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Novel Writing: Organizing the Rough Draft

Header For Oganizing Your Novel

Writing a novel is a many step process. Your first action is to sit down and write the rough draft. For me, this means sitting in the various coffeehouses in my local area with my trusty AlphaSmart typewriter, a notebook with a brief story outline, and plenty of ice coffee.

When I write, the characters become friends to me, real people that I care about and want to spend time with. During the drafting process, this is a positive since it keeps your butt in the chair and working. However, after drafting, this love of story becomes a liability. Distance in the relationship is needed in order for you to take the next step in the process. Once that messy manuscript is completed, I stick it in a drawer or a computer file and take a long break from the work in order to allow my minds to reset on the story.

Once a sufficient amount of time has passed, it is time to open up that file and take a long look at what I have written. This is the point where I cringe and wonder what the heck I could have been thinking during those long sessions at the coffeehouse. I think that most authors feel this way at this stage in the game. What comes next is a read through of the book where you note places where you have repeated concepts, where plot holes have developed and other problems that need to be fixed. In many cases it is necessary to reorganize the book so that it has the plot twists and other major actions happen at the proper places in the book. The theme of your book needs to be discovered so that you incorporate it into the book and micro-scenes should be clipped to make the action more streamlined.

My process uses some of the techniques that I learned in the four books I am reviewing below. My favorite is Blue Print Your Bestseller. I use Horwitz’s method to break down my story into scenes, color code them in order to find plot holes, take out tiny transition scenes that slow down the pacing of the book and, most importantly, find the theme of my story if I have not done so during the drafting process. Then I reassemble the story into chapters and go forward in a more traditional manner toward the editing process. His method is a beautiful match to Scrivener and works wonders in that writing environment, although he personally uses paper in his descriptions.  However, there is much value to be found in all four of these books.  If you find that you have trouble with plot and structure as I do, these books will be of good service to you.

Blueprint Your BestsellerBlueprint Your Bestseller: Organize and Revise Any Manuscript with the Book Architecture Method
By Stuart Horwitz

I found this book to be an excellent primer on how to organize the first revision of your novel. The method starts with taking an unfinished manuscript, such as a Nanowrimo effort, and walks you through a process to break apart the work into its component scenes, identify the various threads that weave through the work, discover the book’s theme, and then finally put the book back together into a better more cohesive whole. The examples were clear, the language friendly and knowledgeable, and the content very useful to any writer. I feel that this book should be in every author’s library and recommend it to all my author friends.

Story EngineeringStory Engineering
By Larry Brooks

I have found this book to be instrumental in explaining the components of what makes a good story and how those elements can be combined. Brooks takes you from story concept through character development, scene construction and the basic structure of your tale. I found the book to be easy to understand and to have a fresh viewpoint on the subject. Once you have finished that rough draft, this is a great primer on where to move the various elements of your story or how to strengthen scenes and characters to make them more memorable.

90 Day RewriteThe 90 Day Rewrite
By Alan Watt

I have to include Alan Watt’s sequel to the 90-Day Novel in my list. The first book helped me overcome a major blockage in a series that I was writing and allowed me to complete a Nanowrimo project on schedule. I recommend the former book for anyone prepping for the 30 writing experience of Nanowrimo, it will get you to the finish line.

It was with great expectations that I picked up this book once my first draft was done. Once again, Watt designed a workbook that guides you through the process, in this case, of the first rewrite. Your work is broken down into thirteen weeks of tasks to accomplish that lead you on to clean up your book’s structure, strengthen characters, and do all the necessary things in your rewrite. If you feel as if you are wandering lost in the woods when doing your first rewrite, this book will leave you a trail of breadcrumbs to follow.

The Plot WhispererThe Plot Whisperer: Secrets of Story Structure Any Author Can Master
By Martha Alderson

As you may have guessed by now, plot and structure are my two problem children as a writer. I come up with real characters and interesting locations, but what they do in those places sometimes is a struggle for me. The Plot Whisperer helps to address these issues. She shows you have to create plot lines and subplot that work together, a method of scene tracking, how to show character transformation during the climax of your story and much more. This is a well-written book with many good ideas to help you become a better author.

Novel Writing: Creating the Rough Draft

pencilsI’ve always been a writer. I started my first book in early grade school, all written in child’s scrawl, pencil on paper. It was a fantasy story about mermaids from a child’s point of view, not to mention from a child’s mind. I did three drafts of the story, of which I thought of at the time as being a novel, but now in my adult years can properly label a novelette.

This story never got beyond the rough draft stage. In my child-level experience, I thought that you sat down and wrote what came to your mind and when you finished the draft, that was it. You could send the novel out into the world.  For the sake of the planet, it is fortunate that this story remains locked in a file drawer where only I will see it. Trust me. It was the right choice.

I know now that this is far from the truth; a novel is born in the revision process and fine-tuned in editing. Yet, in that singular experience as a child playing at being a novelist, I had the right idea. Rough drafting is a matter of sitting down and writing with abandon whatever comes into your mind and getting it down on paper as fast as possible.

The results are often a mess.

I cringe when I read my raw roughs. The adverbs leap at me. The passive voice drags me down. I wonder how this mass of jumbled words will ever appeal to a reader and become a book I could be proud of. Yet, it does happen. I have published a book and sold short stories to magazines. More books will come in the future.

Below are four books on the rough draft process that I personally have found to be excellent guides for me. Through them, I have relearned the spirit of drafting that I stumbled upon as a small child and tap into my creative muse to good effect.

no plot no problem by chris baty

No Plot, No Problem by Chris Baty

It is fair to say that my relaunch as a writer during my mid-forties is due to Nanowrimo. This is a writing event that pushes the aspiring author to compose 50 thousand words toward the rough draft of a novel. I attempted Nanowrimo for a few years without success. I wondered if I would ever break through the writer’s block that held me back for almost a decade and be able to tell stories via the written word again. In 2010, I had an idea for a science fiction book that grabbed me. This epiphany combined with an Alphasmart 3000 to write with and the purchase of the Nanowrimo guidebook: No Plot, No Problem by Chris Baty. It is what allowed me to write my first 50 thousand word rough draft of a novel.

Baty describes in the book his idea of writing a rough draft in the space of a single month and setting up quotas to propel you to finish. Quantity is the goal, not quality. You are to turn off your “inner editor” and write. This allows your inner muse to break through and get your ideas down on the page. If you are a writer who is not sure how to get started, No Plot, No Problem will teach you how to develop an organic style of writing.

on writing stephen kingOn Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

I want to say up front that I am not a fan of Stephen King. I do not read or enjoy horror as a genre and I have only read one or two of his books. That was enough for me. However, his memoir about being a writer is fascinating. I do not have a single writer friend that has not recommended this book to me when learning about the fundamentals of writing. King touches on his life and people and places that have inspired him. In many ways, this memoir is also a master class on learning to write and living as a writer. If you are wondering how to begin writing, this is one of the main books you should add to your personal library.

outling your novel km weilandOutlining Your Novel by KM Weiland

This book is a late addition to my writing library, but it stands tall among the other volumes. When I first started drafting, I was a pantser who wrote by the seat of my pants. My work was organic and the characters did what they wished. In the end, I hope that it all made sense.

During my second year of writing, I realized that meandering through a story did not create the tension and conflict that makes for a great plotline. I needed to learn how to plan or outline the main elements of my story first. The resulting first draft was easier to revise and edit, speeding up the process of my publication flow. Outlining Your Novel is both a book and a workbook to teach you methods to create concise outlines for your stories. Weiland gives many great tips that I’ve found helpful. I read her blog regularly.

90 day novel alan wattThe 90 Day Novel by Alan Watt

As I prepared for Nanowrimo in 2012, I had a particular problem. I was returning to my original science fiction world that I created in 2010 and wanted to work on its sequel. The sword-wielding engineer and champion of the book, would not speak to me. I could not picture her. I didn’t know her background. I knew where she fit into the story, but without being able to envision her, I was dead in the water.

The 90 Day Novel saved my bacon. The first 30 days of the system are a series of questions to help you write about the hero of your “hero’s journey” story. I used this book to develop my heroine starting in the beginning of October. On November 1st, I started Nanowrimo and not only was the heroine clear in my mind, but I had plenty of plot points figured out to propel her to her destiny. While I have not used the rest of the system, it mirrors much of the experience of Nanowrimo with a few individual twists. If you are looking for a guide to help you develop a main character and a general storyline for a rough draft, this could prove to be an excellent resource for you.