Start With the Product
To be effective, all planning must start with the product in mind. And that can best be described as the Valuable Final Product one is trying to produce or create.
Valuable -- it can be exchanged for a valuable consideration. That might be money, support, or even applause -- whatever the producer and receiver deems "valuable".
Final -- it’s done, finished. The creation of any product can be seen as a series of steps with each in its turn being a sub-product that collectively adds up to the whole, complete thing.
Consider a restaurant where the chef must start with the product of the specific dish he wants to create to determine the exact sequence and number of preparation steps. Each step is a sub-product, leading up to the final product that is presented by the waiter when he sets the plate in front of the customer.
Product -- something that has exchange value and is exchanged or is exchangeable. The plate of food placed in front of the customer at the restaurant is a product.
Only to the degree that one understands the product they are trying to produce or create can one begin to plan on how to go about achieving it. But to get to the plan one must start with the product in mind - first.
Now, the oddity is that people have the idea (we are actually taught) that a person can just get off the couch one day, decide to write a novel, and sit down and write it - with no training, no study of the subject -- not to mention, no planning and certainly little if any understanding of the product.
Somehow we are given the idea that this is normal. How absurd!
Yet, we expect the guy who works on our car to have years of training and experience; we expect the guy that fixes our toilet to be a trained and experienced plumber; most of us wouldn't let an amateur even mow our lawn.
But in some strange way, when it comes to the idea of writing fiction, all reason goes out the window. And we subscribe to the myth that all one needs to do is grab a pencil, and paper and simply write down whatever comes to mind -- and we're a "writer".
This, with the only concept of the product being the books that we've read. How naive!
Yet we don't get the idea we can build a car just because we ride in one every day. And we don't get the idea we can make shoes just because we wear them ever day.
But we think we can make a story just because we've been reading them all our lives.
However, the shoemaker has a vastly different concept and definition of the product represented by the word "shoe" than the fellow that just wears shoes.
For the consumer of "shoes", this definition may be all he needs to know about the subject: Shoe -- an external covering for the human foot, usually of leather and consisting of a more or less stiff or heavy sole and a lighter upper part ending a short distance above, at, or below the ankle.
But we can bet that over at Nike, they have enough material about the theory, design, construction and marketing of shoes to fill a library. They understand what there is to know about the subject. And it's a great deal more than that simple definition. Be assured that companies like Nike understand that they must start with the product in mind.
They understand that to be successful at making shoes they better understand everything there is to know about shoes -- and the feet that go in them.
And so too, it is with the making of stories and the minds and hearts they go in. But up until now we writers didn't even have a good workable definition for story. (see 18 elements of fiction)
Therefore, if we expect to be fiction writers, then we must know everything there is to know about the product we are trying to produce.
And the Valuable Final Product of the fiction writer is "story".
Unfortunately almost everything we think we know about what that word means - is wrong.
Because unless one has actually studied the subject of story as a subject, what we think we know is based on conjecture, supposition, and rumor - how could it be otherwise?
And we know just enough - to get ourselves in trouble.
I'm just as guilty as the next fellow. It took me five decades to figure this out - here's hoping it won't take you that long...
And it won't, if you start with the product - and study the rest of the subject from there.
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