In the last step I talked about drafting, and, for many of you, 7 weeks of planning finally led to “go”. This week, and the next two after, we will talk about key steps in the drafting phase. Today’s step is about good drafting disciplines that will keep you in touch with your outline as you head deeper into your forest of prose.
When the beginning is no longer in sight…
There’s nothing like experiencing a fresh start, especially when that fresh start involves creating a new story. After 7 weeks of outlining, it feels twice as great to begin. Away you go, with more hope and trust in the tale, knowing that you have a plan and will end up with a stronger story.
In you go, to frame two, frame three…at some point, you’re going to realize the story you’re writing, and even the detailed outline you created, are growing more and more apart, even if you’ve been diligently following the tips from last week. That’s fine, and that’s to be expected!
You don’t need to rewrite your outline and frames, but it is a good idea to keep them accurate. If a new character introduces herself in frame 6 and suddenly you realize the potential for a stronger premise and a 9-part outline with better twists, then seize the opportunity. Just make sure you go back and run your new model through some of the earlier tests so you can appreciate how it impacts the original picture of the story you started with.
Sometimes a new twist seems like a good idea, but might instead hijack your story. It feels like a good idea because it’s a whim and powerful whims are what make stories interesting, right? Well, not always. Whims come out of nowhere, including boredom and frustration, so sometimes the element you invent to make your story “better” isn’t so much a good idea as a way that your subconscious mind is telling you to get back in touch with what the story really is and your purpose for writing it.
Drafters have the advantage of multiple run-throughs where they can weed out elements that don’t work well, but if you’re a potter, like me, you might want to spend time thinking about new ideas that take you far from your original premise and story structure. The best solution usually isn’t far from your “whim”—it’s just a matter of figuring out how to mold it so it fits properly on the storytelling clay you’re spinning into shape.
Let your outline be your guide
As I mentioned in the previous step last week, you can incorporate your outline into your writing process regularly to keep you on track. You can also use it for inspiration and ideas when you’re writing. In particular, it can keep you grounded when you run into those whims that make you want to run away to some strange, new country. Similarly, it can also help you reach into the void when you’re staring at a blinking cursor and deciding what should come next.
Just as you pulled the details of your 3-part outline from the premise, and in turn pulled your 9-part from you 3-part, you can pull out a whole universe of story from a single frame. Just as with the outlining process, though, you, the writer, decide what is fundamental to the story, and that’s the prose you’re left with. So, spend time with the frame you’re writing in. Look at the character profiles, the setting sketches. Search for that hidden detail that’s just waiting to be found. Let it drop like a pebble in a pond and watch how your story reacts when you follow the ripples across your keyboard.
There is no beginning like a toss of the dice
So you’re on frame 8 today. You’ve been on it for a week and you’re well in. But today you have a headache and even after a coffee you’re slumping, opening Facebook, checking for another email to appear in your inbox—anything that takes your mind off the mess you’ve got yourself into. Frame 7 was a disaster and you’ve lost track of character motives with all the surprises it threw your way. Forget about that stupid outline. It just isn’t working—your story is getting the better of you.
Time to toss the dice.
That’s right, it’s time to be spontaneous. Normally, you want to keep moving forward, advancing your story, but if you get into this sort of dilemma then it’s time to get back in touch with the story. After all, when you open your document and develop your manuscript, your goal is to move forward, not to wrap yourself tighter into a ball of yarn.
There’s no rule that say your have to start where you left off. I find it helpful to go back and read old material a bit before I write, however, in situations like this, sometimes a day’s writing will involve some time spent going over old material, reading old frames, or combing through the document to parts where I am confused. Sometimes I’ll go back and rewrite a scene. Whatever it takes to get back on track.
Watch out for tailspins
Take note of the key words: back on track. One thing you want to avoid when you’re doing this random hop through your manuscript is convincing yourself that you’ve written everything wrong and you need to start all over again. It’s important to remember your goal is to move forward, not in circles.
A good way to tell if you’re getting into a “fixing” tailspin is if you are no longer returning to your present frame. In this case, try to go back to where you left off and write some more. If you still feel like there are things to be fixed, remember you are going to write many more frames, based on a carefully-thought-out plan, and there will be plenty of time later for making changes. As well, you’ll have perspective as you see how various things play out.
For example, in my current novel, I really struggled with the middle third. It took the longest to write, and for about 5 frames I wasn’t sure if the novel was even going to work. Those were tough writing months. But I avoided the tailspins, kept moving forward and focusing instead on how to resolve my story based on the plan. The end worked out very well and now that I’m going back to revise the middle third I realize several simple solutions to the places where it didn’t work out, thanks to persevering.
Your outline affords you lots of strength during those tough times, so make use of it, and, above all, trust yourself as a storyteller—you’ll make it to the end and come up with the solutions you need.
Laying out the tools
Drafting is a difficult step in the story-building process. It’s also one of the most exciting (so is revision, when seen with the right perspective, but we’ll talk about that in a few weeks). This week we explored ways to keep going forward. Next week, with step 10, we’ll discuss some important tools to give your draft an added edge that will help you cut your way through the revision cycle.
Graeme Brown has been writing epic fantasy since he was a child and continues to develop his stories every day. His his first story, The Pact, is now available for
You can follow Graeme on Twitter (@GraemeBrownWpg) or on his blog: