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As a young writer, I usually write when I have the time; after I finish my homework or school. I find it difficult to get a solid idea. For starters, the first thing you need for a story is concept or should I say plot. I didn't really know how to do this, as I didn't focus on writing until I was 13. I can't get a single concept consistent for my story. I kept scrapping the plot, the characters, the world-building, the arcs and etc.

Even when I managed to write my plot, I would often edit it as I have a feeling that it wasn't perfect enough. Call me a perfectionist, but I don't know if writers brainstorm and plan on characters/plot, and then look at it and they keep changing the characters/concepts/plot until they then think it is perfect. I feel like there are things missing about a plot or a concept, but I can't point my finger at it.

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    I think I heard once that one of the hallmarks of a good artist/author isn't necessarily being better or more talented, but producing more than others and throwing more of it away, so that what's left is better. So I'd say just keep generating ideas and scrapping them until you find ones you want to try and polish up. It's not odd to find it's hard to get a solid idea, in any case. If it were easy everyone would be doing it ;)
    – towr
    Mar 2 at 12:38
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    Just a small advice from personal experience: don't completely scrap stuff as soon as you begin to dislike something from it. Instead, keep it somewhere around. With a little tweaking, some ideas or concepts might still be useful for a future story, or maybe even use them to create a bigger story (which is what happened to me: I too scrapped A LOT of plots and ideas when I was a teenager, and when I finally came up with an idea I was overall satisfied with, I found some similarities that allowed me to connect a lot of scrapped stuff to this story, which now spans 8 interconnected stories)
    – Josh Part
    Mar 3 at 22:26

4 Answers 4

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It sounds like you are well on your way to becoming a normal writer. There’s a few key concepts in writing fiction that you should cement into your lifestyle.

  1. Writers always read. The more you read, the better you will become. You are training your mind to think outside the vernacular you use in spoken dialogue, and stepping into the slightly different world of literary expression. Watching how others emphasize, punctuate, chapterize, and develop their stories will put a list of “do’s” and “don’ts” right in front of you.
  2. Don’t write to be understood; write so they can’t misunderstand you. This follows the discovery mode fairly well, as you find yourself putting a character into some predicament and think, “Gee, what if they think my character is flirting with the cashier?” This seems like a subtle difference but really, if you only thought about what your character was doing, you would never think about the fact that you made him “slyly glean his eyes at the thought of revenge” while he was in the grocery checkout line. It requires a bit of retraining your thoughts, but the results are amazing.
  3. Scrap lots of ideas. When you have something pop in your head (ideally from a real-life problem, like a car accident), jot it down as soon as possible. You will NEVER know if it’s a “solid concept” until it has had time to harden. Keep these notes flowing through your day, and don’t touch them. After a few days, or even a week, go back into one you had almost forgotten about. Now you are looking at something new, like it was created by a different author. Then ask yourself if it’s a “solid concept.” If not, scrap it, and read the next one.
  4. Any concept becomes better when there are no freeloaders weighing it down. By this I mean “unemployed words.” Some writers try to hit certain page counts or chapter lengths, and so they fill up paper with words just to make it longer. Never do this. Never write any wird—not even a conjunction—that doesn’t pull the reader forward. E.g., you have a bratty neighbor kid character with an expensive bike. You want the reader to know the brat is spoiled, so you think, “Let me spend a page describing this shiny new bike, then everyone will know the kid is spoiled.” No. Don’t ever do this. Don’t make the bike exist just to say “the kid is spoiled.” The bike was a gift from a relative, and becomes a central plot device in a later scene. If it’s in your story, it only exists to move the plot forward. This is what a solid story looks like.
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Let me recommend Stephen King's (and my own) approach, "Discovery Writing."

In this approach, you don't begin with a plot, you let the plot develop as you write.

Instead, you begin with a character you personally find compelling, your hero. My approach is to give my hero something they are very good at, a skill or trait, and also something they are not very good at, which will matter.

You introduce your hero, hinting at the thing they are good at, living their normal life. That is what you think and write about first; your hero's normal day to day life, happy or neutral, they are getting by on their skill.

But then they encounter a problem, something they care about, even something they feel compelled to solve, but the hero cannot solve it with the skill they are good at.

In fact, it will turn out, the only way to solve it is with the skill they are particularly deficient in. And there is your story: Their journey to correct their deficit and become a better person, to solve this problem.

Along the way, there should be opportunities to use the skill your hero is good at, to help or defend others, and reinforce their heroic status. But in the finale, having overcome their deficit, becoming competent in the skill they were bad at, is what lets them overcome their main problem (or villain or whatever).

You don't have to plan the novel. Or the plot. Discovery writer's start with a character, their personality, their skills.

You don't have to do a lot of world building; you can pick a theme (modern times, medieval, futuristic, fantasy) and build the world as you go, to suit your story.

Discovery writing is character focused. You get at least one character's personality set in your mind, and start writing.

I recommend using the "Three Act Structure" as a guide. Google "three act structure" with "guide" or "template" etc, you'll get something like the image below. Dozens of them, in fact, so pick one you like.

But the point is not to pre-plan all of the plot, you use this as a compass to write a good story, with conflict and character growth. Notice these are in percentages of story; they apply to short stories or long ones. Google "typical novel word count", you will find the typical adult novel is 70,000 to 120,000 words. Pick a length, I'll say 100,000 for convenience.

In the structure, at 12% (1/8th) of the story, is the "inciting incident", the problem the hero encounters, that will eventually overwhelm them and force them to leave their normal world (that happens around 25%).

Now these percentages are not iron rules; there is leeway, but basically you should be done introducing your hero and any other critical characters (normal life contacts) as you close in on 12,500 words; they should be getting to the "inciting incident", the thing that happens that will ultimately change their life. It may not seem to, they may try to ignore it, but if they do it gets worse or there are consequences.

And the same for these other turning points; about 15 or 16 of them. (You can even ignore some minor ones if you want). If you overwrite, it's fine to write 105,000 words, or underwrite at 95,000. These are just guideposts you should see along the way.

If you get stuck, go back and rewrite. Save your old stuff in a backup file with a date; so you can reference it if you want, then delete pages and redo them. Discovery writers do a lot of rewriting to polish up and refine the plot after they discover it through writing.

It turns out to be about the same amount of work, but for me, when I tried outlining early on, I always found that once the plot was set and resolved, I lost interest in writing the story. Discovery writing, with the 3-Act structure template as a guide, rescued my hobby. The template just tells me the type of thing I should be writing at this point in the story. That is why I say it is like a compass; it shows the direction you should be traveling in.

Not knowing exactly what would happen next kept the writing engaging for me. I don't know exactly where the path leads, I am just laying down the next stepping stone on the path. When I am done, I will stand on it, look at my compass, and figure out where the next stepping stone must be.

I think whether you are a Plotter or Discovery writer is a matter of personal makeup. For me, if I plot, I lose interest in the writing, it seems like a chore. Just know there are two types, and both types have wildly successful published authors. If you aren't getting anywhere with Plotting, perhaps you should try abandoning the planning, start writing and follow your compass.

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It just isn't so that you have to start with plot - some do, some don't. More importantly, you don't have to make up a whole entire new plot of your own that has never before been done. I remember a trope that "there are only 7 star trek plots, they just keep redoing them" - the 7 being things like "they meet a mysterious civilization and help to end a war", "the transporter malfunctions and everything is weird for a while but it works out", and so on. Books and books have been written on the standard plot tropes like "Coming of Age", "Fish Out of Water", "Boy Meets Girl", Hero's Quest" and so on. That's the scaffolding on which your particular plot can hang. You may not need to know it to any more detail than those two or three words when you start.

How to avoiding scrapping all the stuff you say you scrap? Two ways, really: one, don't write it until you're sure you're going to need it, and two, don't scrap it when you run into trouble. The first is about outlining and planning and various things you've probably already been taught or heard about. The second is more reactive and agile, and comes with practice.

What does "don't scrap things" mean? Say you've written a protagonist (a hero of some kind) and some situation in which the story starts, you have an idea of transformations and challenges that are going to happen, and you start writing and you find yourself writing a character -- companion, enemy, doesn't matter -- or some lovely venues, and then suddenly you decide you hate your plot. This is where you might think you need to scrap all that. Wait. Can you fix it? If you change that starting situation will it work? If you introduce another character halfway back through the book, can they make the plot work now? Or can you pivot so the hero realizes the apparent goal is not actually the right goal, and starts working towards something else? Think about those Hallmark movies where the big city lawyer goes to the small town to help close the factory or blow up the dam or whatever and ends up falling in love with the baker and moving to the small town and just helping people handle their small business law needs and lives happily ever after.

Learning how to fix things that aren't going right is most of what writing is. Sometimes that means throwing away that three page speech of righteousness that the hero declaimed to the entourage, because you realize it's ridiculous and no-one would do that. Sometimes you have to scrap a whole location or a whole character. But more usually, you have to go insert or adjust something further back that makes what's happening now ok to happen. You're the writer! You can change anything! If your hero is falling in love with the companion, but you made the companion married, or too old, or whatever, you can change that about the companion. Or you can split the companion into two characters, and put all the stuff that makes the hero fall in love into the character that's ok to fall in love with.

The one thing you don't do is dramatically scrumple up all your pages and throw them away and say "oh well, now I have to think of a different unique plot no-one else has ever thought of."

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One way to create extremely interesting (SciFi or Fantasy) fiction is to pick a single deviation from reality, which can be quite simple at first glance, and then explore what happens.

Examples (pulled straight from books I have read and loved, so maybe not the best choices for your next book...):

  • Superconductors at room-level temperature with cheap components (leading to basically unlimited energy storage and transmission)
  • Portals like in the "Portal" game, leading to effortless and cheap transportation from everywhere to everywhere
  • Spontaneous development of random "super powers" in individuals
  • The advent of anti-gravity, or gravity-cancellation
  • The ability to freely create bubbles of space where time stops for a predetermined amount of outside time

In all "good" books of that kind that I have read, the change in respect to our Real World was commonplace in that universe for the main part of the story. Maybe there was a prolog where the invention of the thing was described shortly, or an epilog where the change went to the "next level", but the main plot was about whatever other story, in the context of that change. The plot would be entangled with the consequences of the new thing, and become quite interesting/fascinating thereby, and obviously spawning lots of nice ideas for the author to explore.

The fact that these books usually played very close to our current world made it that much more interesting.

The good thing, especially for an inexperienced writer, is that this would likely be much easier to pull off than to invent, say, a totally new universe with completely new rules. I.e., you don't want to start out with having starships and AI and time travel and genetic changes and exotic materials and wormholes and portals, and a plethora of other things in a single book, like some of the more advanced writers do.

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  • i wasn't talking abt scifi but i'll take the advice
    – Crimsoir
    Mar 3 at 12:30
  • Could you add book titles for your examples? Some I'd like to read. :-)
    – Pablo H
    Mar 3 at 16:14
  • @PabloH, just quickly: the superconductors are one of the old standalone novels from Peter Hamilton; portals = "Salvation" trilogy from the same; super powers = Brandon Sanderson's "Steelheart"; anti-gravity = cant remember, but it's kind of a trope; bubbles = "The Peace War" (etc.) by Vernor Vinge
    – AnoE
    Mar 3 at 16:52
  • Thanks! For the Portals one, there's also "The Long Earth series" by Pratchett and Baxter, but I haven't read it, maybe it's not quite the same. Hamilton's "Pandora's Star" has portals plus trains. Plain old teleportation in Bester's "Tiger! Tiger!". Yeah, some topics come around. :)
    – Pablo H
    Mar 4 at 13:04

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