Posts Tagged With: Writing process

Scenes – to be or not to be? That is the question…

Revision. It’s something every writer must face at some point in their writing journey.

This month, Fiona, Gabbie and I will take turns delving into specific aspects of the revision process.

That is the question...

That is the question…

Scenes. The building blocks of a novel. A well-written scene captures the reader’s attention, holds it and then leaves the reader wanting more. But what makes a scene well-written?

From what I have gathered over the years, from participating in writing courses, researching on the net, and trial and error, is that it boils down to one thing: a scene must move the story forward. Of course, other things are important too – like good grammar, interesting dialogue, vivid world building and all that jazz.

But if a scene doesn’t move the story forward, it’s pointless. It’s weak. It’s failing to live up to its potential. Effectively, the writer is taking a huge risk that they will lose the reader’s attention, and the reader will put down the book, walk away and never return. They’re also squandering the opportunity to make their novel a page-turner.

Scenes are the building blocks of a novel...

Scenes are the building blocks of a novel…

So how does a writer who is revising their novel determine whether their scenes advance the story?

A scene that moves the story forward has three elements:

(i) Setting and Action – it informs the reader of where the character is and what they are doing.

(ii) GMC (goal, motivation and conflict):

  • Goal – what the character wants;
  • Motivation – why the character wants to achieve this goal;
  • Conflict – the obstacle preventing the character from achieving this goal. This can be another character (whose goal is at odds with the main character’s goal) or an external obstacle.

(iii) Twist – something that changes everything.

It can be something that surprises the reader or raises new questions. This is the element that drags the reader into the next scene and makes your novel a page-turner – by making the reader want to know more.

The twist is the key to page-turning scenes...

The twist is the key to page-turning scenes…

A good place to study scenes is – surprise, surprise – in movies and television series. Screenwriters are very adept at crafting effective scenes. It might have something to do with the fact that time restraints (and therefore screenplay length) are extremely limited, so every scene must count.

To illustrate, let’s analyse a scene from a TV series many people are familiar with – Buffy the Vampire Slayer – written by, none other than screenwriting legend, Joss Whedon.

Scene 1, Episode 1 – Welcome to the Hellmouth.

Setting and Action
A boy and a girl are breaking into a school at night.

GMC – this scene is stuffed full of GMC.
The boy wants to go up on top of the gym. He says it’s because the view up there is amazing. But really he wants to get the girl alone and make out.
The girl doesn’t want to go up there. She’s scared and doesn’t want to get into trouble. Or maybe she simply doesn’t want to make out with the boy – after all, if you can see the whole town from up there, the whole town can probably see you.
They hear a noise. She thinks it’s something to be concerned about. He doesn’t.
Conflict, conflict, conflict.

Then BOOM!

Twist
She is a vampire. So there was something to be concerned about – just not what the boy (or viewer) was expecting.

Joss Whedon: The Boring-Scene Slayer...

Joss Whedon: The Boring-Scene Slayer…

Some things to keep in mind:

  • A scene must end after the twist – if the scene continues, you lose the I-have-to-read-more effect on the reader.
  • The twist doesn’t have to be an earth-shattering event – it can be subtle (eg. a new character arriving on the scene, the main character becoming aware of something previously hidden to them). For example, in Scene 2, Episode 1 of Buffy, Buffy is trapped in a nightmare. She wakes up and then her mother calls out “you don’t want to be late for your first day”. This new piece of information is the twist and pulls the viewer into the next scene – Buffy’s first day at a new school.
  • A good way to determine whether your scene moves the story forward is by looking at your character. Does your character arc within the scene (ie. do they feel/act/think differently at the end of the scene than they did at the beginning)?
  • Action doesn’t have to be a car chase or a fight scene. It can be introspection or dialogue, BUT ONLY if it moves the story forward. This can be through character development or by revealing backstory – but this new information must be critical (ie. it affects the main plotline or a subplot). Simply revealing generic information about a character or their past is not enough. For example, if your entire scene comprises your character waking up, eating breakfast and engaging in small talk with her mum about how the toaster keeps burning the toast, you need to get rid of it (even if the banter is witty and clever*) – UNLESS the overzealous toaster is critical to the story line (ie. your character suspects her mum is having an affair with the pool boy who just so happens to prefer his toast burnt)

* in the event that the witty banter reveals something cool about a character or relationship and you REALLY don’t want to throw it away, take that banter from the pointless scene and merge that into a scene that moves the story forward, or salvage the scene by adding some conflict and a twist.

Often pointless scenes creep into our stories because they are transition scenes – boring scenes we think we need to write to fill a gap between two incredible, story-changing, can’t-put-the-book-down scenes. Just get rid of them. Go directly from one critical scene to the next, and only write those scenes you can’t wait to write – these are the scenes the reader can’t wait to read. You can always add a few sentences to explain what happened in between if you feel it’s necessary.

And remember, scenes that are boring to write are boring to read.

Make your novel a page-turner by injecting conflict into your scenes...

Want to make your novel a page turner? Inject some good old-fashioned action and GMC into your scenes… with a twist!

So that’s it from me.

In the next two weeks, Gabbie will be sharing some of her secret revision wisdom, and Fiona will be delving more deeply into the concept of GMC and how it relates not only to scenes but to the story as a whole.

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A Writer’s Life

typing

A writer’s life…

I’ve heard it said (and seen it written) that a writer should write every day.

If only it was that easy.

I’ve had periods in my life when I’ve written diligently every day for months on end, and I’ve had months on end when I haven’t written a thing.

I don’t believe it’s that desperate. When I hear (or read) someone saying you have to write every day, I can’t help but think they’re worried somehow that if you don’t you’ll lose your passion or forget how to write or some other frightening fate will befall you.

But quite frankly I believe if you’re a writer you’ll always be a writer. And if your passion or skills are so precarious that not writing for a day, or week or even a year will put them in jeopardy, then perhaps you’d be better off (and a hell of a lot happier) not writing at all – because seriously, being plagued by a need to tell stories and not being satisfied until you’ve gotten them down on paper (or onto the computer screen) is a sort of torture in itself.

If you can escape that, I say run for the hills, my friend, and be free.

No, often being a writer means having to find time to write around the rest of your life. And being flexible. And also realising that writing isn’t just about the physical act of putting pen to paper (or fingertip to keyboard) – it’s also about thinking and dreaming and pretending, and a whole bunch of other things (like listening and watching and experiencing).

And (because I am so enlightened hoho) that’s how I approach it.

In 2009, when I first began to write seriously, my eldest (and at the time, only) son was in school. This was a wonderful arrangement because I could, and would, write (pretty much uninterrupted) between 10am and 4pm daily. I’m so thankful and sentimental for those early years as I did a lot of my learning and experimenting back then. And I don’t think I would be the writer I am today without them. I wrote the first 140k version of my vampire novel during this period.

In 2011 and 2012, my two littles came along, and boy did my writing life change then. I went from writing consistently day-in and day-out, to writing sporadically whenever I could find the time. That meant maybe getting an hour or two of writing in while they napped (if I was lucky enough to have them both napping at the same time, that is), or sneaking in half an hour of writing in the afternoon if they happened to discover an activity interesting and novel enough to capture their attention for more than 10 minutes.

I remember being heartened by the writing journeys of writers I admired – Laurell K Hamilton, for example, crafted her first novel in the hours before work every day, two pages at a time, and Maggie Stiefvater set aside Wednesday’s once a week (and some Sundays) to work on Lament – the moral of the story being that over time, if you plod away and keep at it, the words start to add up. And it’s true. During this period, I managed to write the second version of my vampire novel (all 105K words of it), and complete revision after revision after revision of the damned thing (until I reduced the word count to 88.5K).

Then in 2014, when my hubby and I started up our own little law firm, I found myself evolving into a night writer. And let me tell you, that was a pretty phenomenal feat for me – my ideal time for clear thinking and creative expression is early in the morning, after a long night of sleeping on ideas and dreaming up scenarios.

But it was either write at night or not write at all – so of course night writing it was. And over the course of six months I plotted and wrote the first draft of my fantasy novel, while dreaming up the premises of two other novels I’m still dying to write.

Knight Rider

Night Writer

But like I said before, writing is not just about the physical act of writing. So even when the demands of my non-writing life dominate my usual allotted writing time, I “write” in other ways – I plot novel number three in my head, I rework novel number one on my iPhone, I listen to songs on my playlist and imagine my characters in various scenarios.

And I know when I turn around the next corner in my life and my time for writing once again changes (and hopefully expands), I will have done so much preparatory work in my head that my next two novels will come flying off my fingertips onto the screen.

And I can’t wait until then.

writing life

Pen and paper and something yummy… sounds like heaven to me 🙂

As for my ideal writing life (a writer can always dream, right?), this is how it would be…

Wake up every morning, grab a nice hot coffee, sit down at my desk, and write. All day. With no interruptions. Well, maybe a break or two to grab something yummy, but that is it.

Ta da!

Lol I know I’m dreaming. With one child in high school and two others under five, I have quite a wait on my hands until my life will be anywhere near my own again. And that’s okay.

In the meantime, I will live like this: every chance I get, I will write – five hundred words here, one thousand words there – and before I know it, I’ll have a dozen works to my name. Well, that’s the plan anyway. Oh, and I’m going to enjoy every single step along the way – both in my writing life, and the real-life I have with my family – no matter what.

In the immortal words of the lovely Nancy Sinatra (and yes, if James Bond can live by them, so can I), you only live twice – once for yourself, and once for your dreams.

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Bonus Post – Playlists To Inspire

Fiona’s Life Without Clouds Writing Playlist

I adore soundtracks. I own nearly as many soundtrack albums as I do artist albums. It’s not surprising then that music adds depth and colour to my writing process as much as it does to viewing a film or television show. It enhances context, character and my creative process in general. Above all, it helps me set the tone. The music motivating my current WIP, the Yokai Hunter Series, is by Sparta, Stone Temple Pilots, The Mars Volta, Fink and Underworld, with a little Ernest Ellis and Little May thrown in. You can see from this list the WIP’s tone is quite different to that of Life Without Clouds.

  1. Lorde – Buzzcut Season
  2. The Killers – Human
  3. Epic Season – Farewell the Rain
  4. Snow Patrol – The Finish Line
  5. Ash – Girl From Mars
  6. Lorde – Ribs
  7. Deee-Lite – Groove is in the Heart
  8. Epic Season – Keep Warm
  9. Blind Melon- No Rain
  10. Lorde – 400 Lux
  11. Florence and the Machine – The Dog Days Are Over
  12. The Breeders – Cannonball
  13. Snow Patrol – Beginning to Get to Me
  14. Lorde – A World Alone
  15. Epic Season – Clouds

Yanicke’s Playlist for The Mark of the Cagairáin

Just because I don’t get to write as much as I would like to – what with the family business (lol do I sound like The Godmother?), children and everything else that comes with those things –  it doesn’t mean I’m not thinking about writing. And, for me, music is a big part of that thinking process 😀

For every novel I plot and plan and create, I have a list of songs I listen to. I have lists for the novel I’m writing right now (you can view it HERE). I have lists for the novels I haven’t written yet, including the modern adaptation of Knut Hamsun’s Victoria I hope to write one day and the rest of the books in my Tales of a Whisperer series (in fact, for my Whisperer series I have 166 songs on my iTunes playlist – although, in my defense, I have been compiling it for over 6 years).

Today I thought I’d share with you the songs that coloured my world while I composed The Mark of the Cagairáin…

  1. Home – Daughtry
  2. Far Away – Nickelback
  3. Into the Night – Nickelback
  4. Crossroads – Don McLean
  5. Never Gonna Be Alone – Nickelback
  6. Love Story – Taylor Swift
  7. Check Yes Juliet – We The Kings
  8. Adagio in G Minor – Tomaso Giovanni Albinoni
  9. How You Remind Me – Nickelback
  10. Break The Spell – Daughtry
  11. Decode – Paramore
  12. Almost Lover – A Fine Frenzy
  13. If Everyone Cared – Nickelback
  14. Hello – Evanescence
  15. My Last Breath – Evanescence
  16. I’d Come For You – Nickelback
  17. Hero – Nickelback
  18. Eternity and a Day – Paul Haslinger

Gabbie’s Soundtrack for Measuring Up

I don’t listen to music while I write – I find it’s too distracting.  But I listen to lots of music when I’m not at the keyboard.  I spend time thinking about the kind of music each of my characters listens to and the kind of music that would capture each scene.  When I was writing my first novel – Measuring Up – I could see the story like it was a movie. So, when I imagine Measuring Up as a major motion picture, these songs would be the basis of the soundtrack. I’ve put a section of lyrics above an excerpt from the text.

As I Lay Me Down by Sophie B Hawkins

Ah, darling, As I lay me down to sleep

This I pray

That you will hold me dear

Though I’m far away

I’ll whisper

Your name into the sky

And I will wake up happy

It’s not too near for me

Like a flower, I need the rain

Though it’s not clear to me

Every season has it’s change

And I will see you

When the sun comes out again…

Mel’s Mum, Merrin, was in her usual spot, her armchair now replaced by a special chair-bed from the hospital.  Her face had almost withered away, her skin tight and brittle.  I thought of a skeleton and immediately felt bad.  All kinds of bags and tubes were attached to her.  She barely opened her eyes when we arrived, but she gripped my hand tightly when I leant down to kiss her.

“I won’t be too late, Mum.”  Mel looked beautiful as she stepped into the room dressed for the party.  She kissed Merrin and arranged her blankets, almost casting the glow of life over her.  

I looked away.  Life and death, face to face.

Fix You by Coldplay

When you try your best but you don’t succeed

When you get what you want but not what you need

When you feel so tired but you can’t sleep

Stuck in reverse

When the tears come streaming down your face

When you lose something you can’t replace

When you love someone but it goes to waste

Could it be worse?

Lights will guide you home

And ignite your bones

I will try to fix you…

I flopped back on the lounge and waited for Mel. My phone sounded, barely loud enough above the music. It was a text from Link. Just five words.

Bring her home. Bad news.

Sorry I took so long.’ Mel’s energy filled the room. ‘Stacey was in the bathroom bawling her eyes out, something about Dan and Amanda.’ She looked at me shyly and reached for my hand. ‘Do you want to go?’

And I put that moment in my mind as a memory I’d keep forever. The moment before Mel’s life changed. The moment when I thought, maybe just for a few seconds, she was truly happy. I showed her the text message and watched her face. She looked straight at me and I saw her terror. I wanted to reach inside and take the most fragile part of her and hold it. To keep it safe so it wouldn’t get broken.

We walked without speaking, retracing our steps back home. She took my hand as we turned into our street. Ambulance lights flashed over us.

‘Are you okay?’

‘Yeah.’ She took a shuddery breath. ‘A rip doesn’t last forever.’

Straight Lines by silverchair

Wake me up, lower the fever

Walking in a straight line

Set me on fire in the evening

Everything will be fine

Waking up strong in the morning

Walking in a straight line

Lately I’m a desperate believer

Been walking in a straight line…

Link and I surfed that next morning.  We got up early, just as daylight approached.  The waves were unseasonably round and hollow.  I surfed them with reverence, letting memories collide with the future.

Remember when you only surfed straight?”  Link asked, thieving into my thoughts.

“Yeah.”  I smiled.  “Remember when you were straight?” I splashed him and made a grab for his leg rope.

“You little shit.”  He reached for my leash and tugged.

A pristine set wandered out from the depths and we both paddled hard, still grabbing each other’s ropes.  I tried to escape him, but we were riding the same wave.

So, that’s our current writing ‘album’.  What songs inspire creativity in you?  What’s the playlist for your art?  Hit the comment box below and let us know.

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Plotter, Pantser or Puzzle Master?

Hello! This week it’s my turn to take you through my writing process.

Puzzle1c

I’ve been teaching my four year old the best way (in my opinion) to approach jigsaw puzzles. To me, it’s like plotting out a novel. First you find the corners, then the border pieces so you have the structure and the outline. Next, sort through the middle pieces and divide them into sections so that when you begin, everything is organised and flows logically.

To me, this seems a great way to plan my writing. There is so much value in being a plotter.

If only I worked that way.

My process is this: “Oooh! Look at that pretty puzzle piece. It’s all bumpy with no straight edges or lines. It’s intriguing and colourful. I think I’ll just carry it around with me for a few days until I’m familiar with its curves and contours.”

After a week or so, it starts burning my fingers so I’ll place it somewhere towards the middle of the puzzle board. Instead of finding the next logical piece – the piece that fits into it – I spot another piece with different shapes and colours and whack that on the board somewhere else.

Do you see a pattern here? No? Me neither. My method is messy.

Generally after I’ve placed the first few pieces a whisper of an idea takes shape about where the story is heading. Not any major plot twists, an ending or anything as useful as that, just a light caress of what the story might be.

Corkboard1a

I envy those who have a clear vision of where their story is headed. I would love to be able to know what’s going to happen before I write it. That’s not how my mind works. I don’t know all the intricacies of my story yet, but I do know they will be found. Though the pieces don’t all connect at the start, they will by the end. I know that the random chapters, the characters and protagonists, the challenges and resolutions will all come together with a perfect ‘snick’.

Side note: ‘Snick’ is the term used by Laini Taylor for that moment when “the idea slots into place like a puzzle.”

I can’t wait for the perfect storyline to emerge before starting. It just doesn’t work for me like that. I tried it once. I was determined to plot out a dystopian novel about a school that determines who gets to be a part of society. I had the characters, I had the world building, and I had the plot. Everything was ready. Yet I could not write it. I was trying to force out a story. There was no passion or excitement for the writing process. So I shelved it. I concentrated on my blog posts until one day a shiny piece of a new puzzle caught my eye.

To me, writing is like entering the fictional dream. You know how you lose yourself in reading a novel and realty slips away around you? That’s what it’s like for me when I’m writing. It’s as exciting and intriguing as reading because I’m absorbed and enthralled in the story. I usually have no idea what’s going to happen until the words hit the page. Those random chapters eventually link up (’Oh, so that’s why that happened!’) and the puzzle is solved.

Nope, I’m definitely not a Plotter. Pantser? That’s a nice way of putting it.

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After the first draft is completed and my euphoria settles down, I start the edits. I bring out my best English Teacher (ET) mug and pen and set about grading the extended written response. The paper always needs a lot of work. The ET can see where the writer was heading, and many of the ideas and scenes work well, but the ET always spots gaps that need filling, sentences that need re-writing/cutting/jokes made about them. Chapters that are missing a certain je ne sais quoi are identified and sent back for an overhaul.

As strange as it might sound, I don’t consider myself a person who makes up stories. I am someone who discovers them as they unfold on my screen or in my notebook. The pieces are already there. It’s my job to find them and fit them together.

Just call me the Puzzle Master.

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I hear voices…

Last week, Yanicke revealed that she was a plotter.  Well – I’m a pantser…  Read on to find out about my (Gabbie’s) writing process…

In her book Reading Magic, Mem Fox teaches us that we should read to our children with ‘wild abandon’. Doesn’t that sound fabulous? Reading like nobody’s watching (or listening) – putting on voices, trying on accents, whispering, shouting, pulling faces and really breathing life into the book.

My daughter Olivia already reads with wild abandon – Look at her little sister Sophie just transfixed by her reading!

I write with wild abandon. I get a sparkle of an idea and let it germinate until a voice sprouts. Yes – a voice. (I’m one of ‘those’ writers!) And the voice becomes louder until I am compelled to write down everything it says.

IMG_1472

Once the voice arrives I spend a lot of time day dreaming. I let the character wander and be themselves. I consider how they move, their habits, their dreams, their food preferences and their mannerisms. I let their opinions collide with my life.   I keenly observe strangers and catalogue them into my character’s life: that’s his best friend, his Nan, a bloke he’d never talk to, a girl he’d have a crush on… I’m interested in writing about the human condition, so that development and understanding of my character is a crucial part of my process.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

So this dude was going for a surf (I don’t know him) but I know he’s a guy my main character Feet (from my first novel ‘Measuring Up’) would hang out with.

Once the character becomes part of my waking life, scenarios play out in my mind. I’m still dreaming, but I start making random notes like:

house empty goes to Nan’s

and

realises he’s been crying while he slept

and

hates greasy smell of wool

These are prompts for bigger ideas which I try to weave into a sequence that makes a story.  I transcribe the notes to coloured card because they’re no good to me on serviettes, old envelopes, within notebooks and on my phone.

IMG_1449

By this time, the voice in my head feels ‘natural’ and I have a good wad of scrawled notes. There is nothing and I mean NO THING to stop me from writing, but there is something I have to do before I can begin.

I procrastinate.

For a long time.

I take on extra work. I watch movies. I read. I organise cupboards. I make lists. I send emails. I volunteer. I begin new projects. I fill up every moment with other things – things that are NOT writing. Meanwhile, the character is festering in my imagination and threatens to stop speaking to me.

Side note: Why oh why do I do this? I should take some time to gaze at my navel and contemplate this phase of my process. I’ll do that next time I’m procrastinating. 

So – I put off the writing until I am disgusted with myself (and angry and frustrated and full of self-loathing).

And then, I write.

IMG_1495

I write and write. Wildly and with abandon. I let the story fall out of me. The character tells me stuff and I put it onto the page. There’s no direction and I try to stay out of the way, letting my character guide the story.   I don’t let anything stop the flow of my writing. If I come to a section, a sentence or a word that requires research or a peculiar detail, I type XYZ into the text as a reminder that to come back and fill in those blanks. During that first draft it’s all passion. Sometimes if I give my writing wholly to the voice I can create passages that aren’t written by me – shreds of text that came through me but were not of me.

After a few months, wild abandon becomes more like domestic deference. I plod, and procrastination grabs me by the throat. Those periods of procrastination (once I’ve started writing) serve as imagination pit-stops where my sub-conscious works on the next bit. When I return to the manuscript, I resume with wild abandon again and the cycle resumes.

Sometimes I wish I was a plotter. I’ve tried to plan. The trouble is the voice doesn’t always want to go where I want to take them. I’ve pretty much given up trying to force characters into corners; it leaves me feeling frustrated, like I’ve had a fight with myself. I’ve accepted my writing process. It is what it is. But wild and crazy “voice-driven” writing is awkward. I’ve had endings sneak up on me, which is disconcerting. I’ve slaughtered passages that were clever and well-written but also pointless. I’ve written things that made me uncomfortable, made me blush and made me cry.

Once I have my first draft, my “drafty draft”, I procrastinate again. I might sign up for the gym, buy books, do an online course, have a garage sale… The feelings of self-loathing, guilt and disgust rankle and I return to the manuscript. I research and find the value of XYZ. I cut and paste, shifting scenes and changing dynamics. I read and re-write, read and re-write, read and re-write.

Every writers best friend.

Every writers best friend.

When I can’t look at it anymore, when I am sick of it and know it by heart, I’ll ask a trusted friend to read for me.

Manuscript

After their comments, I make changes. I delete. I write. I delete. I listen to the voice in my head saying “Nah, leave that in, that’s funny” or “That bit never sounded good – you’re trying too hard. Ya try hard!”

Then I wake up one day and realise the voice has gone.

And all I'm left with is a manuscript!

And all I’m left with is a manuscript!

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Are you a pantser or a plotter?

Hello y’all! This month’s blog topic is PROCESS. Each week, one of us will share with you a little about our individual writing processes. Today is my turn 😀

Plotting versus Pantsing

When I think of process, the first two words that come to mind are PLOTTER and PANTSER. The third, EDITING.

Plotting vs. Pantsing

For those of you unfamiliar with the terms, a plotter is someone who plots their story before they write and a pantser is someone who writes by the seat of their pants (ie. without a plan). Since I started writing seriously (six years ago last month) I’ve had the pleasure (or should I say torture?) of being both.

Never having composed anything longer than 4000 or 5000 words (and primarily academic at that), my first attempt at writing a novel was an exercise in futility discovery. I started with a rough idea of where the story was headed – I knew who my characters were, what they wanted, where they would end up – but as far as individual scenes went I had no clue. Then I plonked myself down in front of my computer and wrote and wrote and wrote, letting the story and characters guide me. In other words, I pantsed it.

I have to say writing this way was a very exciting and eye-opening experience. I edited as I went – not moving to the next scene until I’d written the first perfectly (or as perfectly as I felt it could be). Just to explain, writing for me is a little like crafting poetry – there’s a rhythm to the sentences, a music to the phrases, I strive for. Once I find that rhythm, I’m happy. But it can take a long time – and a lot of hair-pulling and nail-biting – to get to that point.

The process of writing without a plan felt a little bit like archaeology – as if my story already existed and all I was doing, with my handy pencil and paper (or rather cursor and empty screen), was uncovering it. When I wasn’t writing, I’d listen to music and daydream about where my characters were taking me. Then, when I’d write, I’d reimagine those scenarios in my mind and transcribe what I saw onto the computer screen. I suppose you could say it was an organic process. It also amazed me how just through the use of words, I could create an entire world from nothing.

Two years and 140k words later I was still plodding along – writing a few hundred words each day and editing them to perfection. But when I was just about to start writing the end of my epic masterpiece, I suddenly realised something was terribly wrong. And, let me assure you, I do not use the word “suddenly” in this context lightly. The realisation hit me like a bolt of lightning – painfully and out of the blue.

Even though each scene was (in my personal and novice opinion) beautifully written, my characters were well-rounded and driven by their own unique motivations, and my world was painted in crisp detail, my story dragged. Even though it pained me to admit it, my manuscript seemed like one big exercise in self-indulgence. I was flexing my writing muscles, as I think every new writer does – you know, trying different techniques and playing with words – but the stuff that was making it onto my page was not there because it served the story, it was there because it pleased me. And as any writer with an ounce of experience knows – this is a big no-no.

It was at about this time I had the amazing honour of participating in a writing workshop hosted by Maggie Stiefvater – who just so happens to be my favourite post-1990s YA author (you can read more about my experience HERE). After listening to her advice and bombarding the poor woman with a barrage of questions (sorry, Maggie), I realised what my story was lacking.

me and maggie

Me and the super amazing talented Ms Stiefvater!

A KILLER PLOT.

Well, a killer plot AND a kick-butt main character who lived in the midst of the action rather than sitting on the sidelines watching – but that’s a whole other topic for a whole other blog post.

Don’t get me wrong, my story had direction – it was hurtling towards a clearly defined ending – but it was the road the story was travelling to get there that was the problem. It was boring. It was a long stretch of uneventful road with the occasional pothole dug out here and there. What my story needed was some twists and turns, some bumps, some bloody scaling-the-side-of-a-mountain excitement.

So I went back to my computer, saved what I had written in a file somewhere deep inside my C drive, and started all over again. That’s right folks – I discarded 140k of prose I’d spent hours painstakingly crafting and started from scratch.

But this time I was prepared.

I studied books I loved to see how they were plotted. I picked apart movies that kept me on the edge of my seat. I grilled other writers about their processes and scoured their blogs for tips and tricks. And then I planned out my novel scene-by-scene.

I became a PLOTTER!

Editing

I also gave up the practice of editing as I wrote – which, I have to admit, was the hardest and most daunting part of the whole process. I’d heard many writers say they wrote their first draft quickly and messily, solely for the purpose of getting the story down on paper. “You can’t edit a blank page,” they’d say. But for the life of me I couldn’t figure out how to write like that myself. My first draft was like a final draft – every sentence neatly written, every paragraph slaved over for hours (and believe me, that’s not an exaggeration – there were times I’d spend a whole afternoon perfecting one or two paragraphs). Letting go of this perfectionism seemed an impossible task. How could I possibly move on to the next scene if I wasn’t completely satisfied with the one I was working on? But after throwing away 140k of carefully crafted prose, I knew I didn’t want to waste any more precious time on scenes that might ultimately be cut.

I saw this on Twitter today and it sums up my experiences exactly... :'(

I saw this on Twitter today and it sums up my experiences exactly… 😥

So I came up with a new writing plan: jot down the novel scene-by-scene, write the entire story quickly and roughly, and then read it with a critical eye. Does the plot entice the reader forward? Does the story lag? Are there places my eyes glaze over when I’m reading? Then and only then, once I’ve fixed any of these issues and am completely convinced my story is riveting and well-paced, will I fill in all the details and make the magic happen.

Sounds like a good plan, right? And in theory it was. There was just one problem – for the life of me I couldn’t get my mind around how writers wrote a rough first draft. I searched for examples all over the internet – but they always seemed to be as well written as a final draft. Then I stumbled across a writer who said they wrote their first draft like a script… and finally, I understood.

If I wrote the bare bones – you know, a basic setting description, dialogue, and some stage directions – then I knew could write fast and get a scene down and still feel okay enough to move forward.

I had found MY way.

Here’s an example of how I write my first draft now as opposed to my second draft:

First DraftSecond Draft

My Process

So there you have it.

After much trial and error (emphasis on error), my writing process now goes something like this:
1. Write an outline, scene-by-scene (Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat is my bible when it comes to plotting);
2. Write the first draft like a script – ie. basic description of setting, dialogue and a few stage directions;
3. Read over the first draft and make sure I’m happy with the plot and pacing. Make any changes needed;
4. Write the second draft (this is the pretty draft – the one that reads like a novel and is torture to write);
5. Read over the story again. Enlist the aid of beta readers. Get feedback.
6. Revise with feedback in mind.
7. Line edit.

I think the moral of my story is that we, as writers, are all different. While some writers can pants it and still come up with a story that has an amazing plot, I can’t. Plotting simply doesn’t came naturally to me – not yet anyway. Maybe over time I’ll learn to do it instinctively – after I’ve spent many years writing novels and training my mind to think in a plot-like structure. But for now, if I don’t want my stories to be long, boring, albeit well-written, suck-fests, I have to sit down and deliberately carve out that structure.

I recently finished writing my first draft for my WIP. It took me about four months of casual writing and stands at 31K words. By the time I finish the second draft, I expect it will bulge at 80-90K. It will also take me a hell of a lot longer than four months to write. But at least I know most of what I write will be there in the final version.

So, now it’s your turn… What, my dear readers who also happen to be writers, is your process?

Next week Gabbie will be taking over The Print Posse blog to tell us all about her writing method.

Be sure to check in 🙂

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