’s how long I’ve been writing fiction for myself, though the early stuff was admittedly crap), I’ve found that what works best for me, regardless of the type of story I’m doing, is to brainstorm certain parts, the important ones, and to keep them in mind and a general sense of where the story is going. Some big reveal is always coming, the romantic pairing eventually finds their way to each other, and the major conflict is resolved. That is the nature of a story.
Knowing these general thoughts, even if it’s not perfectly clear in the beginning, is enough. Once the characters are created, once they’ve come to life, they’ll take the story where it needs to go. A lot of the time, it’s not even where I expected it to go.
Almost every time, though, it’s a whole lot better.
The characters know what works. They know themselves. They know what they’d do in a given situation, and they act accordingly. They say what they would have say, and it never fails to amaze me how one line in a conversation can change the course of the next section of the book or even the entire story.
Letting the characters tell the story, their story, is important. It makes them real, makes the story realistic. It is, I think, the single most important thing I can do if I write a story.