As a discovery writer, the most important thing is being open to discovering your story as you write. The first draft is just the beginning - you may find you need to change your story extensively in subsequent drafts before it fully takes shape. Do not panic. This is normal for a discovery writer. Just relax. Do the writer meditation. Stare out the window for fifteen minutes and daydream. Take a nap on the sofa. Have a drink if necessary—whatever you need to relax. You will go the wrong way many times in your first draft.
Wednesday, August 30, 2023
Thursday, July 27, 2023
I’ve been looking at the Hero’s Journey and Three Act and Four Act and Five Act structures and Save the Cat and Save the Dog and Save the Writer and the many potential ways to structure your writing. So many ways. Choice overload. Like walking down the cereal aisle in the grocery store. And because writers approach writing in different ways, what works for one may not work for another. But what if none of them actually works for you? What if you struggle every time you try to plug one in? You blame yourself. Why can’t you get the hang of it?
Maybe you’re trying too hard to make it work and it’s making you overthink things. Writing is an art and a craft. If you can’t let your writing brain get into a flow, it’s hard to really express what your writers feel in certain situations. Maybe you’re trying to stick too closely to the form.
Here’s what I do.
I follow three-act structure in a general way. One of the fathers of philosophy, the ancient bearded Greek, b. 384 BC, Aristotle, came up with it. Works pretty well for most novels. But I ONLY follow it in a general way. I don’t worry about any of the specific rules more modern writing books put on it.
What really directs my writing, what gives form to my story, are my plots and subplots. A book might have one main plot, but my books usually have several subplots that are related to the main plot in some way. I use these to structure my writing.
If I can figure out what these are in my rough draft, that gives me a general outline of what the novel is and how it will be structured. So if I’m writing a mystery, for example, and I know I want to add a romantic subplot and maybe a family subplot then when I’m writing my story I’m looking for ways to develop each plot, focusing of course on the main plot. In revision, I’m making the development, the steps of each plot, clearly foreshadow the next step. In a romantic subplot I’m showing the evolution of the relationship, ideally related to the solving of the mystery if my main plot is mystery. If I add a family plot, like a relationship between siblings or parents etc. then that is developed too. The progress of these stories propels the plot and also gives me the organization of my entire novel.
As I’ve mentioned in the past, foreshadowing is essential. However, I don’t have to come up with it all at once. Once I figure out what’s happening at the end of one plot, let’s say our romantic plot, then I go back and with the advantage of twenty-twenty hindsight, I construct my foreshadowing.
And that’s my advice for plot and structure. It works for me. It may or may not work for you. What I like about it though is that it gives you clear content to work with when you can identify the type of plots that are in your story.
Tuesday, June 27, 2023
Your Character Has To Care or the reader Won’t
When you’re creating characters, particularly main characters, they have to care about something. Even if they’re a nihilist they must care about not caring. They must care so much about not caring that the reader is convinced of their dedication to the meaninglessness of life and will want to know why they are the way they are.
I remember Madalyn Murry O’Hare who was an atheist who lived here in Austin and disbelieved so completely in God that she formed a church of atheism. She was fanatical about her disbelief. Now there’s a character I want to read about.
If your character cares about things you’ll find yourself, as a writer, learning interesting things about the character that make him or her come alive. Usually, you’ll discover the two most important things about a character: what do they want and what do they need. There are other important things but these two are at the top of the list.
I recently watched a movie where the main character cared about nothing. This was supposed to be based on a troubled past and a pessimistic outlook on existence, neither of which seemed real because the character didn’t care about his past or his pessimism. The writer/director added some meaningless violence and a bit of meaningless sex to spice things up but, honestly, it was so boring and so pretentious and tedious that I quit on it about half way through.
I pride myself on my ability to watch some very trashy shows/movies so it was a disappointment that even I have my limits.
I get excited about a novel, show, movie that has characters who care about things. They engage me emotionally and intellectually and I start rooting for them or against them. Once that happens a story has me hooked. I’m going to watch or read even if the plot isn’t all that interesting or unique. Make your characters care. Your readers will, too.
Thanks for reading.
I have a novel coming out on June 29. It’s absurdist comedy at its most fantastical. Check it out if you like that kind of read. Here’s the blurb.
A fun, fast, fantastical read: After an altercation with a clown, I get lost in the woods and find a strange town. When the librarian of the town dies in front of me, I try on his ring. It fits. I’m declared the new librarian by the mayor and townspeople. I get to live in a houseful of books. But I soon learn the job involves more than just tomes and information. In fact, my first assignment is to discover who murdered my predecessor.
Meanwhile, I learn that the town is a whole lot stranger than I’d first thought and I’d thought it was pretty strange from the first. The library has a ghoul and a ghost, which seems excessive. Not everyone in the town of Eden is alive or even human. A headless seductress (she carries her head around with her) propositions me, but may also be trying to kill me.
Honestly, I have some secrets of my own. After aging out of foster care, I hit the road. At first, I just drift; then I begin to get messages in dreams that direct me to places where people need the kind of help I can give them. I learn many things. One of the things I learn is I am the One. The only problem is that I am not that One. I’m the other One. The One who will bring destruction.
Monday, May 22, 2023
I’ve written on how to approach early drafts if you’re a discovery (pantser) writer. Be free. Take chances. Do lots of prewriting as you’re writing. Understand that because you don’t outline, you will almost certainly need several drafts. All right--so let’s say you’ve written three drafts. Remember, the first draft will be 10K-15K because you're finding your way. The second draft will probably be around 40K because you’re still finding your way and building on top of the foundation you’ve put down.
In draft 3, which might be your final draft, or/and draft 4—you’ll be trying to give your writing structure and development and theme and all the things that you need. You’ll be adding a words. How many depends on you.
When you get to a draft where you have discovered and given some detail to big moments in your novel, then you need to work in foreshadowing. Now, when you’re a reader, you think of foreshadowing as something that gives the reader a sense or clues as to what will happen. As a discovery writer, I’m suggesting you work backward from the important moments of your story and build the foreshadowing to them. Most of your story can be worked out this way.
Let’s say you have a few plots working in your novel—a mystery plot and relationship plot and a few others. One is the main plot and you have two or three subplots. Once you figure out where they end, you simply work back in a logical way to where they begin (of course it’s not simple or easy, but this will give you a kind of reverse map to follow). So if you have a relationship plot that ends with the girl getting two boys, then you have to figure out how this happened. You have to work with intention to build an exciting, interesting, logical sequence that will lead the reader to whatever ending you’ve worked out. That’s one strand of your story. Then you move on to the next. And next. And next.
Sunday, April 30, 2023
I think that discovery writers (pantsers) are intuitive writers. I advise doing a lot of prewriting as you move through a first draft because of this. At the same time, pay attention to your intuition. Cultivate it and try to be open to where it's taking you.
I think sometimes we back away from our intuition. Maybe it takes us in an uncomfortable direction and we force our story to go in a different direction. But maybe backing away makes our work less than it could be or maybe costs us a lot of time because we lose the thread of the story that we're really meant to write.
As discovery writers who don't outline or don't outline much, we have to be open to finding our story as we write. Feeling confident in our intuition—working on understanding the cues that will help us build the story we're trying to write—can help us write better and faster.
If you have the time, check out a four minute story I recorded on YouTube. It's humorous horror or creepy comedy...certainly strange, but I was following my intuition.
Saturday, April 1, 2023
The one thing I’ve done in the past year that has helped me be a better writer and a faster writer is FOCUS ON THE FLOW. Now, there are specifics to this, like my discovery-writer-self finding a way to discover write my drafts and still be fast. HINT--first draft only takes about two weeks. See earlier entries for more on this, but I’ll write a blog on it in more detail soon.
BUT nothing has helped me more than my goal when I sit down to write. Everything I do is an attempt to get in the Flow. Once I get there, I’m writing faster and usually better than when I’m not in the Flow. It’s pretty simple: you need to not find excuses to break the flow once you get it going. Any kind of interruption will break it. A lot of them are self-made: I suddenly have to check my email; I start thinking about some problem in my life; the phone rings and I answer it; I have to do research; I have something that needs doing that day that I suddenly must do; someone comes into my writing space to tell me something and ON and ON...
You can’t let these things get in the way. It’s that simple. You have to find a block of time, sit at your desk, and write. Don’t interrupt yourself. Don’t let others interrupt you. I can’t tell you the difference this has made. Oh, wait, I can. I can write about 1000 words in an hour if I’m not interrupted. If I am interrupted, I’ll do maybe a thousand in a day. Whatever your numbers are, think of that ratio. You’ll write more or less, but whatever you write you’ll see a real improvement if you actually, truly write when you’re writing. It’s easy to fool yourself. I speak from experience—unfortunately.
Another tip—don’t start off your writing time by checking email etc.. or going on the internet. If you need to sit for a minute or two and think about what you’re about to write, visualize it, write out some sentences about it, by all means do. But then get right into the writing. Some days the FLOW will come easily and other days it will be a struggle.
BUT the more often you get there, the more you’ll write.
Saturday, March 4, 2023
Pantser (Discovery Writer) — A writer has to face the blank page. It can be daunting. A bitter, cold winter storm, an empty white as far as the eye can see. Now, the outliner, feeling all warm and comfy has his or her outline to keep that empty white at bay. They pull it around them like a warm coat.
But you can't outline. If you're wired a certain way, trying to force yourself to outline will just leave you frustrated and maybe worse, feeling defeated by the blank page, feeling like you will never be able to finish your novel. Because here is the thing: that blank page isn't just there the first day you start writing. It isn't just there at the beginning of your novel. It is there every day you push forward in your story. Every single morning you face it.
But here's what I'd like to advise— you need to think of a first draft as blueprint. You can't get hung up on trying to make your pages into the story you hope to write. Understand that for you (unlike the outliner) that first draft will go all over the place. Let it. Write down alternative possibilities in places. Force yourself to keep going.
My trick: I write a first draft in two weeks or less. I'll write bits and pieces of it but I won't be afraid to stop narrative flow and just write myself notes. X might happen here or Y might happen OR even--not sure what will happen here.
This is important: what you are trying to do is discover your story, your characters, your world, in the first draft. It might be 20K or a bit more or less. Write it out from beginning to end, do it fast, don't let yourself get caught up in sentences too much. Try to, especially, get the story down.
Then in draft 2 you'll have a first draft that will be a kind of outline/ first draft combo—with dialogue and notes and scenes all mixed together. As a discovery writer (pantser if you prefer but I do not) you find your way in a first draft and it becomes a blueprint for the several drafts you will need to complete your novel. You can still write quickly and well. You just have to have a different approach if you're a discovery writer.
This shift in thinking will make all the difference.
Sunday, January 15, 2023
It’s good to be present in the moments of your life, and it is also good to be present in the moments of your story and your character’s lives. That’s it. You want to communicate to the reader who your character is then what they do, what they see and don’t see, think and don’t think, feel and don’t feel, is everything. Sure, you can roll in backstory, their past, but even here what’s important is how whatever happened in their past made them feel and think and how that shaped them. I had two grandmothers: both of them were poor, uneducated, and married the wrong men. One was bitter and that bitterness filled whatever room she was in. The other was joyous, interested, funny and that filled whatever room she was in. My point: to make you understand each character what happened to them isn’t enough. To make your reader’s understand what happened to them isn’t enough. You have to show the reader their inner lives.
I think you do this by being present in the telling/showing. You try to express to the reader what the character’s reactions are to what is happening in a scene. You get in your character’s mind and you make things happen and you work to make sure your character’s actions and reactions —physically, emotionally, and intellectually— are authentic. That’s how you build a character your reader will want to read about.