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Penguinball

Deductive vs Inductive Story Telling

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I was linked to this Tumblr post on another writing forum and thought I'd bring it here. It introduces the concept of Deductive vs Inductive storyteller to describe how you write, as an alternative to the pantser/plotter dichotomy that is spoken of more often.

Very loose definitions:

Deductive = large, general concepts to specific details.

Inductive = small, specific details to large, general concepts

I really like it! Here's what the post says:

Quote

 

We writers often categorize ourselves as “plotters” or “pantsers”, based on how much of our story we prefer to outline before we begin writing actual scenes. As I consider my writing process, I’m beginning to think this framework isn’t very useful for describing how I turn my ideas into a full-fledged story. But I think I’ve discovered a more useful way to frame this difference. Instead of “plotter vs. pantser”, consider: are you a deductive storyteller or an inductive storyteller?

Deductive reasoning starts with general premises and draws specific conclusions. In a similar way, deductive storytellers start with general concepts and work their way down to specific details.The Snowflake Method is the purest form of deductive storytelling–you start with the most basic overview, and at each level, you add more details and get more specific, until you wind up with a first draft.

To a deductive storyteller, the overarching framework is necessary in order to develop the small details. For example, if I were writing deductively, I’d decide that Suzie is a brave character, and then write scenes that show Suzie’s bravery. I’d also needs to figure out the steps of the plot before coming up with the details of any specific scene–I’d need to know that Suzie will argue with Dave so I can set up the tension that will lead to that scene. The big picture needs to come first, and any necessary details can be logically drawn from this framework.

In contrast, inductive reasoning starts with specific data and draws general conclusions. Therefore, inductive storytelling starts with specific details of a scene, and from that, draws general conclusions about the characters, plot, and setting. This type of writer aligns more closely with the “pantser” end of the spectrum, and is likely to get more ideas from writing scenes than from writing an outline.

An inductive storyteller needs to write out scenes, and use the small details in the prose to figure out broader facts about the plot, characters, and setting. For example, if I were writing inductively, I might write a scene in which Suzie was the only person in her party to enter a haunted house without hesitation. From this, I’d determine that Suzie was brave, and would use this insight to inform Suzie’s behavior in future scenes.  I’d also use the details of early scenes to figure out the next logical steps of my plot. For example, Suzie and Dave are having tense interactions across multiple scenes, so it’s logical that it will erupt into an argument in the next scene. The small details have to come first, so they can be combined logically to draw larger conclusions about the story.

This framework has given me insight into why I write the way I do. The “plotter vs. pantser” argument is generally framed as “do you get bored if you know the story beforehand”? But the difference goes much deeper than that–it ties into which method of story building feels more logical to you. I find that detailed outlines often destroy my stories. I might have a plot plan and character sheets that work extremely well in summary form, but I find I can’t use those big pictures to extrapolate the small details I need for a scene–the resulting story feels vague and artificial. It works much better if I write at least a few scenes first–see the characters interacting in their environment–and then dig deeper into what those details tell me about my characters, plot, and setting so I can further develop the story. Other people might find that they can’t come up with useful details unless they know the larger picture. Neither way is better–it just depends on your preferred storytelling strategy.

Obviously, writers will fall on a spectrum somewhere between these two extremes. But I feel that the “inductive vs. deductive” terminology is a more useful distinction than plain old “plotter vs. pantser”. The important thing isn’t whether you outline, but why an outline may or may not help you create the story you want to tell.

 

What do you think? I'm mostly a deductive storyteller, I have a concept I want to explore, like a cool kind of magic, and figure out what the rest of the world looks like from that, then figure out what characters fit in that world, theeeen figure out what those characters want, and come up with a plot. How about you?

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Huh, tough call, but such an interesting new perspective to it!

I think I have a relationship with both types of storytelling? I mean, I usually come to a story through a small idea of a character, or a place, or an event. So that is in most cases my starting point, but I find it hard to develop it past a few chapters. And even though I like the inductive way of storytelling, the deductive way is more suited to my "style" and temperament, I think. With the deductive I get the security of knowing what I need to make a more coherent whole when my insecurities get the best of me. And I have to admit, I'm a proper sucker for way too much world-building when writing.

I suppose each type of approach could also be beneficial to different types of stories, or even genres? Like, we did a rewrite of a short story in class once, and then we had the general premise of the story already, so we had to get down on the level of details to make the whole "new" story our own. That would be inductive for example? I remember we talked about inductie/deductive reasoning in philosophy, and I still find it a little fidgety to grasp on an actual applicable level for some reason x)

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54 minutes ago, TwistedRiver said:

I suppose each type of approach could also be beneficial to different types of stories, or even genres? Like, we did a rewrite of a short story in class once, and then we had the general premise of the story already, so we had to get down on the level of details to make the whole "new" story our own. That would be inductive for example? I remember we talked about inductie/deductive reasoning in philosophy, and I still find it a little fidgety to grasp on an actual applicable level for some reason x)

Yeah that sounds inductive to me, you have the big picture of the premise and have to drill down to figure out how it happens.

As for genres...I started typing out that I thought it may be the same for certain genres, but talked myself into thinking it could be different. For example a mystery. You might think it is deductive, you start with the mystery, then have to plan out small details of how it happens. But not all writers approach a mystery novel that way. They may have a specific character or scenario, and may need to build up to create a story around it. Romance too. Sounds inductive, you've got a couple characters and already know they fall in love, so you've got to build the premise of how that happens, figure out how they meet and work backwards to a bigger story. But some people start not knowing how the relationship develops, the have to use deductive storytelling to plan the details.

So I think it varies from author to author and from story to story.

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I would say I have a combination of inductive and deductive, but I lean more towards the inductive (if I'm reading the OP right.)  Generally I have a very specific scene in mind because I have a literal dream at night that would make a good story seed.  So I write up that scene the best I can.  From there I have to figure out a) how the characters got to that point and b) where they go from that point.  My dream scenes rarely start at the beginning and I'm rarely able to sleep long enough to finish it (even when I don't get interrupted, my dream's cohesion will break down into events that are not helpful for the story).  Since I only see the one scene, I rarely have any idea of what the world at large looks like, and I have to use the general type of clothing worn, or furnishings in the 'room' to gauge what sort of level of technology the people might have.  The same goes for things inspired from watching a show/reading a book.  I usually have a clear idea of a single scene and have to expand outwards from there.

But sometimes during conversation I'll get a more vague, large world idea that I have to distill back down to an actual plot.  My story, A Time Before was like that, where I started with just the idea I wanted a story with Gods like the Greek Gods that weren't exactly the Greek Gods, and tell a creation story that explained them all.  This sort of approach is far rarer for me.  I think that's because, when I have these dreams or other specific inspiration, there's a strong emotional component that draws me in, making me WANT to tell the story.  The other approach rarely has that sort of connection; generally it's purely cerebral without the emotional side.

Interestingly enough, Mynoris, the character my screen name is from, came from A Time Before, which was not an emotionally drawn out story.

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14 hours ago, Penguinball said:

What do you think? I'm mostly a deductive storyteller, I have a concept I want to explore, like a cool kind of magic, and figure out what the rest of the world looks like from that, then figure out what characters fit in that world, theeeen figure out what those characters want, and come up with a plot. How about you?

I don't think I've heard of this before, like ever. Very interesting! Since I never start with a magic system/specific world/big idea (like "A story about how power corrupts"), I'm probably inductive. I often start by being seduced by a genre, or a mash-up, and get a quick idea of what kind of setting in that genre would be fun to explore (like a witchrun coffee-shop in an urban fantasy), and a character appears in that setting immediately. What are they doing there? Working, visiting, stealing, getting revenge on the owner, etc? That's my story seed and I pants out a first chapter. It tells me what they're like, what problems they might have in this world that grows up around them and what their journey might be. Then I step back and plot some to find some beats (what kind of situations/other characters can show that journey best), and figure out the bigger picture of this story (themes and through-lines). Then I'm back to letting the character show me who they are some more.

But I think you're right that it might vary from story to story. I have some stories where I was a little more deductive. And oh! This might explain why I have a hard time writing from very specific prompts. It used be such hell for me, because it was the complete opposite metod of starting a story than what I was used to. I've gotten better at it, but I still feel that way of writing is more cerebral than what comes naturally to me. 

 

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I've never heard of this before either, but they do make a lot of sense!  I'm usually always inductive with my stories.  I come to them by way of a scene, a conversation, or just a flash frame that looks interesting.  The first book I ever finished started that way.  I was doing dishes and listening to Trans-Siberian Orchestra near Christmas and was hit by a powerful wave of loneliness and then saw a scene where a boy was watching his family celebrate the holiday through a window.  I knew the boy had been missing for years, that bad things had happened to him, and because of it he could never walk through the front door.  I knew he also had wings, so when I got to a notebook and wrote it out I had that for a foundation and built it from there.

I find I often get lost when I try to start broad and narrow stuff down.  I don't feel a good connection to the story on an emotional level.  I can world build all day long because it's interesting, but doing that first and the crafting characters to fit the world causes me to lose interest, or go off on tangents and re-create things that muck with the entire system.  I already know how everything works, I guess, so exploring it through a character a second time isn't as appealing.  

Now, given that I'm currently writing a series I have to do some deductive writing just to keep everything in order, so I end up trying to balance planning just enough to keep it all straight while leaving enough blank to explore so I don't wander off to play with something else.  It's kind of like placing strategic piles of toys and treats within a large playpen area to keep a toddler occupied and simultaneously unaware of the fence so they don't try to escape.

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Penguinball: Yeah, that is a very valid point! No writer keeps to the same routines and what not when actually writing, so I suppose having an "ideal" way of storytelling would be a little silly xD. In the sense that it would put up some annoying standards for people who do not like to work in either/or categorization. (Excuse my ramblings if they don't make much sense, I think my chiropractor accidentically cracked my brain a little).

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I'm deductive. I am a planner. I sketch the framework, then I make the story happen through choosing the right characters for it.

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