Mapping Out The First Draft

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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.

 

Don’t Believe Everything You Think

My Inner Critic's Name is Sheila and she's an asshole

Don’t believe everything you think. Go ahead. Reread that sentence a few times and let the idea marinate inside your cranium for a bit. It’s an interesting concept.

Don’t believe everything you think.

Sounds easy, right? Not quite. It’s a lot harder than it sounds. Especially if your inner critic’s an asshole.

About a week ago, I started working on a new writing project–a romance novel that I’d set aside about a year ago. Elements of the estranged sister story that I’d been planning out at the tail end of last year were eerily similar to that tossed aside romance, so I decided to go back and finish the original story. With a little searching, I found the file on one of my flash drives and read the close to 30K words that I’d written. It’s the start of a crappy first draft, but some of it’s really not that bad. However, I hate the opening scene so I’ve decided to scrap it and write a brand new one.

Beginning a story is something that I struggle with and it’s when my inner critic–aka Sheila–is most active. Here’s how a typical writing session goes:

Me: After ten minutes of staring at a blank Word document, types the word “the”, stares at it for five minutes, deletes it, continues to stare at blank page.

Sheila: “You have no idea what you’re doing, do you?”

Me: Types the full name of main character. Stares some more. Notices the thick layer of dust that’s blanketed every surface in the room. Contemplates searching for a Swiffer duster.

Sheila: “Can’t figure it out, can ya?”

Me: Squirms around in seat, sighs heavily, deletes main character’s name.

Sheila: “You’re never going to pull this off because you CAN’T write. I only tell you this because I’m your friend and I care.”

Me: Closes Word document, shuts down computer, goes to bed and lies awake agonizing over the thought of not being able to write. Decides to give it up.

Sheila: “I knew you’d see the light. You’re no Nora Roberts and you never will be. Come to terms with it and move one. You’re a bad writer and no one cares what you have to say.”

Me: “Go to hell, Sheila.” Four hours later I fall asleep. Wake up next morning, hop in shower. An idea strikes!

Sheila: “You’re wasting your time.”

Me: Takes world’s fastest shower and races to computer. Opens up Word document and types the following:

No matter how hard she tried, Kate couldn’t shake the shroud of impending doom that had plagued her all morning. 

Sheila: “Whoa…wait. Where’d that come from?”

Me: “Not bad, huh?”

Sheila: “Meh. Though I will admit you’ve piqued my interest. But you’re gonna have to come up with more than just one measly sentence. And I doubt that you can.”

Me: Rereads sentence, decides it’s a good enough start, and begins tapping away on the keyboard. Over the next forty-five minutes, three pages emerge.  They’re rough, but it’s a start. I sit back and smile and I’m feeling pretty darn good. “Hey Sheila, how do ya like me now?”

Sheila:  Radio silence.

That’s actually a watered down version of what happens.  Sheila can be brutal.  Sometimes it’ll take days for me to come up with the right words to begin my story and, more importantly, silence Sheila.

The point is, no matter how harsh my inner critic tends to be, I have to ignore it, otherwise I’d probably never leave the house.  Reminding myself that it’s nothing more than my own insecurity rearing its ugly head allows me to distinguish between what to believe and what not to believe.

Sheila will always be there, invading my thoughts, trying to keep me from moving forward.  There’s nothing I can do about that.  Ignoring her, telling her to fuck off every now and again, and proving her wrong are the best defense I have against falling for the BS and believing what I think.

 

How To Write A Novel-Part 4: Just Write

Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on. _ Louis L'Amour

Yes, folks.

Just write.

That’s how a novel gets written.

It’s as simple as that.

Sounds easy, doesn’t it. For most people, myself included, writing is the hardest part of the whole process. I’ve only written short stories. Writing a novel is overwhelming, and that’s one reason why I’ve never come close to completing a novel. Self-doubt is the other reason my goal has yet to be reached.

What if I suck? What if my novel is the biggest piece of crap ever written?

In all likelihood, I will suck and, I hate to say it, you probably will, too. The first draft of anything almost always sucks. Accepting this fact is the key to pushing forward on those days where the words aren’t flowing or every sentence that you’ve written sounds like garbage.

What if it takes years to finish my novel?

If you really want to write a novel, it shouldn’t matter how long it takes. If you have a story in you, get it down on paper. No matter how bad your writing sounds, it’s only a draft and it can be fixed later. Stop reading about writing. Stop thinking about writing. Stop talking about writing and just sit down and write.  Set aside time every day, even if it’s only ten or fifteen minutes. No matter how you do it, get that story out of your system and keep going until you reach the end.

As for me, I think it’s time I take my own advice and just write.