Beginning Again…

I’m starting a new manuscript. Mostly because I had this burst of inspiration a few weeks ago that’s finally had enough time to simmer, but also to help preserve my sanity while trudging through the query trenches.  The idea of “starting to write a book” is so intimidating, and while it’s always a scary prospect, I’ve gotten into a sort of preliminary planning routine that seems to be working for me. While I’m certainly no expert, I’ve done this a few times now, and I thought I’d share a bit about my process.

WIP inspiration...

After I’ve mentally toyed with my shiny new idea for a few weeks (or a few months), I dive in to Lori Wilde’s Got High Concept ebook. Going through her various brainstorming exercises helps me flesh out my idea, narrow the focus of the story I want to tell, and get to the heart of my of my characters’ backgrounds, desires, and vulnerabilities. I’m also able to come up with ways to really challenge my characters, as well as integrate plot devices, enticing topics and universal themes.

By the time I finish with Got High Concept, I’m able to write a compelling pitch that helps me stay focused on the heart of the story. Big rule: the pitch must be twenty-five words or less. Later, I use this pitch to craft a three-line pitch, and then a query. The pitch I came up with for Where Poppies Bloom (before I ever started writing the story itself) was: Guilt-ridden Callie Ryan chooses between life with the golden boy who dulls her pain, or eternal escape with the ghost who holds a dark secret.

Once I’ve zeroed in on the basic premise of the story, I make a really basic list of  the scenes I already have in my head. Then, 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 sort of custom melding of the one in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat and the summary of steps in The Hero’s Journey. I like a lot of detail. It looks something like this:
Ordinary World/Opening Image
Inciting Incident/Call to Adventure
Resistance to Call to Adventure
Meeting with Mentor
1st Turning Point
Pinch #1
Midpoint/Inmost Cave
Rosy Glow/Celebration scene
Pinch #2
2nd Turning Point
All is Lost/Dark Moment
The Road Back
Final Image

More WIP inspiration.

It takes me awhile (like, several weeks) to get my beat sheet completely filled in. Once I do, the story starts to feel more manageable, not like the jumbled mess of actions, reactions and interactions it was in my head. I use my beat sheet to then craft a more detailed scene outline, one I follow pretty closely once I begin to write. Of course my scene outline isn’t set in stone. I add and delete as I go, because once I start writing, the story begins to come to life and certain aspects inevitably become more or less important.

And more WIP inspiration...

I should mention that all this planning is done in conjunction with researching whatever aspects of the story I need to (setting, random legal/medical stuff, names, dates, whatever…). While my process may seem formulaic (sometimes I wish I could just start writing and see where I end up!), an organized start is exactly what I need to gain enough confidence to dive in to a two-hundred-fifty page story.

What about you? Are you a plotter? An outliner? A user of Post-It notes? A fly-by-the-seat-of-your-panster? How do you prepare to begin writing a story?


9 thoughts on “Beginning Again…

  1. Jus Accardo says:

    I used to be 100% non-plotter. Got an idea and went with it. Now I find myself to be an even mix. I plotted my current WIP, outlined it to death, and then while writing it, it kind of went off in a different direction. The plotting and outlining helped, but in the end, the story and characters just had their own ideas.

    Can’t wait to see more about this new WIP!

  2. Sophia Richardson says:

    *whispers* I just started a new WIP. Ahem. I only have one complete novel to my name and that was a pansting flop. I love the characters but considering the high word count it is low on the plot side. This time around I’m using Blake Snyder’s beat sheet to outline the plot and I’ve got two miscellaneous lists of possible settings and conversations that need to happen for the character arc I can combine. I’ve also spent longer getting to know the two main characters (it’s kind of a romance) with interviews and the deeper questions you get on character profiles– no favourite foods. I also have a logline and query written, but I worry my logline is on the long side. Could be telling.
    – Sophia.

  3. Jessica Love says:

    What a great post.

    I realized after being in the middle of pantsing this WIP that I am totally a plotter/outliner. This project has taken 10x as long as it should have because I didn’t outline in advance.

    • katyupperman says:

      The one and only time I’ve ever started writing without plotting first, I spent a whole year drafting and then about four more months trying to sort the thing out. If I outline first, I can finish a first draft in a few months and it comes out much cleaner. I’m a firm believer in my need to plan ahead. 🙂

  4. Amie Kaufman says:

    I use an outline quite like the one you’ve been working with. Things don’t always end up on the page according to the plan, but I find I get a lot more depth out of my first draft if I do pause to plan. I’ve recently been playing with my next WIP using the Snowflake Method. It’s a lot of work, but it’s definitely yielding up new layers of plot I hadn’t considered.

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