Six Secrets to Drafting a Novel – Fast! #amwriting

If you want to get your novel DRAFT out FAST, here are my top six tips to help you on your way.

1.Planning. I am the original anti-planner. I hate the constrictive, creativity stifling, and passion killing thought of planning…but…a little planning goes a long way. You don’t need to go crazy and have every single scene detailed before you start, but you do need a skeleton.

Deviating from said skeleton is all part of drafting; so don’t let yourself feel in anyway constrained just because you have a plan. There is no doubt about it though; planning works, and the upfront investment will make writers block and endless story syndrome a thing of the past.

2.Don’t Edit. And when I say don’t edit, I mean DON’T EDIT AT ALL. Sorry shouting and all that, and I am really shouting at myself because I am the world’s worst edit-as-I-go-er. It’s the perfectionist in me peeking out again, better get a whip and a chair to that little monster!

It’s soooo hard not to edit, because the moment you read it, it looks like crap, and you immediately think you are a terrible writer, and that chapter will never work. STOP. It will work just fine…when you edit, which is LATER. So, no peeking, not even a little peek, let it go and move on to the next chapter.

3.Don’t think just write. What? Ok, it’s maybe more…don’t think too much.

Even with a plan, and knowing what the chapter is going to be about, and having a house completely free of interruptions, and your favorite music on, and a coffee at your side…you sit there and your head is blank. The endless procrastination kicks in, you check Facebook, Twitter, you read the news, make a cup of coffee…again. You write a few words and then delete them, and then a few more…and delete them. Sound familiar?

That’s because you’re actually thinking too hard. Yep I know, that sounds like reverse logic because how can you think too hard. It’s not a myth; I do it all the time. It’s not writers block either; so don’t panic. It’s more like…temporary amnesia about what that keyboard thing is for. Either you can’t start writing at all or when you do write you have an overwhelming urge to hit delete.

This is where the stop-thinking bit is really important. Just start the scene, even if you know it’s crap, even if you know you are going to delete the whole first paragraph, because something amazing happens once you get past a few sentences without hitting delete…it all starts pouring out and you remember that there is a connection between the brain and the keyboard, its calling fingers, and wow, they work!

4.Killing the people who interrupt you. Yes, I know it’s not practical, and hiding a body is so hard, but hey sometimes it’s got to be done. Just kidding, you can’t really kill the people who interrupt you, but you can think about it in glorious detail!

Interruptions are a fact of life, and they only interrupt you because they love you so much…or they want to be fed, or they can’t find that . I find meditation, and practicing breathing techniques really works…yes I’m just kidding about that too…nothing works, either get a lock for your door and fit soundproofing so you can’t hear them screaming at you, or just build a bridge and move on.

5.You are going to chop out some the work you write. Gasp! No! Yep, it’s going to happen. Remember in point 2 where I said don’t worry if it looks like crap it will all work out fine in the end? I lied. Some sentences, paragraphs, and yes, even whole scenes will meet a fate worse than death, discarded for ever to your clipping folder where you retain them in the misguided hope they will be reused or reinserted later. They won’t be, but it’s Okay to keep them, I do.

Now, you may be wondering how knowing that a scene may later be chopped is going to help you write quickly because now you are feeling pretty depressed and not at all motivated to write quickly, but here’s the catch, would you rather spend ages over-editing a scene, or procrastinating writing it, and then delete it? Nope, I certainly wouldn’t.

I have lost count of the number of beautifully written sentences or scenes that simply had to go. Sometimes you just need to get the whole story done before you can be truly objective enough to see what needs to stay and what needs to go, and the less time you spend getting to this stage, the better.

6.Word count targets. Love ’em or loath ’em, word count targets work, especially when you are drafting. Goal setting is written about, talked about, and well established as the single most important part of achieving ‘stuff’. If your goal is to write a book, you need to give yourself targets on the way to keep motivated.

Didn’t hit your target today? So what, there are plenty of days where you don’t make as much progress as you wanted too, and some days you make no progress at all. Celebrate the good days, and move on past the bad days, and remember that any words written at all is a step closer to completion! (Unless you end up deleting it as I mentioned in point 4…but we are not going to think about that during the draft)

I have been writing long enough to know roughly what I can write in a day, or an evening if it’s a work day, so I build my daily count around that. I LOVE seeing how I am progressing. Scrivener has this little happy ‘bong’ and a popup telling you well done when you hit your daily target. I LOVE that. I also love hitting book milestones like the quarter point, the half way, the three quarter, the finish, the editing…I break absolutely everything up into little micro targets, and this provides an amazing sense of movement and progress.

Writing a book takes FOREVER, so keeping the motivation up and sense of achievement high will get that draft finished in super fast time.

A simple guide to planning a novel – Part 6

In Part 5 of my Simple guide to planning a novel, we completed the last of the key plot points. Now, in this final stage we will explore the acts of the book in detail, and fill in the chapter gaps.

Planning a novel - the final stage

It is important to note a few things as we begin this final stage.

  • Planning does not need to be exact. We may find as we fill in the chapters that the key plot points shift forwards or backwards a little. This is fine. They definitely don’t need to sit at exactly 25, 50 & 75%. They do need to be reasonably well distributed though, if you want to have balance and pace to the book.
  • We don’t need to fill in notes against every single chapter. I go for about 60-80% of chapters with notes against them. There are a couple of reasons for this.

– Ideas continue to arrive while you are writing, and pre-filling every chapter leaves no space.

– Sometimes the notes you have against a chapter will cover more than one chapter, so this also needs some space.

Filling in the gaps…

So far we have identified our hook and inciting incident, and chopped our story up into segments using the key plot points. We have also noted our closure chapter, and the chapter or chapters to support our epic ending. Now, it’s time to fill in most of the gaps. The book is split into four sections; each has a purpose and is nestled between our previously identified key plot points.

The acts of a story

The First Act in detail – 1st quarter 0-25% 

Because the inciting incident can shift, it can make pinning down the purpose of the first half of the book a little tricky. But in summary, Act 1 includes an introduction to the question or hook and the stakes. It may also contain some early reaction to the inciting incident, or, be concluded by the inciting incident.

Some tips for the chapters in the first act:

I am going to provide more detail on the first act. The main reason for this is that the first act includes all the set up and introductions, and forms the foundations for the rest of the book. As with all things, if the foundations are not right the rest will ultimately struggle to deliver.

The first Act begins with the Hook / question, which takes our protagonist out of their routine and introduces the stakes. This happens in the first chapter.

The first act is concluded by the arrival of the 1st plot point, which occurs around the 25% point.

In between the hook and the 1st plot point, we need to cover a lot of detail. Explore your story notes, character timelines, and summary, and look for the events and activities that will deliver the following.

  1. Introduce our protagonist, including their characteristic moment (The very first time we see them).
  2. Introduce our world or location.
  3. Introduce our antagonist or antagonistic force.
  4. Introduce the supporting characters.
  5. Introduce the stakes – why should our reader care?
  6. Consider our inciting incident and its best location.
  7. Consider other key events that further deepen the reader knowledge of the world, the characters, and the stakes.

Write your ideas against the chapters in the first quarter of the book. You may find that as you slot the notes in you need to shuffle the chapters around.

Phew, that’s quite a lot! In addition:

  • If you are introducing a large number of characters, space some of their introductions out or you will fry your poor reader’s brain with too many names and personalities all at once.
  • Ensure you have introduced the stakes – Why should the reader care about our protagonist? What will our protagonist lose or risk losing when the conflict of the later key plot points occurs?
  • Ensure you show the characters reaction to the hook/ question and related changes.
  • Introduce any skills your characters call on in later scenes. We don’t want to surprise our reader at the end of the novel with our protagonist suddenly using a skill we have told them nothing previously about! So if they use something later be sure to introduce it now.

Write any additional ideas roughly against the chapters in the first quarter of the book.

Note: if you use any points from your notes or character timelines, remember to tick them off.

The Third Act in detail – 4th Quarter 75-100%

I know this is the wrong order, but after completing the first act, the final act is the next easiest to tackle. You have already filled in the last and penultimate chapters (epic ending). This leaves around 10ish chapters (depending on your chapter count) following on from the last major plot point (75% marker) to fill in.

This final act should:

  • Be action / tension / emotion packed (not necessarily all 3 but at least one).
  • Contain a sequence of reasonably significant events that drives our protagonist towards their ultimate goal.

Explore your story notes, character timelines, and summary, and look for the events and activities that will include the following.

  1. Any events that need to happen after your third plot point.
  2. Any events that take the stakes to an extreme level.
  3. Show the protagonist’s reaction to the third plot point and ensure that it colours this quarter of the book
  4. If you find anything happening here that requires an earlier event or action, jump back and note it down.

Write your ideas against the chapters in the final quarter of the book. You may find that as you slot the notes in you need to shuffle the chapters around.

Note: if you use any points from your notes or character timelines, remember to tick them off.

The Second Act Part 1 – 2nd Quarter 25-50%

The 1st and 2nd plot points bracket this quarter of the book. It should show our protagonist reeling still from the events of the first act. It explores the protagonist’s reaction, or continuing reaction, to the change that came at the first plot point (and the inciting incident if this was earlier).

During the second quarter the protagonist will acknowledge their call to action, but may not wholeheartedly embrace it, or may embrace it with only limited success.

Explore your story notes, character timelines, and summary, and look for the events and activities that will include the following.

  1. Any events that need to happen between the 1st and 2nd plot points.
  2. Any events that deepen the initial stakes.
  3. Show the protagonists reaction to the 1st plot point and the inciting incident, and ensure that it colours this quarter of the book.
  4. Show how the protagonist comes to terms with what happened in the first act and how it changes them.
  5. If you find anything happening here that requires an earlier event or action, jump back and note it down.

Write your ideas against the chapters in the second quarter of the book. You may find that as you slot the notes in you need to shuffle the chapters around.

Note: if you use any points from your notes or character timelines, remember to tick them off.

The Second Act Part 2 – 3rd Quarter 50-75% 

The 2nd and 3rd plot points bracket this quarter of the book. It should show our protagonist taking control after the events of the first half of the book. This part of the novel shows the protagonists reaction, or continuing reaction, to the change that came at the mid-point.

From the mid-point our protagonist stops reacting and starts acting. In other words they are no longer a passenger to the events. Whatever has happened during the first half of the book, something now triggers then to own the issue.

Explore your story notes, character timelines, and summary, and look for the events and activities that will include the following.

  1. Any events that need to happen between the 2nd and 3rd plot points.
  2. Any events that deepen the stakes to a higher level.
  3. Show the protagonist’s reaction to the mid-point, and ensure that it colours this quarter of the book.
  4. Show how the protagonist comes to terms with what happened in the first half of the book, and how it changes them.
  5. If you find anything happening here that requires an earlier event or action, jump back and note it down.

Write your ideas against the chapters in the third quarter of the book. You may find that as you slot the notes in you need to shuffle the chapters around.

Note: if you use any points from your notes or character timelines, remember to tick them off.

Revise, but not too much

By the time you have explored all the sections of the book you should have ticked off everything on your timelines and character notes, and have probably identified a few more thing you had never considered before.  You have probably shuffled some of the chapters forward and backwards. There will almost certainly be some gaps.

As a final close to the planning, read through the chapter notes you have jotted against the plan and see if anything else pops out.

Once you have completed this you are ready to get on with the good stuff—writing your novel.

I hope you have enjoyed this series, and if you have any suggestions or feedback it would be most welcome.

Happy writing 🙂

A simple guide to planning a novel part 1 – Pre-work and character timelines

A simple guide to planning a novel part 2 – Word count and creating a framework 

A simple guide to planning a novel part 3 – The beginning and the end

A simple guide to planning a novel part 4 – The inciting incident

A simple guide to planning a novel part 5 – The key events in a book