Tag Archives: writing a draft

Storybuilder Inc. — Step 8: Drafting 3, Layering and Scoping

In the last step on drafting I talked about ways to keep your draft on track as you move from start to finish. Everything up to step 7 has helped you prepare, and hopefully the last two steps have given you some good grounding as you do the actual writing. This week and next I will talk about some final drafting strategies to help you reach the end of the drafting phase and arrive successfully on the other side, where revision awaits.


Shaping a story

I mentioned two weeks ago that writers approach drafting either as drafters or potters. Here’s where the latter term might be better appreciated. Potters work with one ball of clay, shaping it, moving pieces around as the object of choice (say, a mug) comes together. Once you have the rim formed, you might decide it’s a bit uneven, so you push some clay up with your thumb carefully, until you are satisfied.

Drafters do the same thing, but might not do this reshaping until they are writing new drafts. Either way, at some point a writer must deal with layering.

Placing anchors

Last week I shared some tips on how to stay connected to your outline as you write. One of these techniques involved moving around your document to break free on those days where the writing just doesn’t want to start up. While this is a great way to escape from writer’s block, it isn’t the only reason it’s useful. It’s also the core of layering.

To achieve effective layering, it is good to place several anchors in your manuscript as you type it. (If you are a drafter and you don’t type your earlier drafts, then this stage can apply to you when you reach the typing phase.) So, what is an anchor?

Here’s a picture to give you the idea: You’re a cartographer on a boat, crossing an ocean with the intent of mapping out a series of islands (yes, writing your story might as well be that big a feat). On your way, you encounter a spot that you realize is important and you may want to get back to it many times. But, aw, shucks! you have to keep sailing. Fortunately, it’s the twenty-first century and you have radio beacons that broadcast to GPS and will help you get back to those spots without any trouble. So, you drop them in the water and drop an anchor from each one so they don’t drift.

Now, let’s apply that to your story. Let’s say this is Ren’s story (the elderly revolutionary from our earlier outlining). I’m writing a scene where she is kidnapped in the market square during her “invitation” to become Mad Bert’s  seamstress. Except, just before this happens, she spots a guy named Harrold Fletcher, and I don’t know where this guy came from (one of those surprises that I spoke about last week). I make sure to give him a profile page, and write out a few places later in the manuscript where he will come back. I might write: He’s a cats-paw for one of the nobles who wants the king assassinated, and Ren’s abduction, arranged by the same noble, is an opportunity for him to use her to pull some strings. He doesn’t expect she’ll fall in love with the king, though.

I’m going to keep writing and might forget about Harrold in the market. I can always search “Harrold”, but what if at this time he’s just “a man”? What if Ren’s obsessed with this market and so the word “market” occurs 45 times in the manuscript prior to the abduction? I could remember something about the scene, maybe the type of dress Ren was wearing. Right. Now, was it wool? No, the wool dress was the opening. Silk? Or the one with slashes of red that she enjoys wearing in the fall? See, Ren loves dresses and has a whole variety of them (she’s a seamstress, after all).

See the problem? You can rely on your memory, or you can take advantage of your twenty-first century GPS pods. Something to the effect of:


Say, a for anchor. The point is, if you create a unique combination of symbols that you will remember, then you need only type these in the search box to find your desired passage.

Anchors are very useful, and are easy to remove once your draft is revised (simply use find / replace and make them vanish). You can develop your own system with them. For example, I have a code sheet that I use as I drop various ones to keep track of how certain plots develop through key conversation exchanges or uncanny actions. You might try something like:

[*symbol] wherever you are using a symbol to highlight a theme, or [*Angela] for a subplot involving a character Angela (who you first meet as a man). Use anchors, lot of anchors. The more you drop, the more you can take a strategic hop through your manuscript as you develop it and work in various layers.


This leads us naturally to another aspect of shaping your manuscript. You made use of scoping when you outlined, right from the development of your premise. First you viewed your whole story in a sentence, then in a paragraph, then in a few pages, then in several, with accompanying profiles to handle the growing complexity. Finally, you zoomed in to 100% with a fresh memory of how the whole tale looks.

The strategies I discussed over the last two weeks give you good tools to keep you connected with your outline, and this is important as you consider each frame as its own story within your story. Using anchors to layer your manuscript with elements from earlier frames will help you to work with your outline notes in a way viewing those original blueprints will not. After all, when you’re building a house, you keep looking at the blueprints to make sure you’re on track, but it’s the actual house coming together that serves as the true reference for how the project is actually progressing.

Good examples of layering and scoping

What if you (like me) are writing a fantasy epic? This means you might have frequent references to the history of your world, or details about it that you want to make sure are consistent. This is also something you will want to layer into your manuscript effectively.

A good anchor might be: [*world]

Let’s rewind to when I was on frame 17 of my current project, where several Goblins were making negotiations around the table, smoking their cigars and referring to events in the Mountainlands. Goodness, there was a lot of references and development there. I was quite creative. But, I was also smart. Every time I sat down with this scene, I typed “[*world]” in the find box and had a quick look at all those anchor points, to give me a sense of the scope of this element and allow me to make use of earlier material and layer it in.

Another situation I encountered in the same scene: I’ve done my search to prepare for it, but during the conversation my goblins hint, between the lines, that an earlier event might be more than it seems. (Let’s not spoil the ending, since this is The Pact’s sequel I’m referring to.) The earlier scene is hard to find based on the words in that passage, but fortunately I have the anchor [*DD] – DD being the initials of the conspirator behind that particular plot. This comes in handy, not just for finding that scene, but because I’ve put those anchors all over the place wherever I’ve developed this subplot. Now, when I search for the scene to make sure I don’t contradict myself, I can also get ideas from other parts. It’s layering and scoping all over again.

Let’s say you don’t write fantasy but are writing Bob’s story (our marathon runner). You might use [*mem] as an anchor for whenever Bob remembers a bit more about his departed wife. You might use [*dev] for any passage where Bob and his nemesis develop their relationship together. You might use [*fore] in any parts where you want to subtly foreshadow the end. Or maybe you don’t like square brackets and asterisks, so you’ll have {!elem}. It really doesn’t matter so long as you remember what the anchors are.

Oops, I forgot!

What if I didn’t know about a subplot when I made the first reference to it? What if that scene was just a memory in a dream sequence and I intended, at first, to be completely random about it? Well, that’s just fine. In fact, the scene I referred to from my own novel was just that and only later, when I met the character from the hallucination again, did I finalize the details of the subplot. I had to hunt a bit for the scene, but when I found it I made sure to place an anchor there, which came in handy for the chapters of the climax that followed.

Layering and scoping are powerful techniques to help you keep your story fabric tight and to assist with the process of carefully weighing your decisions as you pull your prose out of the creative void.

Yet these tools are one hand clapping. Next week, we will talk about the other: team alpha.


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

KoboKindle, and other ebook formats through Burst Books.

You can follow Graeme on Twitter (@GraemeBrownWpg) or on his blog:




Filed under Graeme's World, Storybuilder Inc. Outlining and Storytelling Process

Storybuilder Inc. — Step 8: Drafting 2, The Forest for the Trees

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.

Happy writing!


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

KoboKindle, and other ebook formats through Burst Books.

You can follow Graeme on Twitter (@GraemeBrownWpg) or on his blog:


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Filed under Graeme's World, Storybuilder Inc. Outlining and Storytelling Process