In April, I finished my outline for Book 1.
I weaved the rough scene list into ordered chapters and expanded the one-sentence description by specifying
- the list of characters;
- a general summary of what happens;
- the ideas and questions I have for the scene;
- (sometimes) the scene – goal, conflict, and setback;
- (sometimes) the sequel – reaction, dilemma, and decision;
- (sometimes) the hook and cliffhanger.
While writing those scene details, I identified and fixed a number of serious problems with the story. Had I written each scene fully, unraveling those problems would have been more challenging, and I would have thrown away significant amounts of work. And identifying a problem spanning multiple scenes would have been significantly harder. I still have some smaller questions about the structure, but I can answer and fix those as I go. The outline will continue to evolve as I write.
The most important part of this exercise was gaining a feel for the book as a story. I’m now confident that I can tackle this story and succeed at telling it, and I’m excited to get started.
Starting the First Draft
I’ve already written both scenes in the first chapter. Drafting is significantly slower than brainstorming :) But I moved myself to tears writing the protagonist’s plight, which is promising.
I’m currently thinking I want to average writing a scene per day. (Some scenes may only need a few hundred words, so I’ll write those quickly. Others might require complex fight scene blocking, battle scene tactics, or answering some open questions I haven’t resolved yet, so I’m allowing for some flexibility in my timing.) At a scene per day, I’ll finish writing the first draft by mid-August.
(While listening to Writing Excuses yesterday, Tracy Hickman said he wrote a chapter a day. I could try that, in which case I’d finish the first draft by the end of June.)
I can imagine gardeners, aka pantsers, thinking, “Why would you write the story if you already know where it’s going to go?” But:
- this will let me write each scene focused on the details, the tone, the prose, how best to describe an unfamiliar detail, how to block an action scene, etc. without having to worry about where the scene sits in the larger picture, and
- I have confidence that I know where the story’s going and that I like the ending. I imagine this is similar to making a comic, where the rough pencils are done; inking and coloring will add detail and texture and bring them to life.
If I realize that something’s wrong or I stumble across a better idea, of course there’s room for change. Because I have the other key points laid out, I’m hoping it’ll be easier to see what other scenes will be affected when I make those changes.
I’m picturing myself reading the scene details the night before, conjuring up different ways I could stage the scene, different settings, different ways I can slip important details into the dialog or descriptions. And breathing life into the rough sketches. The next day I can do my best to capture those scenes in prose.
Low-pressure Side Project
I also wrote up a quick and dirty 7 point story structure for a casual throwaway novel. This one’s significantly simpler: linear structure, single digit number of characters, straightforward plot.
I’m thinking if I get stuck in either story I can switch over to the other and feel like I’m getting away with something, slacking off from what I’m supposed to be doing. Plus I can gain more writing practice. And there’s something to say for having a project with no pressure, no feeling of anguish if it doesn’t turn out as good as I wanted it to.
If it turns out that juggling two projects is a horrible idea, I’m perfectly happy shelving this one. I’ll play with it and see.
Manuscript markdown files: 102 Manuscript words: 4116 Total markdown files: 455 Total words: 143212
I have a markdown manuscript file per scene. The number of manuscript words has decreased, because I moved a bunch of snippets files out of the manuscript folder for a more accurate count of files and words.