Posted by: Nancy Keim Comley | May 14, 2013

The Basics

If there’s anything I have learned from reading interviews with authors it’s that no one does anything the same. Some write with a pen and even an inkwell, others a laptop. Some write early in the morning, others late at night. I remember an interview where Sue Grafton said she gets dressed and puts on make up as though she were going to work at a busy office rather than her solitary writing studio. Other writers have stated that they don’t bother putting on pants to work, much less make up. Each writer has to find what works best for them.

Occasionally I have taken advice with mixed results. Getting up an hour earlier worked wonderfully until the third morning when my small son figured out what I was doing. Buying him off with TV didn’t work so I’m waiting until he’s older to try again.

Some writers get an idea, sit down and write. They don’t figure out plot, character arcs, sub plots, etc. ahead of time. They simply write a book. This method appealed to me so I gave it a try. I had a big, wonderful, exciting idea that I was sure would carry me through so I sat down and wrote. After a few weeks of writing I was horrified to see that my big idea was meandering. I kept working but meandering turned into shrinking until instead of a big idea I now had a small, dull story that went nowhere.

With the next idea I tried outlining. I had my idea and my characters so I figured out basically what happened when and how people changed. This method worked better, the story never turned small and hopeless, it had a beginning, a middle and an end. Yet there was something not right but I couldn’t figure out what what. So I took the step of sending my WIP to a brilliant developmental editor. She’d point out the small detail I was getting wrong and my WIP would be finished.

Yes, this is the point at which you can groan, roll your eyes or, at worst, point and laugh.

Of course it wasn’t a small detail. There were deep, WIP wide issues. As I read through her notes I had an urge to hit my head against the desk. How hadn’t I noticed this stuff? I needed to pull it apart, move scenes, deepen characters. I allowed myself a few heart felt groans and then got to work.

The revisions are going well, the WIP finally turning into what I envisioned in the first place. I’ve been careful to learn as much as I can from the process and I have been wondering if I could have laid the foundations better. What if I outlined every scene, as if I were writing a graphic novel? What if I went into the next project not only knowing characters names and basic personalities but wrote out biographies for each? Then before I even started I could see character arcs, I could follow not only the plot but sub plots as well.

I took a brief break between the end of the big revisions and the start of the finer polishing. As ever I had a new idea bumping around in my head so during the break I wrote down the basic idea. Then I began to expand. I’m not letting it distract me from the main task at hand but I am outlining with more detail and care than I have ever done before. When my WIP is done and off with beta readers I will have a very detailed outline for the next project waiting.

Will this work? I’ll let you know. Since I’ve already spotted some problems with the original idea and have corrected them before writing a word, I have great hopes.

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