Monday, September 19, 2022

Be What You've Got To Be: Discovery writer or Outliner

     

 Be what you’ve got to be. Try outlining and discovery writing (some call this pantsing as in flying by the seat of your pants) if you don’t know which you have to be. Figure it out. But don’t try to be an outliner just for the security of it if  it’s not the way you work. You’ll do outlines that don’t get you anywhere or that take you to the wrong places. 

 

GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION TO FLY BY THE SEAT OF YOUR PANTS OR, as I prefer to call it DISCOVERY WRITE, if that’s the kind of writer you are.

 

However, I can save you some time if that’s the kind of writer you are. I suggest you look at the first couple of drafts as discovering your story. Don’t get caught up in trying to keep most of a first draft that is really just you discovering your characters, setting and plot. If you do that, you’ll end up with a poorly crafted novel.

 

You have to work your way through drafts, carefully throwing out any bit that isn’t part of what you’re trying to build. You have to be a bit ruthless in this regard. You have to be open to cutting absolutely anything that gets in the way. It may take you (as it takes me) three drafts to actually get to the revision draft.

 

That’s why I make my first draft a zoom draft—because I realize I will get great ideas and good characters and good plot points but that I will throw out much of a first draft. The second draft I usually keep about half but really start to get down what my novel is and who is in it and what happens. Third draft the book stretches out some and it’s the first draft I feel like, Hey, I might actually have a book. Then it’s revision drafts—fast.

 

Sounds long. I can do all this in under four months.

 

You can be a discovery writer and still write well and fast if you have the right process.

 

Good luck writers. Hope this is helpful.

 

Brian

Thursday, August 18, 2022

Choices When Writing A Novel: they're everywhere


A lot of writing fiction is about the choices you make as a writer. You have to make choices in a story. Do I go right here or left? Does he fall in love, out of love? Does she decide to fight the monster in her past? You make these big decisions that affect the main plot of the novel and you make scene decisions and sometimes even paragraph decisions. Do I describe this action in detail or give just enough detail to get to the next scene? Then there are character decisions. Then there are world-building decisions. And, of course, there are language decisions. Which words to use and what syntax and so on.

 

Each choice means you give up other possibilities. If you’re a discovery writers sometimes these get to feeling a bit random. That’s because you’re working your story out as you’re writing it.

 

Outliners try to make many of these choices when outlining. But we pantsers, discovery, drafter type of writers can’t do that. WE JUST CAN’T. We may want to, thinking that outlining offers more organization and safety, but when we try we fail in terrible ways that kill ideas or cause novels to die in early stages. 

 

I write this from personal experience. 

 

So what I do is try to add some control to my discovery writing by going all in with the discovery. In drafts 1 and 2, I let myself be open to whatever changes come my way. Draft 1 is my zoom draft. I’m discovering my story and characters. I do this in less than two weeks. On the novel I’m writing write now, I wrote about 20000 words. SO I do listing and freewriting chapters and dialogue and sometimes abbreviated action etc... I write CHOICES in some of those. I could have the character do this or that or this and that or… I just write out possibilities in places.

 

Second draft I’m making a lot of choices. But it comes naturally because I have a familiarity with my story. I can make more informed choices. I can avoid the MAJOR kind of rewriting I’ve had to do on my manuscripts in the past. Thank the Gods.

 

By third draft I’ll have 65K or more and I’ll really know my world and story and characters and this is where I’m doing only a bit of rewriting and much more revising.

 

However many revisions I do, 1 or 2 or even 3 after these first two drafts, they’re more focused and much faster.

 

Hope this gives you some ideas about working with choices.

 

Brian

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Don't Forget to Foreshadow in Your Novel


 

It’s one of the most important skills in the storytelling aspect of writing novels. Alas, it is often ignored for its more flashy cousins but it's important in many ways.

 

When writers talk about progression of a plot or, for that matter, progression of a character arc, they’re talking about the steps of plot or character that lead the reader to a satisfying ending. If you can create foreshadowing, that is give the reader of hint of what is to come, and then build what is to come in an interesting way, that’s an important part of plot progression.

 

I work on foreshadowing the most after I have a workable draft (maybe my second or third) and know where my ending of various plots are. Some of my minor plots may finish before the end of the manuscript, but the most important ones are at the end and will require several steps. If I can foreshadow at least some of these steps as I move the novel forward, I'll create suspense and that sense of progression and, perhaps that satisfying payoff. Another way to say this: the foreshadowing helps me lay out the breadcrumbs that the reader will follow to the destination, the conclusion of the novel.

 

Hope this is helpful.

 

Happy Writing Fellow Campers—

 

Brian

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

How to Write A Novel In Three Months

 


Though I self-published these two novels, Fireside Audio has picked them up for their audio line. Very happy to be working with them. 


Zoom: How to Write A Novel In Three Months
This is the third of three entries on writing “What Will Happen In Egypt, Texas” in  three months, which is freaking fast for me. The novel will be out on Saturday, July 23. I am not a fast writer by the standards of many self-published writers though by trad publishing I’m fairly fast, about two novels a year.

So, three months is in fact, freaking fast for me.
How did I do that you ask? Zoom draft.

I’ve written about my Zoom method twice, so if interested just scroll back  a couple of entries.  The main thrust of my zoom method is that I try to write a rough draft, a short one, in four, five, six days. IA draft between 10000-15000 words. It’s more than an outline because I’m actually writing scenes BUT it is much less, obviously, than a full-length rough draft. It is, however, and this is very important, a full draft, beginning to end.  I came to this, in part, because I realized how much I change my rough drafts.  I mean my mantra for a first draft has always been LOW EXPECTATIONS so I have been aware of this problem for a long time. I spend a month to six weeks writing a draft that I mostly revise into non-existence. 

Only good thing was I didn’t print the first draft out and add to the environmental crisis by wasting paper.

OK, back to Zoom draft. Four, five days, done. And then I revised and revised and revised because revision is where whatever magic I’m able to create happens. A story forms. Characters pop up to live in that story. A world pops up around them. Etc.…Etc... 
What I found was that the first and second revisions were mostly adding to the novel’s length. I think by the end of the third draft it was at about 61000. Each of these drafts took maybe three weeks.
 
The story definitely changed a lot  but many of the changes were going deeper into character development and adding plot. Then I did a draft where I just went through trying to make the plot better, more interesting, more compelling. I advise that you do this at some point in your revision. Focus on one thing and go through the manuscript and improve that one thing.
I did one revision just working on language and tightening up scenes. Then one final draft for polish.

You probably think this is a lot of revision. It is. But that’s just the way I work. Hence, the importance of my zoom draft. Because  I did it so fast and it got me into the world of the story, the characters, and setting, I was able to spends months on revision and still have a finished novel in about three months.

So that’s good.

Plus, I’ll be honest, there’s a real rush to writing a draft in four-six days. And I think I can improve on how I write my next Zoom draft and so maybe I’ll improve my output and quality.


Happy Writing,
Brian

Friday, June 17, 2022

Leaving breadcrumbs: how to write plot

 

I love language. I love a good sentence. I work on my sentences. I have fun when I get to do this, especially in later drafts, because it is one way the characters come to life and the setting comes to life.

 

Also, I love dialogue. I can reveal a lot of character in a conversation. It’s not just what people say but how they say it. This is also language focused. You have to make the language work.

 

I love style, a certain writing style. It’s about rhythm and author voice and a particular way of seeing the world, whatever that world might be.

 

I love character. I love to develop them, discover them, and make them give the story meaning by specific details of a life.

 

Wait, isn’t this supposed to be about plot? So all those aspects of storytelling I mentioned above are based on language and character. My books are character driven, that is scenes made by characters in situations. But the actual plot has to come from another place. Writers need to see that. Practice plot in isolation until you can put it together with character and language in an intuitive way.

 

What’s plot then? It’s leaving breadcrumbs for the reader to follow. These lead to a destination that is expected and unexpected and satisfying. Each breadcrumb must be take the reader a little closer to the destination and be interesting in and of itself. When the reader reaches the destination it will be spectacular and the breadcrumbs will all make sense. If you do them well, your reader will follow them with anticipation and the anticipation will be satisfied. You will have several plots like this in a novel but one of these will be the main plot. You will have character arcs, too, that will function in the same way. Breadcrumbs to destination.

 

And that is that.

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Zoom draft, part 2

 In my recent zoom post I wrote about a new strategy for writing a novel that I think might help me and might help someone write faster and maybe even better, particularly if they happen to be a panser rather than a planner, a discovery writer rather than an outliner. 

I suggested that you write a very quick draft, one that takes under a week and is 10000-15000 words long. I did this and had a draft of my novel, from beginning to end, in that time. In the past, I felt like I wasted a lot of time writing a longer first draft since often my discovery draft ended up being something I revised throughly anyway. My thinking was that if I wrote a first draft much faster maybe I would speed up my writing process without losing quality since, in my experience, most of the work of creating story came in later drafts, just as improvements in language and theme did.

Now I am working on the revision. I've spent slightly over a month and have increased my word count to about 45000 words. I am about half way through the second/third draft of the novel. However, I'm not just filling out what I had written with additional development. I've made several major changes to the plot as I've tried to develop and deepen the story.

So in that sense, I'm still feeling around in the dark a lot. However, in spite of this, I'm much farther along than I'd normally be because of the short time I spent on the first zoom draft. I don't feel like the road blocks and diversions are any more than on former novels. I had hoped that writing the draft so quickly might make me better at plotting; I don't feel that happened much. I still need a first draft to start working into the story. However, and this is key to how long the writing will take, I didn't spend several months on a first draft. I spent five days.

So far, I'm pleased wit this new strategy.

MORE LATER

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

When Characters In Your Story Act Out

 My characters get very cranky when I try to make them do things because of plot. Worse than rebellious teens. They will mess things up just to get back at me. They will lead me in all the wrong directions. Solution: you need to give characters real motivations for what they do, say, think. 

 

Too many formulas tell you to have your characters do things at specific places in the novel in order to follow a certain plot strategy. That can’t work for me.

 

You tell a character she has to act a certain way on page 33 because 3 is a lucky number, and if you have two 3’s well, double the luck, and you’ll for sure write a bestseller according to some advice.  

Your character says “I wouldn’t act that way.”

You say, “I need you to because I’ve been told you need that need on page 33.”

So after some argument she does. Then she falls into an identity crisis. She becomes a bad actress. Then she acts out or shuts down. This has a domino effect on your other characters in the story. They lose sight of their motivations.

 

Your characters aren’t going to seem real because they’re doing the wrong things at the wrong time and your story is going to seem forced because it goes in the wrong direction at several turns and pretty soon you’re lost in the swamp.

 

You know where I’m going  with this.

 

It’s not a pretty ending.

 

Quicksand.

 

Work on plot, always. Story is important. But be true to your characters. Give them clear motivations. Readers will read even if they’re reading about terrible characters doing terrible things if the readers feel like they know and feel why they’re doing what they’re doing. 

 

Try to figure out what your character wants in a scene and why they want it and then put something in their way and be true to the character. If you can get these right you will have plot and character working together and you will pull the character in.