Day 122 – Can’t Get You Outta My Head

So I thought I was finished with the first draft. Turns out the first draft wasn’t finished with me.

I’ve been bombarded the last few days with ideas, most of them tidbits, but some of them momentous scenes. Which is good — I was saying to Noël the other day that here I am at Day 122 (or whatever day it was we were talking) and I’m still interested in the novel. I’m still writing, even when I’m not “supposed” to be. That’s a success in itself.

In any case, I wrote a “Foreword” today for my fake non-fiction book that popped into my head. Yesterday I wrote a brand new opening scene (that puts me up to four or five — I’ll pick the best one, though I’m digging the latest one). I’ve also jotted down notes for ideas I want to work into the story, including a pretty interesting depiction of a sub-theme of mine.

Also finished Larry Brooks’ “Story Structure Demystified” and I’ll tell you, it’s been a big help. I mentioned before that I didn’t like the idea of outlining, that I was just going to write and see what comes. Well, I’m firmly on both sides of the fence now.

See, I’m a panster, as Larry Brooks would call it. I like just writing; I enjoy the process. Wandering around the fictional world I create is kind of cool. It allows me to develop characters, story/scene ideas, themes, etc. without any worries about be at a certain point at a certain time. Saddle me with a story structure — a number of points on a map I have to hit at a certain time — and I’ll be more worried about that than anything else.

I don’t need that. Not at first at least.

However I’ve come to realize that ultimately a story does need structure. I mean, I always knew there had to be conflict/resolution, but there is more to it than that. Every (successful) novel and even movie has an underlying structure where certain plot points happen that turn the story. It’s the “hero’s journey”: life in the beginning, reeling from adversity, coming to terms with adversity, finally conquering that adversity, and then life happily ever after (or not…)

You start looking at any story, and the same structure pops up. So what, someone lays a blueprint at your feet, you’re gonna step over it? Maybe when I get to my tenth novel I’ll make my own rules. Why not go with what works for now?

So here’s my revised world view of writing. (Note: this is what I’m finding works for me. Try it if you like. I’m not claiming it’s The Answer though…)

I don’t want an outline, not at first anyway. I like being free, and just letting the writing take me where it will. I find this approach helps me explore the world, the characters, the themes, and helps me develop scenes without having to worry about where it’s all going. (Hell, half of what I’ve written for this novel so far will be chopped down — the rest will be chopped out…) The whole idea is to get the flow and the rhythm going and the main ideas down.

In this case too, it’s been about developing that particular New Journalism voice that I want to use for the novel. Just pantsing around lets me play with words and scenes without worrying too much about the final product. It’s my playtime; the work will come after.

Now that I’ve gone as far as I can go with the first draft, it is time to start thinking about how all the scenes will fit together and how the story will progress. Because it does matter. If Frodo destroys The Ring in the first book, the next two would be pretty boring…

So yes, I will plan out the story and start counting words and marking chapters. Really, it’s not that hard — I’ve spent my whole career writing in 200-word, 600-word, 1,500-word bites, and finding ways to say what I need to say in the space provided. The only difference is now I have to nail it in 100,000 words broken down into 60-ish, 1,500-word-ish scenes. No biggie.*

That’s the part I’m going to start tomorrow: reviewing what I have, planning the story and character arcs, and start to physically block out scenes. I’m not sure how long that will take. Honestly, it could be a couple of days, or it could be a couple of weeks. Again, not going to worry too much about how long it takes, as long as I’m spending the time to get it done right.

I’ll keep you posted.

BTW, I also want to say to all of you out there, thanks for reading. I’ve mentioned before that it means a lot to me to have you all along for the ride. I hope you’re getting something from this whole experience too.

On that note, if there is anything that is missing you’d like me to talk about, or if you have any questions for me, feel free to leave me a comment or blast me an email. I’d love to respond, in public or in private (your choice).

Thanks all, and talk with you soon,

~Graham

*Okay, it is a biggie. Really biggie. But I’m looking forward to the challenge, I’ll tell you what…

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