How Important Is The First Draft To Your Novel

The First Draft - Sandra Scofield

We’re an odd lot, novelists. Obsessive. Why else does someone launch a project that consumes so much time and holds out such a wavering promise of reward? I wrote my first three novels in deep night—the only time I had—and I used to put things away (in a dish bucket, set against the kitchen wall) in a tired heave of sadness, as if I might never pick them up again, as if my fledgling world might never be real. And of course it never was, because that’s a large part of the siren call of the novel: Come hither and create your own world. Put what you know and believe and want into story. Defy the randomness of real life; make meaning. This is a long-haul project and it is so much a part of who you are, you can’t imagine not doing it, not even if it takes years.

Maybe you, like me, write in your hidey-hole and people who know you have no idea how much you’ve taken on. Maybe you’ve found a workshop or a graduate program to help you in your endeavor. Either way, you must know by now that you have a world of figuring out to do.

Just know this: You are uniquely you, and the novel you write is one nobody else can.

I’ve written seven novels. That doesn’t count the first one; I spent years, only to discover when it was done that I was sick of it. (I had learned a lot, though.) It doesn’t count the one I lost. (I thought I stored it in the linen closet, but it wasn’t there when I searched for it.) It doesn’t count drafts, that’s for sure. It doesn’t count false starts (a box of them), or the ones I’ve been writing in my head for a decade while I tell myself I’m done with novels.

I’ve read shelves and shelves of novels. Hundreds of reviews. (I’ve written them, too.) Stacks of criticism. Biographies and memoirs of writers. But what matters to the present subject is this: I have immersed myself in the struggles of at least 200 aspiring novelists, many in one-week workshops in summer writing festivals over 20-plus years, and others in semester-long or year-long mentorships. I immerse myself in outlines and drafts. These writers have put themselves out there in a scary, exciting way. It has been my privilege to help them find new insights and fresh resolve. There is among aspiring writers an incredible range of interests, backgrounds, sense of story, and confidence, but there are many things they have in common. They are readers. They are intrigued by human nature. They are dogged.

One day it dawned on me that every summer, every semester, I have reinvented the wheel. Now, going through my teaching materials, I see that, however I may have recast notes, talks, exercises, and guidelines, there are consistent themes. I want to share what I have learned in my writing and teaching life, with special gratitude for the generosity of so many writers over so many years.

You can find many books to help you produce the first draft of a novel, especially if you subscribe to a popular theory of story much loved by screenwriters. Their strategy of structuring with acts, journeys, plot points, and arcs seems to be ratified by the success of many commercial movies, but is less helpful in developing deep story. If you want to review the basics of screenplay structure, you should read Syd Field, who popularized the model 30 years ago.

My advice is short and simple.

You should feel driven by a story you want to tell, even if you don’t know every nuance of it.

You must be able to live with the ambiguity of the enterprise.

You must have a commitment to a schedule of writing.

 

No one can teach you how to write a perfect first draft.

If you can say, Yes, I’m up to that, and you are just beginning, you may do best by ignoring instruction, at least until your dream is on the page. Free from rules, you may discover you have something in you nobody else has thought of. What rules did Markus Zusak ignore, writing The Book Thief, with Death as the narrator? Or Kate Atkinson, with the dazzle of her innovative Life After Life, in which her characters live more than one life? Amor Towles painted 30 years of Russian history in the confines of a single setting, a hotel, in A Gentleman in Moscow.

However much you think you know your story, however much you love it, allow yourself the freedom of discovery. Think of yourself as solving a mystery. What if? Why? Be wary of judging your work too soon. Sticking with a novel means going forward, not round and round. I say that even though I myself am a slow, deliberate writer at the sentence level. I don’t pour out pages; I feel as if every line tells me something about what the next line has to be. But I also don’t worry over the pages I’ve already written until I have a substantial draft. I learned early on that I could end up trying to perfect passages that don’t belong in the novel at all. Or I could lose my urgency to discover what next. I learned to jump ahead when I felt stymied. I started two of my novels in the middle.

Keep in mind that a first draft may be a kind of fishing expedition, a mess of a manuscript. You may not be ready to leap to revising. “First draft” should be thought of as a canopy off writing, holding however many drafts it takes to get you to the place where you feel you have grasped the story and put it on the page. You have to know how it ends. You have to know what it means.

The “first draft” of my first published novel was 1,084 pages long. It took about 14 months to write. (Remember, those were typewriter days.) I wrote ferociously and joyously. Then I had to figure out how to define reasonable parameters for the novel, and when I cut it, I discovered a huge imbalance between what I had said the most about and what I’d skimmed over. I made a painstaking outline by hand, on lined paper. There were no word processors. I had to start over with fresh paper in a typewriter. That was what it meant to revise. (I kept the boxes that held that draft in the disused cabinets over the refrigerator for many years, until they were archived. And I looked at them from time to time, a reminder of what I did, what I can do.)

When I wrote what I thought was the finished manuscript of More Than Allies, my perspicacious agent told me she liked a minor character in the story the best of all—and that character became one of the two main characters in a total rewrite. I learned to stay fluid, patient, open, and determined. Every stage has its hurdles—and its rewards.

 

Have fun finding your way.

You might want to toss a chapter and start over. Fine. You might want to try out a different point of view. You could discover your heavy drama is a comedy after all. You might realize you need a lot more background (setting, history) built into the story (a common concern); or you might realize that your research is clogging the manuscript’s arteries. Insight comes when you are immersed in the story, and you then have to decide whether to go back or keep going. I’m inclined to say keep going but make lots of notes about your prospective changes. You have to tell yourself that the most important thing is to get enough story down that you have something to work with; you will know more with every page you write; you can change things in the next draft.

Once you have that first full draft, you are on a different plane of writing. You’ve done a lot of stumbling and fretting, but you’ve figured out a story and you have this product, written out from beginning to end. Congratulations. Now you are ready for the next step. Unless you can do it in one go. There are writers who don’t revise full drafts, but I think that for them revising is a stream of higher consciousness.

It is instructive and fascinating to read about Gustave Flaubert’s writing; he was a man in agony, start to finish. He wrote letters to his friends saying that he hated what he was writing, that he had spent days on a paragraph, and so on. It seems clear to me that he had a very strong sense of his story from the beginning (I’m thinking of Madame Bovary), but achieving what he had in mind was incredibly demanding because his standards were so high. He spent five years writing the novel, his first. He wrote expansively, then cut, as he progressed.

When he got to the end of his “first draft,” which was the complete novel, he had performed surgery, acrobatics, diplomacy, psychology, and artistry on every page. And he had written the first modern novel.

John Steinbeck wrote a journal about how he wrote The Grapes of Wrath. It’s called Working Days and you can see why: He wrote five days a week, all day, from June to October 1938, about 2,000 words a day. He griped and grumbled, full of self-doubt and self-pity, but he had his head down and his pencil on the paper (his wife was his typist). I think he, like Flaubert, could do a one-draft wonder because every sentence was produced from deep thought. He was driven by an urgency about his subject, and he had done a lot of research. He didn’t start writing from scratch by any means.

Bernard Malamud, on the other hand, said when asked how many drafts he typically wrote, “Many more than I call three.”

 

Fast is fast, but is it good?

So many will say, Just get it down—work intuitively and quickly. I can’t write fast, so I can’t evaluate this approach. Anne Lamott (Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life), famous for encouraging unselfconscious, uncritical first drafts, has made it clear that she also does a lot of restructuring and revising later on. You have to find your own way. If you have had the story in your mind for a long time, your first draft might feel like you are pouring it onto the page. If the story feels like a mystery you want to solve, it will probably go more slowly. The writer Ann Patchett (Bel Canto), whose novels are marvelously varied, has said that she likes to think things through pretty thoroughly before she starts writing, whereas her friend, the novelist Elizabeth McCracken (TheGiant’s House: A Romance), doesn’t think a thing of changing names, histories, and plotlines as she writes. Think of the first draft as close to the chest: It’s yours alone.

What I do know is that, whether you crawl through your draft or you write it out as fast as you can type, you have to have the story on the page, start to finish, before you can evaluate it. It’s important to stay open to surprises and unbothered by dead ends. This isn’t the time to make contracts with yourself, like so many pages a day or the first draft by Christmas. Dedicated time is the one thing you do have to promise yourself. A lot will change in the writing. Later, you will come back to the same questions, the same advice, the same exercises, and find you have gone somewhere altogether different from where you were headed. That’s just fine. That’s writing. The real book might appear in the margins of your draft. You can’t revise what you haven’t written down.

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From The Last Draft, by Sandra Scofield, courtesy Penguin Press. Copyright 2017, Sandra Scofield.  Via: http://lithub.com/how-important-is-the-first-draft-to-your-novel/

10 Creative Ways to Keep Moving Forward During Nanowrimo

We’ve all had that dream: it’s an important day and you show up totally unprepared and, probably, naked. For writers who take the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenge, this most commonly occurs on Day One: you’ve brewed your warm, comforting beverage of choice, assembled your meticulously curated writing playlist, filled the bathroom with catnip and locked the cats inside, and carefully arranged all the implements and tchotchkes on your desk into a pleasing geometric pattern. Then you sit and stare at a blinking cursor and have no idea what to write.

Whether it strikes at the very beginning of a novel or right at a crucial middle part, writer’s block is frustrating and potentially devastating. The most essential tool any author can have is a list of surefire ways of breaking out of its cold, clammy clutches. Here are ten creative ways to smash out of a creative funk.

Read Great Books
Your first step, always, should be to read a few of your favourite books. Since NaNoWriMo goes pretty fast, don’t try to read a whole novel, just skip to your favourite parts. Spending a few minutes with a beloved story usually gets the juices flowing. Alternatively, read a hot new title everyone’s talking about to stoke those fire of jealousy, one of the best motivators known to man.

Get Some Pro Advice
Another approach is to sit down with some of the best writers in history and ask their advice, which you can do by picking up a book like Stephen King’s On Writing or Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. Or, depending on your taste in literature, a wilder example:Charles Bukowski’s On Writing, or Ray Bradbury’s Zen In the Art of Writing. You get the idea.

Write About Yourself
A great trick is to start writing about a frustrated writer. Writers as characters can be lazy, yes, but even if it’s a false start that has to be scrapped, writing about your own situation might offer a glimpse of an escape route. And writing about yourself is (usually) easy.

Just Start
Another trick is to simply begin writing without any concern over what the story is, who your characters are, or how in the world you’re going to finish those 50,000 words in thirty days. Just start describing something, or sketching a scene, anything. Just using your fingers and brain to put words on the screen can act like a starter motor, cranking your engine into gear.

Change Your Method
All writers develop a mechanical way of writing: the software used, the specific pen or pencil, the location of their work space. If you’re blocked, try changing things up. Switch to longhand if you work on a computer, or go sit in the garden with a laptop instead of rigidly upright at a desk. A change of mechanics can shock your brain into exploring a new way of working and thinking.

Stop Counting
Sometimes what blocks a writer is the pressure of getting 2,000 words in every day for a month. Try not paying attention to word counts for a week, instead just concentrating on telling a story, and often the pressure relief will un-crimp your creativity. And don’t forget, some incredible novels are less than 50,000 words, The Great Gatsby and Slaughterhouse-Five for example.

Change What You’re Writing
Sometimes writer’s block isn’t some mystery brain injury; sometimes it’s your subconscious trying to tell you you’re headed down the wrong path. Back up to the last major plot decision you made and see if there’s a more interesting choice you missed. Or, while it might break your heart, ask yourself if you should be writing something else entirely.

Read Some History
No novel, no matter how creative, can beat actual events for sheer twists and turns and thrilling drama. If the story won’t come, seed your brain with some of the most interesting (and true) stories ever told. Bonus: reading history trains you in how things actually happen, ramping up your verisimilitude skills.

Change – or Make – the Routine
Some writers like to work randomly, plopping down when the mood strikes and scribbling out a few hundred words here, a few hundred words there. Some go weeks without writing a word, and then hole up in their office for a month straight. As romantic as that sounds, you may work better with a rigid schedule. Try swapping your approach: go random if you normally have a schedule, and treat it like a job if you’re normally a random.

Feed Your Senses
Taking breaks is one of the most powerful tools a writer can use. Sometimes that panic over lost time is what’s blocking you in the first place. Take an hour and listen to some great music, or eat something delicious, or go for a walk in a beautiful spot. Feeding the senses stimulates creativity – think of Proust and the Madeleine!

Good luck, and keep writing – you are almost there!

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Via: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/blog/ten-creative-ways-to-bust-out-of-your-writers-block-for-nanowrimo/

Three Things to Know Before Starting Your Novel

Tips-for-writing-a-novel

Before you jump in the deep end and start writing a novel, there are a few things you should know.

1. The Premise

This one seems obvious, but you’d be surprised at how many authors launch straight into writing before knowing the basics. The premise of your story, is the core of it – the skeleton that runs throughout the whole thing. When someone asks you what your book is about, the premise is what you’ll give them. More often than not, if you begin writing without a premise, chances are that your story will have trouble going anywhere.

For example, this author began writing a novel, knowing the character and his physical journey, but unsure as to what the basic concept of her book was. In 9 months, she struggled to write a measly 13,200 words. By contrast, she then began writing a new novel which had originally been a short story. Knowing the premise this time, in 4 months she wrote 60,000 words and finished the first draft.

“With my first book, I had known the main character inside out, known his travels… But I found it increasingly difficult to write. The scenes were random and didn’t build to anything. I couldn’t have told you what the climax of the novel was. If you compare the progress of my second novel to the first, which remains unfinished, it’s pretty incredible. I’m not saying you should know everything about your story before you start, because it does develop and change drastically as you work. But knowing the premise the second time around changed the way I write for the better.” – Novelist/Creative Writer, Darlinghurst

2. Research Basics

Again, this sounds like an obvious one. Some writers find it easier to set their fiction in a real place, have a character with a similar occupation or family situation… things they’re familiar with. If this is you, that’s great. What I will say is: be careful you don’t omit details accidentally. When you know a setting, a job or a person very well, it’s easy to forget that your reader doesn’t.

To those who are creating from scratch, that’s great too. Is your main character a doctor? An air-hostess? Is your novel set in South Africa? Italy? Russia? Whatever your main character does and wherever they are, know the facts, at least the basics. What does their job entail? Long hours? Mundane tasks? Risk? Who do they work with? How long have they been in their position? Are they happy there? Do they earn a lot? These things won’t necessarily make it onto the actual page, but these factors affect a person’s nature, how they behave, how they live… The same goes for the setting you place them in… Do they have electricity? Do they live above a nightclub? Is their living space small or spacious?

“What I found incredibly useful, was mapping out the settings that my characters spent a lot of time in. Whether it was a room, a house or a village, it was a relief to keep coming back to a reference point and know where things were. I also kept ‘Research Profiles’ for want of a better term, so I could constantly layer my work with authentic touches, whether it was for the environment, political climate or a character.”

3. Character

Try and learn everything you can about your characters before you start writing. Naturally, once you get your story going, you’ll learn more and more about them, however it’s always super helpful to know the basics of who they are, what they do, etc., beforehand. Jot down a profile about each of your main characters including details about their: name, physical appearance, age, which characters they get along with and their relationship, where they live, do they have children? A partner? Do they have any particular mannerisms or quirks? Decide where you want to draw the line with how much you need to know before you start, and how much you learn along the way.

“One of the things I wish I had of known before I started my book was a few extra details about the background of my characters, things that make them distinctive from the rest of my cast. I’m now on my second draft and I’m having to redo character profiles and slot these details in second time around – it would have been a lot less hassle to have done it from the beginning.”

There are plenty of character profile templates available online for free that can be a great help. Click here to see one such example of a useful profile. Although it’s quite long and detailed, it does prompt you to think outside the box.

In conclusion, starting a novel is a huge undertaking and a massive achievement in itself, but sometimes, it helps to have something small, pointing you in the right direction. I hope this little checklist has done that.

Happy writing!

Via: http://writersedit.com/resources-for-writers/three-things-to-know-do-before-starting-your-novel/

How To Outline Your Novel | Useful Resources

writing10

This week, as an extended Bank Holiday Bonus, we have been looking at how to outline your novel. To close off the week I have prepared a list of the links provided over the week, which will serve as a very nice further reading and useful resources list. I hope you find it useful:

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Plotting: Constructing Your Story

http://www.scribendi.com/advice/theplotskeleton.en.html

http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2011/09/14/25-ways-to-plot-plan-and-prep-your-story/

http://contemporarylit.about.com/od/literaryterms/g/Narrative-Arc-What-Is-Narrative-Arc-In-Literature.htm

Characters

http://www.narniaweb.com/resources-links/character-ages/

http://www.veronicasicoe.com/blog/2013/04/the-3-types-of-character-arc-change-growth-and-fall/

http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/there-are-no-rules/11-secrets-to-writing-effective-character-description

Setting

https://writersblog.co/2017/04/19/literary-devices-setting/

http://www.scribophile.com/blog/importance-of-setting-in-a-novel/

http://www.wordstrumpet.com/2012/03/tips-on-writing-prepping-for-the-novel-part-five-setting.html

Theme

http://www.livewritethrive.com/2013/10/09/getting-to-your-core-idea/

https://writersblog.co/2017/04/18/literary-devices-how-to-master-theme/

http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2010/05/how-to-write-one-sentence-pitch.html

http://www.writersedit.com/literary-devices-motif/

Structure

http://classroom.synonym.com/literary-term-nonlinear-narrative-1816.html

http://education.seattlepi.com/circular-narrative-style-5885.html

https://nailyournovel.wordpress.com/2011/09/25/plot-is-linear-story-doesn%e2%80%99t-have-to-be/

http://theeditorsblog.net/2013/04/07/marking-time-with-the-viewpoint-character/

http://www.musik-therapie.at/PederHill/Structure&Plot.htm

http://blog.janicehardy.com/2013/02/three-ways-to-add-tension-during.html

http://www.thewritersjourney.com/hero’s_journey.htm

http://www.dailywritingtips.com/how-to-structure-a-story-the-eight-point-arc/

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/how to make 3 act structure work for you

http://blog.janicehardy.com/2013/10/how-to-plot-with-three-act-structure.html

Act I: The Beginning

http://thescriptlab.com/screenwriting/structure/three-acts/55-act-one-the-beginning

http://rebeccaberto.com/2012/01/15/the-best-advice-ive-learned-on-story-structure-part-2-plot-point-1/

http://digitalwritersfestival.com/2015/event/first-chapter/

http://www.writersedit.com/literary-devices-mood/

http://www.ptmichelle.com/2011/10/21/writing-tips-mini-story-arcs-within-your-storys-arc/

Act II: Midpoint

http://timetowrite.blogs.com/weblog/2015/06/the-three-cs-of-plot-and-how-they-help-you-write-the-middle-of-your-story.html

https://www.profwritingacademy.com/writers-focus-on-the-midpoint-to-nail-your-story/

http://lydiasharp.blogspot.com.au/2012/03/writing-toward-your-midpoint.html

http://livewritebreathe.com/the-black-moment/

http://rebeccaberto.com/2012/01/27/the-best-advice-ive-learned-on-story-structure-part-3-midpoint-second-third-plot-points/

Act III: Climax and Resolution

http://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/4-ways-to-improve-plotclimax-in-your-writing

http://www.natashalester.com.au/2013/05/15/the-new-love-of-my-life-why-planning-a-book-with-scrivener-makes-writing-easy/

Other Writing Resources

Writing Prompts

http://www.writersedit.com/category/resources-for-writers/writing-prompts-resources-for-writers/

Writing Software

https://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivener.php

http://www.scribblecode.com/

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I hope you have found this series of posts useful. Best of luck with your writing! 

You can find the previous parts here: 

Via: http://writersedit.com/how-to-outline-your-novel-11-easy-steps/

How To Outline Your Novel | Part Five

Writing-3.jpg

This week, as an extended Bank Holiday Bonus, we will be looking at how to outline your novel:

Taking the time to outline your novel can save you grief in the long run. An outline helps keep your story on-track and progressing past the initial thrill of beginning your work. Maybe you can’t wait to start writing, or maybe you’ve already started but are running into problems. This guide will explain all the techniques you’ll need to craft an effective outline for your novel.

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Essential Components Of Your Story’s Middle

The middle is the longest part of your novel and the most likely to sag. Pacing is the key here, since writers often find it had to keep the middle plot moving. Also take care not to race from one plot point to the next. Splitting the middle into equal sections and outlining each of them will help you control the story’s pace.

Although one of the main purposes of the middle is to build up to the climax, it doesn’t mean nothing can happen before this point. Set your protagonist or other characters obstacles, which ideally also lead directly to the final climax. In this outlining stage it may be useful to work on your ending before the middle. Then you have a clear idea of where the middle needs to go.

Minor characters’ and subplots’ arcs may finish, as well as some major characters’ arcs. This doesn’t mean they disappear from the story, it just allows the questions left hanging to focus on the protagonist and antagonist in the ending.

Midpoint

The midpoint is, as it sounds, in the middle of your novel. It’s a very important stage to shake things up so your story doesn’t get too repetitive. The midpoint involves a Shift in the protagonist’s worldview or goal. Whatever propelled them forward in Plot Point 1 has changed or isn’t enough to keep them going.

“Hamlet is another really good example, because the first half of Hamlet is Hamlet’s journey to prove Claudius’ guilt. Exactly halfway through he proves it, then the second half of the story is ‘What do I do with it?’. And, actually, that’s the shape you find in all archetypal narratives.” – John Yorke

The Shift shouldn’t just come out of nowhere. It should be connected to your overall story premise or core message. At the midpoint, the tension should be raised again. This tension can either be sudden and external, leading to the Shift, or be a result of the Shift by making the situation more personal to the protagonist.

The Black Moment and Plot Point 2

At the end of Act 2, the protagonist should come across the Black Moment. Regardless of all the work they’ve done over this Act, they reach a point where their goal seems impossible. Maybe they discover that their new super skill has a fatal weakness, or perhaps the antagonist unlocks the secret to immortality.

Shortly afterwards is Plot Point 2 where something changes to propel the protagonist onto the final confrontation. Perhaps their skill has reached another level, they’ve realised that even with such a slim chance the stakes are too high, or one of the antagonist’s henchmen switches sides.

This Black Moment and Plot Point 2 are integral to the pace of the plot. With their sense of purpose reignited, the next step is the climax.

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Essential Components of Your Story’s End

Writers want to leave a lasting impression on your reader through the ending. It’s good to go back and reflect on your core message while doing the conclusion. Characters are particularly important to draw your reader’s interest and emotions. Keep your characters active until the final moment.

“The hero must be the catalyst. A passerby in the street can do something ‘enlightening’ but that’s all that moment must be. The protagonist will be the one to use that clue to enable meaning in the development of the story.” – Rebecca Berto

Climax

The climax is the final confrontation between the protagonist and antagonist where the stakes are higher than they’ve ever been before, and the inner and outer conflicts come to a head. It isn’t a simple stand-alone point in your plot. The climax needs to be supported in its lead-up and its resolution.

Sometimes the climax has its own mini Black Moment. The protagonist’s initial plan is failing and they are forced to come up with a new plan under pressure, usually something more risky than they would typically consider.

Final Chapter

Act 3 ends showing the result of the protagonist’s decision at the climax. It’s good to have a scene or two afterwards to give your reader a “breather” from all the tension. Along with this, any loose ends or unanswered questions should be resolved. Novel endings are important, so you want to be sure it’s planned carefully.

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Reassess and Reorder Your Scenes

With the details of the chapter breakdown, you novel is really starting to take shape. As a final task, consider checking for scenes which require reordering and tweaking. This may involve moving scenes chronologically so plot point B becomes plot point A, or plot point B stays as it is, but plot point A appears after as a flashback.

Perhaps the timing of a revelation isn’t ideal. When outlining you want to get your ideas down as and when they come to you. But now is the time to go back and check if, for the sake of mystery, a scene is better at that point in the plot or at another point. Make sure that the tension is kept and the big reveal appears at the best possible moment.

“Writing in scenes is great because anyone who’s ever published a book knows how often scenes get moved around in the redrafting and editing phase of a book.” – Natasha Lester

Reordering scenes is often done after you’ve finished writing, but it doesn’t hurt to do a mini-version of that edit now. To help identify the best order of scenes, check your plot’s tension by drawing a graph and consult your core message. If you’re uncertain, leave the scene where it is. You can always move things around later.

Outlining your novel is important to keep your writing on-track. While you should keep it handy as you write, you’re not limited by it. Feel free to change things around as you write. Be sure to keep control of tension and keep focused on your core. Now you’re all-set to get writing!

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If you are enjoying this post and finding it useful, then don’t forget to check back tomorrow for the final instalment…

You can find the previous parts here: 

Via: http://writersedit.com/how-to-outline-your-novel-11-easy-steps/

How To Outline Your Novel | Part Four

Writing-1-650p

This week, as an extended Bank Holiday Bonus, we will be looking at how to outline your novel:

Taking the time to outline your novel can save you grief in the long run. An outline helps keep your story on-track and progressing past the initial thrill of beginning your work. Maybe you can’t wait to start writing, or maybe you’ve already started but are running into problems. This guide will explain all the techniques you’ll need to craft an effective outline for your novel.

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Segment Your Outline Into Chapters

The timeline has given you a basic outline, but it needs to be more concrete and detailed. The story can be broken down into sections of four or five parts, or individual chapters or scenes.

This helps flesh out your novel and define roughly how many words or pages to allow for a certain plot point, subplot or character introduction. Otherwise your beginning might accidentally end up longer than the middle!

It’s useful to plan a few goals to achieve in each chapter or segment. These goals may be:

  • Character-orientated: “reveal Character B’s low self-confidence”, “introduce character C and their personality”, “show that characters C and D have known each other for years”
  • Plot-orientated: “find murder weapon”, “discover object hidden in ancient ruins”
  • Setting-orientated: “make the marshes seem scary”, “reveal the clock tower’s history”

The goals may seem obvious, but having them clearly defined and written down can help focus you when writing that section.

“Working with story structure is not about ‘getting it right’. It is about making your story as clear and specific as it can be. Focusing on your characters’ desire or goal will lead you directly to the dilemma at the heart of your story.” – Alan Watt

One of the most common structures is the Three-Act Structure. While it’s not the only way a novel can be arranged, there are important aspects to include in the Beginning, Middle and End section.

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Essential Components of Your Story’s Beginning

The first few chapters or so have a vital role to play, regardless of when in your story’s timeline the novel starts. The purpose of the beginning includes introducing and establishing character, setting and plot.

Character

From the beginning, the protagonist and antagonist must be introduced and clearly identifiable, even if the details of the latter are hazy. The protagonist needs to own what is, essentially, their story. You want to introduce a proactive protagonist and make the reader care about them.

It’s best to introduce all major characters. If your protagonist has to travel for a while before meeting a certain major character, introduce them with a short scene from their perspective, or through rumours that the protagonist hears.

Setting

Before getting into the juicy Act 2, your reader needs to be grounded in your world. Show your reader where and when your story is set, including indications of the socioeconomic status of the location and characters.

You also need to establish the rules of your fictional world, even if that just means establishing that they are the same rules as on Earth-as-we-know-it. This doesn’t mean all of your settings secrets should be revealed at the start. Keep setting details rich but controlled.

Plot

In the early chapters, give your reader an indication of what life is like for the protagonist before the catalyst that propels them onwards. Typically, life is either peaceful or lacking something.

“Life before” doesn’t mean back story. This should be revealed more slowly, if at all. The protagonist may meet their first obstacle, which in itself can help reveal the protagonist’s “life before”.

Act 1 ends when the protagonist decides (willingly or not) to pursue the main goal of the story, known as Plot Point 1. It’s possible at this stage that the protagonist and reader don’t know the full, final goal, such as Frodo agreeing to take the ring to Rivendale, but ends up going all the way to Mordor. Either way, the journey of the main plot needs to be clearly introduced. You may also choose to introduce, imply or foreshadow one or two subplots.

First Chapter

Unless you have a prologue, the first chapter is a reader’s introduction to everything. A novel can start anywhere – even at the end of the story! Because of this, it’s often best to finish your outline before choosing when to start.

There are a range of key aspects to weave together for your opening. At this year’s Digital Writer’s Festival, Euan Mitchell had this advice for first chapters:

“For me, I’d come… with the protagonist straight up. There’s three trialled and tested techniques that authors use. There’s: show them in a situation of suffering or pain, show them with a sense of humour, or show them as a part of a family. There are others, but those are the three main ones.”

Key aspects to include:

  • Introduce protagonist (including a couple of defining physical features)
  • Show protagonist goal / an obstacle / both
  • Establish setting (but don’t overdo details)
  • Define the genre, voice, mood and tone
  • Incorporate core message / main themes
  • Don’t overload with new characters
  • Don’t fill with back story

Advised aspects to include:

  • Introduce main antagonist or idea of antagonist
  • Treat as a mini story arc
  • Have the protagonist make an important decision
  • Start the main plot’s action / journey

To pick out more great ideas for the first chapter, grab a dozen books and read their first chapters. Check what is revealed, what is focused on and what is absent. Then do a more focused study with half a dozen or so books with a similar style or genre to your story.

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If you are enjoying this post and finding it useful, then don’t forget to check back tomorrow for the next instalment…

You can find the previous parts here: 

Via: http://writersedit.com/how-to-outline-your-novel-11-easy-steps/

How To Outline Your Novel | Part Three

Writing-4

This week, as an extended Bank Holiday Bonus, we will be looking at how to outline your novel:

Taking the time to outline your novel can save you grief in the long run. An outline helps keep your story on-track and progressing past the initial thrill of beginning your work. Maybe you can’t wait to start writing, or maybe you’ve already started but are running into problems. This guide will explain all the techniques you’ll need to craft an effective outline for your novel.

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Assess Your Plot-in-Progress

While your outline is still in its rough, overview state, it’s good to check that the plot is working. To make sure the plot flows, check for gaps both chronologically and dramatically.

A chronological gap occurs when an underdeveloped story jumps over a period of time. It can be disconcerting for the reader if your character is sweating it out in the middle of summer, and then, in what seems a few days, is at home trying to get closer to the fireplace.

Reassess your plot and check for unaccounted days, months, weeks or years. The significance of missing time is relative. If your story spans a period of a year or more, a few days or weeks won’t matter so much.

To fill the gap, you could think of an event to develop a character or a mini obstacle for your protagonist to overcome. Of course, you always have the option to tell your reader that a few uneventful weeks or a busy month passed with no plot progression. Doing this too often can be distracting, but at the same time you don’t want pages of nothing happening.

“References to time and day (or month or season or year) are necessary to keep readers linked with story events and hold them deep inside the fiction” – Beth Hill

A dramatic gap occurs when the tension of your novel declines when it shouldn’t. The best way to identify these gaps is to draw the story arc as a graph line. Use different colours for subplots to check that the main plot isn’t being overshadowed.

You may encounter lulls in tension shortly after an obstacle is defeated. This is where dramatic lulls are okay as long as they don’t last too long. Overall, the main plot should be increasing in tension as it heads towards the climax.

Tension-and-Time-in-a-Story

If you’ve decided to use 1st person perspective, or are considering it, draw the arc from both a generalised view and then from the 1st person narrator’s perspective. From here you can see whether the delay or lack of knowledge from the narrator’s perspective creates a better dramatic arc. To fill dramatic gaps, build more plot points in strategic places and work on increasing tension.

If it seems that your story isn’t working, trust your instincts. Readers can tell when something is a bit off and, as a writer, you’re a reader too. Be honest if something isn’t working – it’s easier to fix now than later.

If you can’t identify the root of the problem, take a break or ask some trusted writing buddies to look over it. Also research the genre’s conventions. If you’re writing genre fiction, look into a tried and tested outline such as the hero’s journey or the eight-point arc.

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Identify the Core Message (Theme)

Novels have a core message, whether it’s clear or not. You could successfully write your novel none the wiser of its deeper meanings. Yet, by knowing the core, you can write a stronger novel.

Identifying your core helps when you need to decide between two possibilities, and keeps the novel feeling as one whole piece of work.

“Novelists, just like filmmakers, need to truly understand the story they are trying to tell and what impact or take-home feeling or message they want to leave with their readers” – C. S. Lakin

Your core message and themes emerge naturally with your story and can be a phrase, a word or a question. You’ll instinctively know when you’ve hit on your novel’s core or when you’re getting close to it. Here are a few ways to help identify your core message if you don’t already know it:

  • Identify 1 – 4 central or important themes
  • Look at your protagonist’s goal / desire or main obstacle
  • Sum up your story in one sentence (i.e. “pitch”) keeping note of the above two points
  • Make a list of published novels you think are similar. Can you identify their core messages?
  • Share your story premise with others

Once you’ve identified your core, it’s helpful to go back and tweak plot points or characters to align with this. Be careful to not undermine your story by making the core too obvious or preachy.

Consider if there is a motif or style that is appropriate for your core. There’s a chance that you may not like the core message you identify. At this point you have the option to run with what the story says, or rework the aspects of your story that portray the undesired core message.

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If you are enjoying this post and finding it useful, then don’t forget to check back tomorrow for the next instalment…

You can find the previous parts here: 

Via: http://writersedit.com/how-to-outline-your-novel-11-easy-steps/