Monday, October 14, 2013

The Hardest Writing Job Ever

By Mary Sutton / @mary_sutton73

Over the weekend, I completed what I consider to be the hardest thing I've ever written.

I planned an entire novel.

Now, this is not to say I wrote the novel. But I planned it. I sat down with Structuring Your Novel, by K.M. Weiland and thought about things like plot points, and pinch points, and a three-act structure. I wrote a twelve-page narrative of how this story was going to go, and then turned that into a list of 64 scenes.

It was tedious, time-consuming, and exhausting.

"But wait," you will say. "Haven't you done this before? Don't you do it all the time?"

Well, yes - and no.

Much of the other things I have written to date are much shorter. The Hero's Sword series, for example, is almost all novella length. So while I do write a "road map" (that's what I call these things - I'm not sure they are what a literary agent would call a treatment or synopsis, but it's my map to the story) for those, they usually don't exceed five pages.

All of my Laurel Highlands Mysteries stories have been short stories or novelettes (6,000 to 12,000 words). So while I've worked out the story question and key plot elements, I've never done a full-blown road map.

This was different. This was sitting down and saying, "Okay, what needs to happen? What needs to happen before that? How is this scene going to flow into the next one? How does this plot point affect the story?"

I wrote. I changed. I moved paragraphs. I rewrote. By the end, my brain felt like a wet sponge.

Yes, it's harder than writing the actual story. It's still not a true "outline" - I'm still what they'd call a "pantser" at heart (someone who makes it up as she goes). But I think I'm going to be very glad I did it.

I have, on a couple of occasions, compared this to a construction project. You draw plans. You measure. You write up lists of required materials and tools. And you do this all before you start, not in the middle. The purpose is to do everything you can to make sure you have what you need before you start and minimize those middle-of-the-project trips to Home Depot because you didn't buy enough dry wall (I mean, it might happen anyway, but you're doing your best).

You are also trying to make sure that you lay a firm foundation, so your masterpiece doesn't fall in on itself when you're done.

I'm also taking an online scene writing workshop. Based on today's homework, I finished just in time. I'd never be able to complete the work without what I finished last night.

The next step? Write the darn story. That will happen in November as part of NaNoWriMo. My hope is that since I've planned out all of the scenes, the actual writing will go much smoother because, well, I'll already know where I'm going. I might take a side trip or two, but it shouldn't derail me completely. At least I hope not.

So onward! Wish me luck - I'll let you know how I did at the end of November.

Image courtesy of Linus Bohman; used under Creative Commons.


  1. Mary, this is great. Would love to hear more about this book. I'm really obsessing with structure lately. So far, my bible is Larry Brooks Story Engineering, but I've cheated with Save the Cat and others. How does Weiland's book compare?

    1. Having not read the ones you mention, it's hard to say. Weiland's book came recommended on Twitter as a practical, no-nonsense guide for someone who is just starting to learn about structure. She breaks it down into the classic 3-act structure, why that resonates with readers, and what should happen with the major points (at 25%, 50%, and 75% marks, respectively). I like it because it's the first time I've tried to do this, and I finally have words and reasons for all of those things I just "felt" had to happen.

      I also like the fact that Weiland doesn't talk above your head or "down" to you. I've read books that, while very good, have made me feel temporarily inadequate and this isn't one of them.

      If you've got a good handle on structure, this may be a little basic, but if you're relatively new (me) it's good.

      And then she talks about structuring scenes - and even paragraphs - later in the book. I'm reading that part now.

  2. Happy NaNo. Sounds like you're ready.

  3. Twelve pages sounds like a "true outline" to me! Hooray for you!

    1. Thanks. Maybe I'm taking "outline" too literally (that whole English major background thing), because it doesn't feel like an outline, you know?