Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Diva Writer - 30-Scene Writing Process

The first step when I decide to write a novel is to obviously start out with an idea that moves me, that I'm excited about. For me, I need a working title right off the bat. Once I have that, I write a one-paragraph synopsis and then I begin creating characters, learning about them and their character arcs, naming them, doing an extensive resume on each one - who they are, where they're from, their education, dysfunctions, who their parents are, their temperaments, habits, and their issues. Without issues you have no story.

Once I have some idea of who the characters are (because it can change as they surprise even me once I start writing) I plot it out by writing an outline (by plotting I mean the selection and arrangement of events in the story). Some of my outlines have been six pages and some have been eighteen. I didn't always write outlines, but since I've experienced submitting titles to publishers based upon three-chapters and full outlines, I've used those outlines as roadmaps and have found outlines to be invaluable tools.

In the outline itself I determine the setup that leads to introducing characters, I expose their issues and wants, thrusting them into stumbling blocks of action or as I call it, fiction friction, building tension, then moving to the height of the climax, then the falling climax, and then finally the resolution, which doesn't necessarily mean all issues are resolved or that all characters grow.

Now here's the part of my process that really moves me along in writing a book: I break down the outline into thirty (30) scenes (you can use 40, 50, 60, whatever works for you), and each scene becomes a chapter. I immediately format my Word document with thirty chapter headings, i.e. Chapter 1, Chapter 2, etc., and under each chapter heading I type one or two sentences of what that scene is about.

I print out that "word-map" as I call it, and then I can start at the beginning of the book, or the middle, or the end (I prefer to start at the beginning and go chronologically but that doesn't always happen). I can write what moves me that day, or what I'm in the mood for. I may not be in the mood for the party scene in Chapter 12, so I'll write the courtroom scene in Chapter 22, or the church scene in Chapter 6, etc. And even if I'm not feeling some scenes, I still take it on and it eventually flows. Those turn out to be some of the best ones. And when I'm done, my story may have deviated away from my original outline, so I make adjustments accordingly, but it rarely deviates from my original one paragraph synopsis.

Most of my books these days are approximately thirty chapters, some more, some less, and each chapter can be seven to ten pages, some more, some less.

This process works for me. I don't always have a prologue, but I usually have an epilogue.

I also use a calendar that's taped to my office wall - I have to see it, not on an electronic device but in my face, to schedule the production and determine how long it will take me to sit down and complete the first draft. Depending upon my timing and availability, I can write a chapter per week, or a chapter a day, or more. I've written as much as five chapters in one day (all day). That's when my muse is with me. If I fall short or do more than I've scheduled, I'll adjust my calendar so that I'm not as . . . okay, I'll keep it real, so that I'm not as stressed by looming deadlines (looking like the girl in the photo above).

So, there you have it. Folks have asked me and I'd never taken the time to write it out. Please share what tips work for you. I'd love to hear it! I hope this was helpful.

And yes, I am called the Diva Writer, Diva in a good way!

Write on :)


Carleen Brice said...

Great post! I end up doing similar type of outlining after I've written about 50-100 pages.

Pamela Bell English said...

As an aspiring author, I love getting great tips and advice from veteran authors. Thanks so much Marissa.

Rhonda Rae Baker said...

Excellent breakdown of proven writing method. Thank you for the review! It's interesting we use the same Like minded...hum. write On!

Liane Spicer said...

Your process mirrors mine almost exactly, Marissa, except that my chapters for romance tend to work out at 21 or 22. And I've always written chronologically, except for one WIP that's not romance.

And that actual physical calendar thing? Same here. I print out the month-view version of the Windows calendar and find it far more effective than my electronic Google Calendar. Not knocking Google which is great for reminders, but just sayin'.

Amazing how diva now has now become a pejorative label. Just a decade or two ago it was all good.

Lynn Emery said...

Interesting to read about your process, thanks for sharing. I do something different for each book. But I'm trying get a more organized method of writing, but my creative brain is a little messy! Sometimes I outline, one page. Other times I write, and outline sequels as I go based on what I've written.

Charles Gramlich said...

Sounds fairly similar to what a pro writer friend of mine uses as a pattern. It's not something I've ever done though. I tend to discover a lot of the story through the writing itself, which often means more rewriting. but too much planning ahead of time tends to make things feel a bit stale for me. I'd probably be better off doing more planning.

G. B. Miller said...

Sounds pretty cool.

The one novel that I wrote so far (searching for a publisher), I didn't do much in the way of outlining or preplanning. About the only thing that I did while writing it was to take notes on the hard copy and modify and work from those.

Karen L. Simpson said...

This sound like something I can try for the novel I'm working on now. Thanks for a detail of the process.

Jewel Amethyst said...

I still have to write the entire book mentally then do the outline and character sketch. I also have to write cronologically because I deviate a lot from my outline.

Marissa Monteilh said...

Carleen, Pamisan, Rhonda,
Lianne, Lynn, Charles, G, Karen, Jewel, thanks for commenting. Some of the processes mentioned are interesting, some similar. I don't think structured ways of organizing a story works for everyone. Some fly by the seat of their pants and end up completing great stories. Whatever works - I've tried it many ways, including going with the flow without an outline, though at this point an outline and breaking down a set # of chapters from that works for me. And actually, I start out only writing dialogue, getting a dialogue draft completed first, and then I go back and add dialogue tags, setting, movements, etc.

Any of us who discovers that the process we're using ain't broken, I say don't fix it. I think more of the new writers are looking for suggestions. I'm happy to offer and also to learn. Thanks for your feedback!!