Mapping Out The First Draft

Untitled design (5)

I’m a detail-oriented person and I feel scattered if I don’t have some kind of step-by-step plan in place, particularly when I’m writing fiction. These character flaws of mine drive me crazy sometimes, but I’m slowly coming around to accepting them.

If you’re a frequent reader of this blog, then you know I’m working on the first draft of a novel. Up to this point, I’ve had some basic ideas of what and who my story is about. I’ve also managed to write multiple scenes with a current word count tally somewhere around the 7K mark. However, I’ve noticed that I’m just kind of meandering through with the scenes I’ve written. They aren’t really going anywhere, so I’ve decided to step back and figure out the details.

Recently, I read this article by Jennifer Haupt about keeping your novel on track with a process journal, something I already do for almost every writing project. One thing she talks about is keeping track of the basics of your character’s personality traits and how the protagonist’s personality and personal growth should remain consistent throughout the story.  This isn’t something I always think about when I’m writing my scenes, so I end up with a lot of rambling nonsense that ends up going nowhere.

Over the weekend, I started a more detailed outline, beginning with the basic information to figure out more about my protagonist. First I asked myself the following questions:

  • Who is my protagonist at the beginning of the story?
  • What is her desire?
  • What is the initial plan?
  • What critical weakness makes the plan fall apart?
  • What is the “super power” that becomes stronger toward the middle of the story?

By asking those questions, I figured out the following:

  1. My protagonist lacks self-worth, is unwilling to face her past, blames herself for her mother’s death, harbors secrets, is career-focused, and believes she does not deserve happiness. In other words, she’s a mess.
  2. Her desire at the beginning of the story is to revive her career ASAP.
  3. Her initial plan is to find a job and start her life over far away from the hometown she was forced to return to after her fiance dumped her.
  4. Two main things cause her plan to fall apart and they are driven by her feelings of guilt: First, she finds out the family business is in trouble. Secondly, she begins to form a bond with her old flame’s young son.
  5. The “super power” that becomes stronger toward the middle of the story is the protagonist begins to find her purpose in life and slowly builds up her self-worth.

This is the kind of information that will help drive the story. I’ve put all of these details at the beginning of my outline for easy reference. The next thing I did was made a list of the major story events for Acts I, II, and III to help me figure out the structure of the story.  The next step in my process will be to create a scene-by-scene outline centered around those major plot points.

When it comes to writing, I’m not a pantser. I need to have a road map. I know there will be detours taken along the way, but having a basic knowledge of how to get from point A to point B will keep me on track and hopefully make getting through this first draft a much smoother process in the end.