As a teenager, I made up stories. I had a favorite story about a girl name Sylvia. Every night when I went to bed, I started at the beginning and let the scenes play out in my head. All these years later, I could write the opening scenes of that story easily. But there was one problem….I always fell asleep…oh…around chapter three or so.
And that’s what my readers will do if I don’t plan ahead. Okay, I know there are plotters and pantsters. Plotters are the ones who plan everything out ahead of time, and pantsters write “by the seat of their pants”. There is no right way or wrong way. I’ve done it both ways and am still not sure what my natural inclination is. But I have found that plotting seems to work better with my limited writing time.
When I do have an hour or two to write, I’ve found that I need to have a very detailed plot in place so I can get started quickly. With my last wip, I had over 70 scene ideas when I started writing, but then I discovered that either I had mapped out the external thread of the story or the internal for some scenes but hadn’t fully developed both areas. And that bogged me down when I sat down to write.
By internal and external threads, I mean, "What needs to happen in this scene?" Sometimes my paragraph for a scene might be two or three sentences that focus on the internal. For other scenes they might focus on the external....so when I start to write the scene, I have to think about the one I didn't flesh out. And I discovered I really needed that information ahead of time. I can get discouraged and/or bogged down if it takes thirty minutes to work out the logistics of a scene and I only have an hour to write. For instance, let’s say I have a scene ¾ of the way through the book where the hero finds out that the heroine is a crook and a swindler. Sounds pretty good, huh? So I sit down to write my scene, and I’m a loss. What are the “stage props”? Where are they? Whose POV is the scene in? Is it cold, hot, raining? Is it day or night? Are there secondary characters in the scene. Thinking this out ahead of time helps jumpstart my writing.
In a plot driven scene, the external "stage props" are key, so I would develop that first, then develop the internal to go with it. But in the above scene, the internal thread is what will move the story forward (and in this case, drive a wedge between the hero & heroine). I could just as easily set the scene in a bank, a restaurant, or in a hotel lobby....or anywhere, I guess. What I'm saying is that their physical location isn’t as important in this scene as what they're thinking and saying. I would go so far to say that in a character driven book, the backbone of most scenes will be the internal thread, and in an action adventure, the external thread the most critical. Not that the other isn’t important, but one has to lead.
So, I’m making a concerted effort to plot more deeply, to know where my scenes are going ahead of time, internally and externally. Hopefully, I’ll be able to churn out twice as many words when I do have time to write.
I’d love to hear other people’s methods for writing smarter….not harder!