Working Harder Up Front Can Mean Less Rewriting Later

Posted: November 7, 2011 in Uncategorized
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Portland Creative Conference - 2009 Cre8con

Larry Brooks believes strongly in planning. (Image by Scott Huber)

Are you the kind of person who makes lists?  You know, grocery lists, “to do” lists, household chores lists, Christmas lists.

I hate making lists. I prefer to keep it all in my head. I’d rather walk through the entire grocery store and down all the aisles and figure out what I need. Sometimes my wife gives me a list and I have to navigate the store by departments, making sure I get everything she has on the list.

And there is always some ingredient or item I’ve never heard of, so that takes me twice the time in the store to track down everything on the list. Then I can start on my stuff. But because I’ve worn myself out, I become disoriented and can only pick up the things I can think of off the top of my head.

I write the same way. I don’t make an outline. I have a general idea where I want to get (what my story is about) and I ramble down the aisles of creativity, led my protagonist, other characters, and villains and pick up the necessary items to write my story.

So when I chaired a workshop recently for Oregon Writer’s Colony featuring Larry Brooks and his take on Story Engineering, I didn’t think I’d enjoy it much. He called me out during the workshop, suggesting I was a Pantster (person who writes by the seat of his pants).

Then he said something that made perfect sense to me. He said if you plan out your story in advance, you know where you are going when you sit down to write it. This enables you to write a publishable story in one draft. Almost!

You see I’m on my fifth draft of trying to make my current novel polished enough to sell. So when he said that, a light bulb went on over my head. I’m sure if I had a mirror at the time I would have seen it illuminate.

I could divide my story into scenes, plan the scenes according to Plot Points and Pinch Points and other standard story structure devices and write to each scene. This intrigued me because I can see myself doing that and in so doing, writing much tighter and concise. And shortening the timeline for writing a book.

So this week I’ve divided my writing schedule into three parts. Revising my current novel, plotting my next novel (which has the potential not only to be bought, but to be a best seller–yes I am that high on the story concept), and to work on another short story.

I’m using Larry Brooks’ Story Engineering techniques on the new novel and new short story. It’s painful because I want to be writing and taking the time to draft the outline according to a certain structural format is tediously hard work. But it is working. My short story outline is nearly done and I’ve only worked on it this weekend.

It will be the second one with Billie Bly as the heroine. I sent the first one to Alfred Hitchcock magazine October 26th. It was just inside the 12,000 word limit. By using the outline I hope to limit this one to 8,000 words.

The new novel will take longer, but I have some good ideas and some research should help spark more ideas.

I didn’t go into the mechanics here on story engineering, but you can check it out on Larry’s blog at Storyfix.com . This link goes to Day 31 of Larry’s 31 days to prepare for NaNoWriMo, an annual writing ritual to get people into the first draft of a book in 30 days in November.  If you search his blog and start at Day 1 you will gather some excellent writing tips.

For me, this information is the missing ingredient to my grocery list. And I don’t mind making a list anymore if means success in a shorter time period and a better story.

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