Saturday 14 October 2017

Writing My Novel: Plotting, Finally

So I wrote the first draft of this novel in November 2015. It's now October two years later and finally, finally, I have an outline. I figured it was time. Way past time.

You may recall that I already have one and a half drafts of this story, and I've been thinking about it for over two years, so it's not like I was starting from scratch without a single idea. But I knew there were things that needed changing and I knew I needed a real outline before I started on the next draft. The last thing I want is another meandering draft with terrible pacing and a flat story arc. So, as I often do, I turned to my books.

I marked pages with sticky tabs and wrote notes like I was back at uni working on an essay. These books did get me thinking more about how plot and structure work within a story but I was still struggling to actually write an outline. I just couldn't figure out the actual events that needed to happen in my story and none of these books could help me with that.

If you read my last writing post you'll know that I ended up spending a while working on other things anyway, leaving these books on the side of my desk for months, intending to get back to them soon and finish that outline. Because, of course, I also had pages and pages of attempted starts to outlines, aborted efforts at figuring out what the heck needed to happen to these characters. I tried the snowflake method, and the one-page method, and any other methods I could find online that promised to help me figure out those story events. None of them worked.

Then, just a couple of weeks ago, I remembered an old youtube video that I had started to use for another story years before. I remembered at the time thinking this method made a lot of sense, but it hadn't quite fit the story I was working on. Maybe it would fit this one?

It worked like a dream. This method breaks down the standard three act structure into 9 blocks and 27 chapters. Or, as I used it, 27 plot points. I wrote a skeletal outline using the 27 points in this video (they didn't all fit perfectly but close enough) then I added some muscle. I wrote a more detailed outline, including those points, but also including every single other thing that needs to happen to link those points together. That outline is currently 2,378 words long and I'm sure it will keep growing. Finally, I wrote a chapter outline: just one sentence summing up the main event of each chapter, to keep me on track while I write.

Using the method in this video, and then embellishing on the results in more detail, helped me come up with so many great new ideas for this story. I've worked out plot holes, tightened things up, wound things together. In short, all the things I wanted to do when I first tried to write that second draft.

Maybe if I had done an outline to begin with my first two drafts wouldn't have been such disasters, but I doubt it. I needed those 100,000 useless words to get to know the story and the characters. The plot I had in mind two years ago and the one I'm about to start writing now are so vastly different and this one is so much better! Now I can write the good stuff.


Monday 9 October 2017

Writing My Novel: Not Writing My Novel

My last post was all about my Abandoned Second Draft but today, as hinted at last time, I'm going to talk about what I've been doing since then. Namely, not writing my novel.

NaNoWriMo finished last year and December disappeared in a glittering puff of gingerbread scented smoke. When January came around I decided to spend the first two months of the year writing, editing, and submitting short stories to competitions, websites, and literary magazines. I worked solidly, sent off my submissions, and thought I would get straight back to the real second draft of my novel. But it turns out I'm not great at waiting for responses, and submitting so many stories so close together? That just meant I was stressing out about the responses to all of them all at once. Then the rejections started to come and the shortlists I wasn't on started to be announced. 

I tried to work on my novel outline but I was too distracted. I tried to start a new draft but got barely 2,000 words in before the last of the stories I had sent out in those first two months was officially turned down. I briefly decided to quit writing forever. It didn't stick but it did cause me to take a break from writing for a few weeks.

Eventually I got up the courage to submit more stories. Finally, it paid off.

I won't say much, mostly because I'm not sure how much I'm allowed to say but also because I don't want to jinx it, but one of my short stories was accepted. One of my short stories is going to be published.

The thing I probably shouldn't admit but will anyway is that I spent less time on this story than any of the others I wrote this year. Oh, I spent about two months thinking about it, making a start and then deleting everything, over and over, but I wrote and edited the actual thing in less than a week. I wrote the way I used to write my university assignments: in a flurry of stress and excitement and 'why did I do this to myself??'

Maybe it's not the best way of working but the result is a story that feels more 'me' than anything I've written in a long time. Unlike the stories I wrote at the beginning of the year, I still like this one when I read it back. That was a stressful week but it made me realise that I had been trying too hard before, to write the kind of stories I thought editors wanted, to make the stories more like the ones I'd seen from other writers, to make my writing sound more "literary". This story, unlike the others, sounds like me, because I didn't have time for anything else, and that's the story someone wanted.

Knowing that, now I'm ready to get back to writing my novel.