Are you a planner or a “laisser faire” type when it comes to narrative structure? Do you put plot, character or language first?
One successful Australian novelist once said that she has a vague idea of what she wants to write about, for example country life in a small village. But rather than planning the structure, she writes in segments and puts them together at a later date; this latter step involves “finding” the storyline, as opposed to having it at the beginning.
One advantage of this approach is that the writer can concentrate on “good writing” as distinct from focusing on the plot. She can create lively characters and vibrant language before having to worry about the storyline, which will eventually find itself.
On the other hand, I suppose the advantage of planning beforehand means that you, as the writer, will feel more in control, as you know where you are heading. The narrative might be more coherent and believable for the reader as a result.
Ideally, of course, you’d try to integrate the two approaches. But it seems that writers tend to fall into one or other of the two categories.
Some writers like to experiment with different approaches, especially when writing short stories. For example, you can have and ending in mind and work towards that. Or you can have the beginning and nothing else and start from there. In one group I attended, one of the classmates tried writing without punctuation, or with minimal punctuation, and managed to create a brilliant story. One of my best short stories evolved from writing about three or four colours, which constraint served as a way of taking the pressure off the need to tell a good story.
I’d love to hear from writers about other approaches to creating “zingy” language, vibrant characters and successful stories.