Something, Something About Scaffolding Or Pantsing

I meant to write this yesterday, as I had hoped to write here every day in April, but that didn’t happen. Obviously. I took the kids to see Muppets Most Wanted with Spenser’s school and when I got home I felt like someone had flipped off my energy switch and I was nauseated in a stressful way rather than in a sick way. So I went to bed at 9pm and didn’t wake up again until this morning.

But I’ve been thinking about structure lately and this post from Holly West over at Do Some Damage got me thinking about writing about it. In addition to the great post, there is an interesting discussion in the comments with Kristi Belcamino. I’ve adopted Holly and Kristi as my buddies lately as we’re all being digitally published right around the same time.

This post really hit home for me because I’m in the same situation as Holly. I was very lucky to sign a two-book deal for Murder Boy and the next novel in the series, but that means I have to write the next novel in the series. And because one of the benefits of digital-first publishing is a speedy trip through the publishing process, that means I’m writing Book Two under a very tight deadline. And I haven’t been keeping up the pace needed to meet that deadline. So this is where it’s finally time for me to abandon my bullshit ideas about what kind of writer I am and settle into some pre-planning and pre-structure for this book before I go any further with the actual writing.

Chuck Wendig has been a big voice as someone who is a planner by necessity more than by choice. As I want to write two or more novels a year if possible, this is going to be a necessity for me as well. I don’t have the luxury of two years or more to get a draft done. And honestly, I don’t think my work benefits from such a long writing time. The best bits of writing I’ve done have been when I’m writing fast and writing regularly. That’s when I’m really into the story and have a good sense where I am in the story with my daily production. When I write sporadically, it’s hard for me to build up momentum and to keep the world and the characters in my head.

So how to plan? I can’t really outline because my brain really doesn’t work that way, but there is  a lot of middle ground between Roman numeral outlining and flying by the seat of my pants. This is where all of the screenwriting books I’ve read come in handy. I want to first just open a file and jot down all of the thoughts I’ve had running around in my head and that I’ve chatted with folks about to get them in one coherent place. This is where I’ll lay out what I want to accomplish with the book, what kind of themes I want to touch on and what kind of character and plot moments I want to write.

From there I want to do what Lew Hunter calls the Two Minute Movie. This is basically a two page summary of the story with roughly half a page being devoted to each of the four major acts of the story. I’ve always done some version of this with every book I’ve written just so I have at least three major plot points to aim for so I’m not wandering aimlessly. But I think a longer discussion of these plot points will be very beneficial to keep me moving and inspired when the story flags.

The next step is one I’ve never done before, but I think is necessary for me to write quickly and not waste the limited amount of writing time I have. I want to take the Two Minute Movie and break it down even further into a beat sheet. Rather than a full chapter-by-chapter or scene-by-scene breakdown of the story, this will break down the major beats of the story. Whether a beat takes up an entire chapter or if a chapter is made up of multiple beats is something that will be figured out during the writing, but I need more than just three points to work with for this book to happen the way I’d like. Again, back to Lew Hunter, he estimates that a step outline or beat sheet should have between 30-45 beats. As this is how many chapters my novels tend to have I think it should work out well for me.

This could all fall apart of course, but I’m excited about it for now and my process up to the point has been so flawed that a major change is needed. As always, I will discuss it endlessly here for your instruction and amusement.