Tag Archives: outline

Moving forward—What I’ve learned so far about writing a novel

I began writing the novel on October 7, 2014.

Let me tell you what I have learned so far. But first, here are the word-count numbers:

Oct. 7: 2,494 words
Oct. 8: 613
Oct. 13: 1,584
Oct. 14: 2,023
Oct. 15: 43
Oct. 16: 1,473
Oct. 20 2,764

So far, the novel has 11,092 words (the numbers above fall short if added because of revisions here and there). This means I have 58,908 words left to reach a typical YA length of 70,000 words.

How it is going so far

The first thing I noticed is how different writing fiction is than writing non-fiction. I always loved it when I could write a story for the newspaper where there were real scenes and, heaven, real dialogue between people—but that was rare.

I was surprised when I began writing the novel how easy it was to get into the flow. I love the creation of the paragraphs and the flow of scenes. I love the variation and pacing. The music of it.

At times, it is like watching a movie. I really love my characters and how they are coming alive. I love it when I look up and three hours have gone by and I’ve been in another world.

I really love when, suddenly, something happens that I didn’t expect and it is awesome.

What I don’t love is when I can’t get in a few hours a day. I feel like it is pulling at me all the time. Write me. Write me. Write me. But I have other responsibilities and writing projects (such as my non-fiction Visions of Freedom: Wilford Woodruff and the Signers of the Declaration of Independence book and freelance writing jobs). Nevertheless, I should still be able to push it along each day.

I’m amused that as I write, the needs of the story will require me to rewrite previous things. It doesn’t matter that I have the thing outlined. I need to go back and, for example, demonstrate that Verity has a trickster side to her. Another example, I need to change the role of Lady Diewell to be more involved earlier in the story for a payback later on.

I read the first four chapters to my 11-year-old (who is worried that it will have a romance. Sorry.) and she likes it. It was very helpful to see the parts that were not clear to her and needed more explanation.

I’m simultaneously pleased with what I have written and hate it completely. I gave myself permission to write, as the audio book version of Anne Lamott’s book on writing, Bird by Bird, says, a “Crappy first draft.”

Shannon Hale describes it this way in a tweet: “Writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.”

The difference between what I want it to be and what it is is so vast. But I’m laying down the words in the hope that magic will happen in the revision process. I remember James Dashner talking about his novel Maze Runner and how much it changed as he revised it and as agents and editors gave him specific advice.

One of the things I was worried about before I began writing, was that I would hurry too fast through the scenes and that I couldn’t sustain the story. As I am working on it, however, I am pleased that I am able to come up with details and action and dialogue as it is needed. I didn’t know if I could do it, but indeed I did. So far.

I don’ t know if this book will ever be published. But I am determined to learn how to write a good novel. Regardless of this first book’s success or failure, it is the first substantial step in the right direction.

So far my 11-year-old likes it. That is, by itself, some success.

And so it begins

Everything was in place.

I had my outlines. I had my maps. I was about to begin the actual real writing of the actual first draft.

The document was open. At 3:48 p.m., yesterday, Oct. 7, 2014, I typed my chapter title and first sentence: Verity ran.

Then the phone rang.

Since I am looking for work, I can’t afford to not take phone calls these days. It was, indeed, an important phone call.

Then, I sat down again.

The phone rang before I could write another word.

This was a phone call to arrange an interview with Michael McLean with my daughter for her Deseret News “Connect 123” column, Ellie’s Bookshelf. Also important.

Then it was dinner. Doorbells rang. Etc.

It wasn’t until 7:28 p.m. that I was able write the second sentence. I hated everything I wrote. But I pushed through. Eventually, I seemed to get into the rhythm of the writing. Although I write for a living, this was very different. I can see right away where I need to develop the craft of writing fiction better.

But, as I said, it got better as I went along.

Because this is my first novel, I completely expect the first draft to be nauseatingly bad. I also expect it to get better as write more. My hope is, after revising, it will not be nauseatingly bad, but merely bad. Then, with advice and help, I hope to punch it up to passable, then good, then fantastic.

Well, that is my hope.

By the time I finished last night at a little before 9 p.m., I wrote a full first chapter with 2,494 words. That includes the seven words (chapter title and first two-word sentence) I wrote at 3:48 p.m. That isn’t so bad for a start.

Now, only 67,506 more words to go. At this rate, assuming I am able to put in four hours a day instead of just an hour and a half, I should be able to finish this up in, oh, about 10 working days. If I unplug my phone…

…and don’t eat, or shower, or work on my non-fiction book, or anything else, and if my wife doesn’t have any projects–like painting that stair railing, etc., etc., etc.

Invasion of the 3×5 cards — creating a scene map

I took the story bible I created on August 20, 2014, and began going through all of the different notes, ideas, and sketches I wrote on 3×5 cards.

My first 3×5 note was about a year ago. Every time I took a note, I wrote the date on the card. So for this part of the project I had 12 piles of notes, one for each month to go through.

I took the story bible’s synopsis and pasted it into a new document. I then broke the synopsis up into 22 sections. These sections are NOT chapters. Some are scenes. Some are sequences of scenes. I used Microsoft Word’s Document Map feature to make it easier to jump around in the document.

I also, using the Document Map feature, added sections for each character, locations, religion, sayings, culture, politics, props and so forth.

Then I began going through the 3×5 cards, starting with the October 2013 pile.  Whenever there were any cool ideas, snippets of dialogue, etc., I wrote that information into the outline/synopsis or under one of the other sections such as character.

For example, one 3×5 card had a note about “mossglow,” a moss that dimly glows in different colors.  I added this information to the Props section: “Glowing moss, different colors. Not very bright, but useful. In some climates, people grow it on their roofs, giving villages a pleasant patchwork glow.”

Two different 3×5 cards mentioned ancient wedding vows. I wrote both versions down in the Religion section along with a funeral song, creation story, a festival description, etc.

I moved through each month. It took a few days to accomplish this.

What this gives me isn’t a perfect outline, but a general outline with snippets of specifics that could impact various scenes, or be totally ignored. It is just enough to begin writing.

Story Bible

Today I worked on a few essential things I wanted to get in place before writing the book proper.

One is I started a Story Bible, using Microsoft Word and its Document Mapping feature. I have sections, so far, on various characters, a list of possible names to use, governments, theme ideas and a major location.

In one section, I wrote a 2,457 word outline/plot summary of Verity’s story. I wanted to get down all the main points and landmark scenes.

The areas I still feel weak on are the geography and the political forces and intrigue. I need to figure out a very general timeline for about 2,000 years of history. I need to decide more about the economy. I also need to track some religious trends.

These are just some broad things I want to do first before beginning the actual writing.

Tomorrow, when I get some time, I plan on going over my existing notes I have been taking on 3×5 cards and see how much I still want to use.