I’ve read some recent posts by a few Blog Me MAYbe-ers about their processes for plotting and first-drafting. I love learning about how other writers do what they do, and I find the differences in our individual methods so fascinating. I thought I’d share a bit about how I go about getting words on the page.
I’m a plotter, both in writing and in life. I like to have a plan for everything: day-to-day activities, traveling, tackling the grocery store, and, most definitely writing. That’s not to say I’m completely rigid. I CAN be flexible. Things change – of course they do – but anytime there’s a change, especially where my WiP is concerned, I prefer to make a note of it on my outline.
Here’s my basic process for plotting and first-drafting:
1) Once I’ve stewed over an idea for a good, long while (like, months) I write a one sentence pitch. This forces me to boil that often vague idea down to its true essence. Later, I use this initial pitch to write a three-line pitch, then a full query-type blurb to eventually pass on to my agent.
2) Next I make a list of any scenes I already have in my head, which is pretty much an enormous brainstorming session. This often takes awhile, and I add to the list as inspiration strikes and new scenes take shape.
3) I tackle a beat sheet, plugging scenes into appropriate places, and coming up with new ones to fill in the gaps. The beat sheet I use is a melding of the one in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat, the phases in The Hero’s Journey, and the layout detailed by Susan Dennard in this fantastic Pub(lishing) Crawl post titled How to Write a 1-Page Synopsis. My personal beat sheet has evolved to look something like this:
Inciting Incident – What event/decision/change prompts the main character to take initial action?
Meeting with Mentor
Plot Point 1 – What action does the MC take that changes the book’s direction?
Conflicts & Character Encounters – MC meets new people, experiences a new life, meets the antagonist.
Midpoint - Another no-going-back turning point for the MC.
Rosy Glow – What happens that makes the MC think all’s well?
Plot Point 2 – Winning seems imminent, but the antagonist somehow defeats the MC and ends up more powerful.
Crisis/Black Moment – MC must fight through her emotions to find strength for the final battle.
Climax – Final blowout between MC and the antagonist.
4) Once I have a complete beat sheet, I make an outline, scene by scene and color-coded according to plot lines and character interactions, one I follow pretty closely once I begin to write. Detailed as my scene outline is, it isn’t set in stone. I add and delete as I go, because once I start writing, the story comes to life and certain aspects inevitably become more or less important.
5) I begin the first draft. I usually write scenes in order, but if one gets me stuck, I just type in a quick place holder (AWESOME CONVERSATION ABOUT KISSING HERE) and move along. In the past, it’s taken me anywhere from one month to three months to complete a first draft. I like to write at least 2K a day when I’m drafting. I’ve found that if I don’t, I lose my momentum. I think we all know how difficult that is to reclaim!
So, that’s pretty much how I do it… It goes without saying that once that first draft is complete, it undergoes major revisions. Like, years worth, sometimes, for me anyway. Occasionally I wish my process could be less formulaic. It seems much more romantic to sit down with an idea and just start writing, but in the past that’s only earned me 133K words of crap. Plotting works for me, so for now I’m sticking with it!
What are your thoughts on plotting and first drafts?