This blog post was originally published to the old Word Foreword on December 7th, 2017.
Last November I made a commitment to dive into writing by publishing a book. Since then, I queried it around, went to a few writing conferences, got some feedback, shelved it for two months, came back and made some more changes, started a new project and moved my family to a new state for a new job.
I’ve learned quite a bit in the last year. I learned about biting off more than you can chew, expectations of the industry, expectations of authors, agents and publishers, etc. But it all boils down to that original goal. So, today I’m going to hit a major theme about me, about my writing style and about my goals.
I’m a planner. In more ways than writing, I plan a lot. I keep a regular Excel sheet for my family’s budget, I keep a Google calendar with various notes, projects and meetings that I work on (and a two separate Outlook calendars for work), but I also record because I see these plans as guidelines and understand that things change. In my day life, I work in the boardgame industry - and the same things happen. Most board games are printed in China, which means shipping, receiving, etc. all take time. And there are lots of hands on those products - so there is a lot of opportunity for something to go wrong no matter how well any company plans.
When it comes to my writing, I’m the same way. I typically start with a broad outline that makes sense, typically a “What if?” question. In previous blogs I spoke about my story the St. Howards Project about a group of kids in a boarding school with weird, fringe science things happening. Originally, this was a “What if Harry Potter was science fiction instead of fantasy?”. I usually mull this over and characters to it (I keep a backlog of interesting ideas for characters which I’ll get into another time).
Then I start to narrow that down, starting with the conflict. Who wants what? What stands in their way? What do the protagonist and the antagonist want? It’s crucial to me that those get answered together so that they’re linked in some way. If my protagonist wants X, then my antagonist should at least be interested in -X. Years ago, this would be superficial to me - I would give each character one want. This process now takes me a lot longer. Not only do I give each character more than one goal, but I also make those goals more defined. If I give someone three goals, I try to ask how they could be related. It helps make the characters deeper.
After that, I write down 15 - 20 different interesting events. They can be related, or even cause-and-effect of each other as long as each event is unique and interesting. If I were writing Wolverine, for example, one of my events might be that he dies while another is that he comes back to life. You can’t have one without the other, but they’re both unique and interesting.
This is where my outline really starts taking shape because I arrange those events in an order that I think makes sense, and my the structure of my novel starts to take shape. Using those points, I write down the things that should happen around them that could lead characters from one event to another. It’s important to note that things can move around a lot here because I’m seeing the story really for the first time. Characters may change, plot points might change or get moved. Around this time I also start taking extensive notes in the form of dictation. I open a Google doc on my drive home from work and just talk about my characters (and other key concepts like organizations).
Once the structure starts to look good I start outlining each scene. I write down what information needs conveyed, what characters will be on screen, what characters will be talked about, and what the scene changes about the story as a whole. I used to do all of this in an Excel sheet, with each sheet dividing up my acts. A sheet in the front collected a lot of the information together (including my expected word count). But I’ve started using Scrivener, and I use the notes, summary, characters and location sections to get more information.
After outlining each scene, I take a break. I’ll shelf the project. Sometimes for a week, but I’ve shelved some for a few months. I want to shake the honeymoon phase off, give myself some time away and then come back. When I sit back down with my outline, I start my first draft.
This is a part of my process, and it mimics a lot of my day-to-day life. Which is why I’ve started to lay down a more intricate plan for my writing career. Nothing quite so in-depth as my writing process, but instead of setting a goal to “publish a book” I’m going to break the plan down with realistic milestones.
The first step of that plan is to sign an agent by August 2018. That’s nine months. I have lots of existing projects that I’ll begin to polish up, as well as a project that I’ll be finishing the first draft of in January.