Writing for publication isn’t as easy as one thinks. Some of us are naturals at this, but nothing about my learning process has ever come easily, still I love to learn and write.
When someone suggested I write a blog, I did my homework. It was similar to a weekly column I wrote for three years, so I thought it would force me to keep deadlines and exercise my “voice.” It’s been mildly successful.
I wrote two children’s stories and they both placed in the top ten in a national contest, so that gave me some encouragement. I dusted off a book I wrote that a publishing house rejected ten years ago, so I spent a year fixing it and pitched it again; this time to an agent. She not only rejected it; she trashed it. It sits in my office licking its wounds. Two other books are going through their fourth or fifth rewrites. I’ve lost count.
Most of my writer friends write straight into their laptops, no notes, no outlines. They let “their characters lead the way.” They’re called pantsers because they write by the seat of their pants. My muses are more like lazy teenagers. They get up late, nap on the sofa all day, and whine when asked to do chores. My muses need a kick in the pants.
I tried being a pantser with Book One and regret taking that advice. When I started on Book Two (I’m writing a trilogy), I realized I couldn’t build a story out of that awful mess.
I am not a pantser. I am field dependent; I have to see the whole before I can write the parts. In other words, I am a plotter. I need an outline, not necessarily the kind college professors require but a personalized, 3-D, GPS version.
I’ve read several books on how to plot a novel and my favorite is Super Structure by James Scott Bell. His book is excellent, but here is one of the things I took away from his book that changed my life.
1. Count out fifty 5X8 cards and come up with fifty possible scenes that could happen in your story. Each card is a scene not a chapter. It can be brief or elaborate. Push yourself to fill all fifty cards.
2. If you exhaust all the possible scenes but still have cards to fill, push yourself to do more. Create a scene card for each of the following:
· Open a dictionary to a random page and select one noun. Create a possible scene using that noun as inspiration.
· Come up with roadblocks or possible conflicts your protagonist might encounter.
· Come up with “what if” scenes. The more ‘what iffy,’ the better.
· Write the scenes introducing your important characters.
· Take two existing scene cards and create a scene that segues one into the other.
· Choose two characters and create a scene between those two, but remember it must move the plot forward.
· Write a scene about what one of the secondary characters has been doing while the main characters were on center stage
· Make sure you have scene cards for all the important plot points, like The Mirror Moment, or The Pet the Dog Scene, The Q Factor Scene (you’ll have to refer to his book for these, or you might be able to google it.)
3. After you have exhausted all possible scenes, organize them by Acts and sequence. Sometimes this shows you where you might need to add a scene.
4. One thing I like to do is to add a Johari Window on the back of scene cards where I introduce characters. I addressed that in a different blog, but I use the Johari Window to create in-depth character studies of each of my important characters. It helps me stay true to their motivation.
When Book Two looked like it was headed in the same wrong direction as Book One, I went back and deconstructed Book One chapter by chapter and then sat down and created my fifty scene cards. It helped me reorder my chapters, get rid of scenes that made no sense and come up with healthier scenes that should have happened. It showed weak and strong chapters; some had to go but several were strong enough to stay. I found discrepancies and scenes so trite they made me wince. Since Book One is part of a trilogy, it also helped me strengthen characters who would later take center stage in Books Two and Three.
I envy those who can write straight into their laptops. That isn’t me. I’ve learned a lot in the past eight years about writing and how my brain creates stories, so none of this time has been wasted. One day, I might go back to the book that has been rejected twice in its lifetime and use this method to restructure it, but for now, I am letting it heal while I work on Book Two and plan out Book Three.