Let's talk about our writing strategies and approaches!

So, it’s the month where we all desperately try to write daily! Let’s talk about how we write and how we come up with ideas and how we start working on a new piece.

These days, because I write IF games, I write in Atom, an app geared towards code, with some plugins to make it friendlier to prose/fiction. It does syntax highlighting so I can write in ink or CS and see where my code and where my prose are! I don’t have a special time or place for writing and I keep notes scattered all over various folders and whatnot, because I’m messy and have executive dysfunction.

Usually, I write in small chunks: I set myself a goal of 250 words, get that done, then take a break and then do 250 more words.

But I think a more interesting subject is how I come up with the things I write. Not because I think I’m special or whatever, but because I want to encourage other people to talk about that, because I find it interesting!

So, for a project, I usually come up with a universe and setting first, over years and years. The one my current WIP is set in, I’ve been chipping away at for around seven years. I need to know where my stories are set. Next, I need to know my characters.

I really, really need to know my characters well before I can come up with a story — I don’t really do “plot”, I like the story events to evolve naturally (more or less) from me putting characters into a setting and watching what happens over time. I way, way overdo character generation, in some ways. A lot of what I come up with never really comes up or comes up only fleetingly — but I need to know it for the whole to make sense.

… and all of this means I get ideas rarely and once I do get 'em, I am stuck on working on them for years. :stuck_out_tongue:

So! What about you guys? What are your story-generation methods? How do you physically write? What are your favourite apps? Do you use any auxiliary apps to help you out? (I use a Pomodoro Method app sometimes, if I have to force myself to stick at writing and not get distracted and play games.)


Well as far as my writing goes I mostly will pop all over the story and write bits and pieces of whatever feels right to write about. Sometimes I end up having a floating sentence that will wait days or weeks to catch up to just because it struck me as a good idea or a great line to use and I wanted to get it down. Since learning a bit of CS I have just written it in while I go along. Since I’ve already established the various variables for the part of the story I’m currently working on for stuff like pronouns and am used to what they are it’s not much more difficult for me to type ${p1} instead of actually using a pronoun.

As far as how I came up with this story, well I was reading the thread about trans folks in CS games and saw that a lot of people were feeling left out, so I decided that I wanted to make a game where people could feel more represented. Included in that I wanted to make sure that there was some language put in to make your character’s identity feel like it mattered more. I have often felt kinda disappointed when I read through a romance scene and think to myself “wow, this reads exactly as it does for a straight male” or even worse “wow, this actually is for a straight male” :rolling_eyes: The actual plot and world were more of an afterthought with me while I was drunk one night :laughing:


Originally, I am a “garden” writer - I write as I go and let the story grow on its own; trimming and shaping as I go.

With my current project, I started out using the Architect approach; laying out plans and maps and then building the structure then fitting the story around that. This hasn’t worked as well as I’d hope so…

I’m doing a hybrid approach. I’m “architecting” a section of the story then writing that portion out.

We’ll see how this 50,000 word competition goes - I am trying to meet that goal and piggyback my project into the CoG competition which should mean an additional 50,000 - 100,000 words. I have no clue as to succeeding but I am being committed to the goal.

Commitment is hard for simple me. Bet everyone figured that out.


Make sure there’s an outline and everything, taking five years and twenty centuries to plan out the characters and settings (if writing anything but modern which is often orz). I spend a lot of time planning and have an estimated goal of what will be done, I often plan beforehand as well…it’s troubling. I usually have a vague goal that I’ll always surpass which make me super ashamed because I end up doing more than needed and then will probably have to cut a whole chunk while editing.

I don’t really like pen and paper writing because it’s taking more than usual time, and I write really slowly with my hands D: I always have some sort of electronic devices with me in case I want to write on the go. I’m actually versatile between apps to be honest, sometimes it’s inconvenient to write in one app so I like having options? Most of time I use distraction-free or versatile ones. Though I write at many places, they will always end up being formatted in Scrivener.

I usually make things up as I go during writing process, I tend to come up with new things during these periods a lot so I either have to figure out how to put it in and solidify the plot or discard and save the idea for another one. I get a lot of new ideas often so I try to fit them into things I’m already working on to avoid making up more projects as I go.

I take forever on the editing process by the way, also the ‘let’s just bulldoze through this pain and shame and get this over with’. I chop things off and rewrite a lot, which make the whole thing takes…forever. I also have to use a lot of apps to help me focus because I get distracted a whole lot when I’m not designing. I focus much better when it comes to designing but when it comes to writing it’s just ヽ(´ー`)┌ “Well I tried”


Completely unrelated to the thread, my query is about this editor Atom. I tried it after reading your post, and I love it! It’s better than notepad++ and I plan to use it in future. So I wanted to ask what are the useful plugins that help you? I could use them too! Thanks.


For writing, I actually have no specific strategy whatsoever hahaha woops because I tend to let the story write itself, if you get what I mean? While I may have some sort of skeleton, I usually only follow the first few guides and then my writing just… tends to walk off the path. This is because I tend to daydream while I write and sometimes I just get all these seemingly brilliant ideas and just go WOAH. That aside, I do set goals of 1000 words every time I try to write something. It’s always been my minimum, but it’s a bit different for when I’m writing with ChoiceScript :sweat_smile:
i do it all in notepad, actual, default notepad and i die a little each time. struggle

My ideas, on the other hand… Well, I like to daydream. I also ask a lot of questions-- for example: if the stars are the children of the moon and the sun, what happened between them that made the moon take them all away? I tend to ponder on silly questions like that, and that’s how I get my ideas. There’s nothing technical about it :laughing:
In fact, my latest project’s plot is actually from a dream I had last year :sweat_smile:



First off, a cosmetic thing, the UI theme and syntax theme I use:

And actual plugins — far from all the ones I use, but I dunno how much code you do and in what languages? If you could tell me, I could recommend more plugins!!

  • wordcount, essential for NaNoWriMo :stuck_out_tongue:
  • typewriter, makes the interface nicer for writing
  • project manager, so you can make “projects”, putting files from different locations into one accessible list
  • ChoiceScript syntax highlighting, so you can see what the heck you’re doing with the code
  • ink syntax highlighting I dunno if you write anything in the ink scripting language, but I do, so throwing this in anyway (also sneakily promoting ink!)
  • tasks, a to-do list plugin!
  • auto-update packages, an auto-updater, so you don’t have to remember to keep everything up-to-date manually!

Hope this helps. :heart:


Oh jeeze, Like @RGH I simply daydream or take inspiration from articles I read or something I stumbled across and found cool. Though, I can’t say it takes years for me to develop stuff :sweat_smile: Sometimes I start with a plot, sometimes I start with a concept, sometimes I start with characters, sometimes it all begins with a design. For Nekomata, I had the cat’s yokai appearance thought up before anything. It wasn’t even going to be a yokai originally to be honest. I didn’t know what I was going to do with it, only how it looked. At first I was going to do something like Fruit Baskets (a manga about the Zodiac) but somehow it didn’t exactly fit, so I went poking around and rediscovered the two cat Yokais: the bakeneko and the nekomata. I rolled with the bakeneko concept but also wanted to the nekomata. The more I read up on the lore and yokais in general, the more Be the Nekomata took shape. Everything else is developing naturally on its own (that’s not to say I don’t have a plot in mind though, because I definitely do).

I use Google Docs to draft everything, as weird as it sounds :slight_smile: The project extends across three documents for each different route and two additional documents; one for the notes and one for the raw code (which is to say, the second back up, but it’s also useful in keeping track of my word count). The many formatting options Google docs offers comes in handy when it comes to separating everything into arcs, chapters, pages (what I call each choice, after a choice is presented I start a new “page”, signified by the use of the third header), and sub pages (these are choices that pertain only to the route I’m working on and can’t be added to another route’s document). I write a good chunk, copy it over to notepad, and then code it. Of course, Google stylizes some punctuation so I have to then use the Find/Replace tool to fix that up.


Thank you! I’ve looked at the plugins and they seem really useful! I already had the choicescript plug-in, though, since that’s exactly what hooked me to Atom.
As for other programming languages, I’m a computer science major so I code in a lot of languages but I already am satisfied with the IDEs. I was just looking for a good editor for CS, which I found thanks to your post.
Lastly, I know that Ink is another language which you just promoted. But I don’t know how good is it, will you recommend it?

1 Like

Ink is amazing and it’s my favourite IF scripting language! I wrote this (unfinished WIP, also NSFW) in it, if you wanna see what kinda thing it does.

The official GitHub repo is here; they have a tutorial! There’s an ink IDE but I prefer to use Atom and only use Inky for testing.

1 Like

I always love reading about how others approach writing.

Sublime Text is my go-to text editor: all the shortcuts and mass editing capabilities are a real time saver. The game files are synced through the cloud so I can resume where I left off on my phone or iPad (the app I use on iOS is Textastic, both editors are easy to setup for ChoiceScript syntax highlighting and Textastic is cool because it lets me test the game on the go, too). I write and code at the same time, I figured that out thanks to this invaluable thread. When I have an idea for the setting or characters, or anything I need to write down that doesn’t fit in the story yet, I use Evernote to keep all that organized.

During the day, all I manage to squeeze out are a few hundred feeble words. The magic really happens after I go to bed. I’m an insomniac, so I use the time between laying down and actually going to sleep to just write, when it’s just me and my thoughts in the dark. That’s when I crank out the most - and I think the best - writing. I guess when everything is calm and dark, it’s easier to both concentrate and let your mind wander, let go of the crippling doubts, and not obsess over word choice (leaving that until the editing phase later). When I finally manage to get to sleep - which isn’t every night, annoyingly enough - my characters invade my dreams and give me new ideas. (But then I have to write it all down before I forget, which eats into my sleep time… arh, writing isn’t healthy for me… =P)

For a new project, I start with a character, and some feeling the character has, maybe a situation. Then I basically question (torture?) the character relentlessly until they tell me where they’re from, what happened, how they think, what keeps them up at night, their beliefs and fears and doubts, their aspirations and regrets etc. Often I think I have them all figured out but they almost always end up surprising me.

My outlines are vague. When I try outlining in any detail, ideas elude me and I feel like the least creative person alive, it’s planner’s block. So even if I feel like I’m going in blind without an outline, I force myself to just start writing the first scene I have in mind, and then the ideas start flowing again as I go. Sometimes interesting details pop up unexpectedly, and I make a note of them because I might want to use them later on (either in the form of plot elements, or a new character or a plot twist).

I try to force myself to write in a linear way, I’m afraid that if I jumped around like @Lizzy, all I’ll have left to write at the end are the boring-but-necessary scenes. It’s easier to make “boring” scenes interesting when I have a future exciting scene to look forward to. (Interestingly enough, “boring” scenes in my mind are the action-packed ones. The “exciting” ones are the ones where characters are just sitting around talking. Go figure.)

This is my first time trying my hand at IF. I’ve only written short-ish stories up to now. I love coding and having conversations in my head, and what better way to marry the two, right? The fact I have such a basic outline for the project I’m working on does worry me since this is longer and more involved than a short story, but I guess I’ll figure it out as I go, as always.


Honestly I kinda just make things up as I go along. I never really “plan” anything and I don’t go searching for information. I kinda just wait till an idea pops into my head refine it a bit and see where it goes from there


If you’re talking about the curly quotes and apostrophes, you can disable them in Google Docs. It’ll save you the headache of find/replace. Go to Tools -> Preferences -> Untick “Use smart quotes”.


That’s nice to know thank you so much :heart:


@RGH I write CS in notepad, too. Default notepad. I understand the pain. But I actually rather like it. Except the lack of a spellcheck, it’s kinda perfect.

I’m the kind of writer who treats a story like an organic thing. I -mostly- have to write in a linear way. I may, for example, write the middle of a scene before filling in the beginning, but I won’t skip ahead and write something in the next chapter. That would feel like making leaves on a tree without a branch to them. Inspiration is hodge-podge for me- anything I see or hear or know or relate to might end up a little shard of story, transplanted into a soil of similar yet different context.

So far, what’s worked best for me is setting the foundation first. Coming up with the main idea, the overarching setting and story and characters, and the stats for the game, and how the game is going to be set up in a vague script sense, and game-structure sense. Then comes the meat of it- actually getting started on the writing and coding. Or perhaps I’ll do the coding before the writing. It’s like, if creating a CS game were like growing a Bonsai tree, the idea would be setting up the pot and soil and deciding what type of tree to grow. Then the coding would be the trunk and branches, and the visible story would be the leaves. And all together it makes art.


I would encourage you to, at the very least, switch to something that gives you line numbers.


It does list the line number the cursor is on at the bottom. Good enough for me. :wink:


Lots of people here saying they have to develop characters and world before thinking up a plot - is it weird that I usually do that backwards? I think up a concept I like (a trope, a theme, maybe a cool scene), get the most skeletal of plots going from that, then think, “well, if i want this to happen, I need someone to do that. So what kind of person would do that?” That gets me an outline of a character, which I then finally flesh out through writing.


I sometimes do this. For me it really depends on a story. I can write something based off of a place idea, concept idea, character idea… anything.

Once, I wrote a story who’s idea came from me misspelling the words “Also good” when texting my friend.
Talk about weird inspiration.

But I am very much in the “garden writer” section as @Eiwynn mentioned. I’ll come up with the very basics, maybe a point of tension or two, and then just go off for there. Often times revising as I go. Lots of times I have to separate an idea or combine two.

Like with my current project, I had just the very basics of the concept for it (well, half of it, now), and everything else was built up around it. But I didn’t actually write it for a few months because nothing fit right for me. I ended up splitting it into two ideas, but one of the ideas felt unfinished to me. I had a completely separate idea for a place in mind (a living city), that was floating around in a completely unconnected idea, and when I was going through scrapped plots to try and make this other plot complete, I had an idea and the two clicked together. From there, I formulated an entirely new plot, set of characters, conflicts, reasons, etc.

So my writing strategy is pretty haphazard, and a lot of times actually relies on the fact that things are going to collide and form some new, weird idea as I go.

However, if a character wasn’t what sparked the idea, I’ll usually come up with those last. Usually the situation of the plot births the characters as per need, and changes them so.

After I get the basic idea, and am happy with it, I create a skeleton ending, so that I at least have a place to end up at and won’t just be floating in the void of ‘Where is this heading?’

Once I actually start writing (which I do in both TextEdit and then copy-paste into Google Docs as backup) I’ll simultaneously plot ahead, coming up with the connections to previously disjointed ideas and creating new ones.

So… yeah, my strategy is very “seat of the pants”/“garden writer”. I find that if I keep strictly to something I’ve already completely plotted out, I get bored with the project. The fun and inspiration for me comes from having a beginning and an end, but taking the scenic route and figuring out the path along the way. If any of that makes sense.


Despite the struggle, I do adore notepad. Takes me back to the days when I’d study basic HTML for school; I’m quite sentimental :sweat_smile: