Category Archives: planning

Revising: is it not done yet?

After the most intensive – and exciting – creative work, other steps follow. Unfortunately, for most writers, they aren’t that fun.

Revising is a significant one, and many times it becomes harder than it has to be. Why? Due to the lack of organization.

Planning from day 1

After months (sometimes years) of hard writing work, many writers end up with a messy first draft. This happens because of the lack of planning. For many authors, the creative flow is too important, so they write freely without much care. This is one way of doing it, but it will make it much harder to revise your work later.

If you plan the story, it will be a lot much easier to work on it. Then, you go through all the plans you made again. Check for inconsistencies or whatever you don’t like and want to change.

There is still time

If you are in the middle of the writing process and don’t have a plan, you must take a step back and create one now. Sounds strange? Well, I can guarantee you that it will really help you out.

Start by writing down the structure of your novel in a simple global way to access it quickly. Then, step by step, add more details until you have a general vision of your book. Once you have it, you’ll catch the first ‘mistakes’ or things you don’t like that much.

After you have an idea of what needs to be changed, make a copy of your draft (so you can go back if you want) and start working on this second copy.

Repeat the whole process until you’re totally satisfied with your novel. No matter if that means doing this 2 times or 20! Try to enjoy the process, and it will be easier than you think.

Making your life easier

Writing, revising, editing – it is hard work. But, as a writer, you can’t always afford to lose time, so good planning is vital to improve your process.

You can easily get lost among the 300 or 500 pages of your novel. An obvious structure with the most significant happenings of the story organized is of great help to ease your work.

Without good revising, you have a draft, not a novel.

Three-Act Story: is it too rigid for me?

Many authors work with a 3-act story structure when writing a novel. It’s a formula, like any other. Yet, some authors find it a bit too rigid. They believe it can eventually break the creative wave.

Each author should find what works best for them, and for that, you need to know the formula and its implications.

What’s the 3-act story?

The 3-act story is a somewhat rigid structure, which you may find a bit restrictive. From the moment you decide to work with it, you can’t deviate much. It has some predictability and, as many authors work with it, your readers expect a few “rules”. If you avoid them, they’ll feel like something is wrong with your story.

Therefore, you have 3 acts to work with, and each of them must have a disaster. The first act is around 25% of the book, and it ends with a first disaster. The second one is the biggest, approximately 50% of your novel. At the end of the first half of this act, you have a new disaster. It must cause your character the need to evaluate its choices. The final act is about the final confrontation – 3rd disaster. It will end with the victory or defeat of your character (or a bit of both sometimes).

The disasters

After reading the previous paragraphs, you might be thinking, “Wait, a novel can have more than three disasters.” Well, that’s true, but the ones we’re referring to here are special and have precise rules.

Each one of the disasters must be thought of and executed very carefully. They must mark a psychological turning point for your character. They must have the kind of impact that might change everything.

Create some empathy, and make them stay

Each one of these disasters has a goal, and you can’t forget it. The goal is to make the reader care about the character. That’s why it is so important, especially initially, to create some empathy with the readers.

Take time to build a character that they will care about. This way, they will be concerned about each disaster and… will keep reading!

Chapters: are they too big? or too short?

It’s quite common when writing a novel to realize that your chapters have very different sizes. You may wonder: is this okay? Is there some standard length for a chapter? Not at all.

Chapters are actually not as important as they might seem in the finished book. They are huge bags where you put some scenes, so the reader can give himself small goals while reading your book. The scenes are the important ones, the basis of everything.

They are part of the planning

I didn’t know that in my first novel. I sat down and wrote, whatever came to my mind. Beautiful words, disorganized scenes, a crappy publisher, and we had a novel. Zero planning. Disappointing final work.

I worked a lot after that. I knew I could do better, and my second novel was planned to exhaustion. To organize the chapters, I tried to fit in each of them the same number of scenes. I also tried that all the scenes had a similar number of words. It didn’t work that well. I mean, the result was quite better than the first one, but it takes out some of the spontaneity I need when I’m writing. That made some scenes sound a bit artificial.

Like me, you need to find your own way. You can go mathematically, planning a book with x chapters, with y scenes in each one, or try to write more freely. Any place between these two extremes is good. Whatever you choose is good if it works for you and your story. The length of a chapter isn’t as important as the quality of your scenes.

As a reader, however, I find a very long chapter tiring. Yet, there are exceptions. Sometimes, you can read 100 pages in a row without realizing it. It happens when the story was too exciting and the writing so good, you just couldn’t stop.

When to end the chapter?

Choosing the right moment to end the chapter can be tricky. You can make your job easier by dividing it into scenes. I like to end it in moments of suspense and curiosity. They help to make the reader turn the page and (hopefully) read one more chapter.

Generally, you want to end with a big happening that leads your reader to ask, “what is he going to do?”. It can be something like a brief description of a sound or smell the character noticed. Something interesting enough to make the reader wonder what was that. Sometimes, it’s enough to describe what the character is feeling. For example, “He looked at the open door and felt out of breath.” without explaining the motive.

All of those could be great ways of ending a chapter. They lead people to keep reading to know what was happening.

Sometimes, the chapter ends with a mystery that has been in the story for too long. Perhaps an answer your reader was seeking since the beginning. That can work too, depending on the story.

Imagine that you are the reader. You finally got that answer you’re searching for since chapter 1. You look at the book, and there is still half a book to read. What would you think of it? Could you trust this answer to be the truth? Would you keep reading?

Keep it interesting

I don’t know a single writer that isn’t an avid reader as well. You know, as a reader, what keeps you going and what makes a book boring. Look at your story. Would you read it? If you’re not sure now, put your story aside and read it later, tomorrow or next week. This will give you some emotional distance, allowing you to be less partial about it.

A boring book doesn’t sell. People have way too many ways to distract themselves rather than invest their time in something that is not entertaining enough – assuming you’re writing fiction. If it’s not the case and you’re writing non-fiction, keep in mind that no one likes to feel bored anyway. My advice is for you to study your audience carefully.

The good thing about writing is that there are no rigid rules, only guidelines and lots of creativity.

Memoirs: Is my life that interesting?

Memoirs. We all have stories to tell. Yet, most of us don’t publish them.

Back in time, it was common to have a diary, but now, not even teenagers have it anymore. Yet, we have as many stories to tell as before.

What’s the conflict?

You can find, in the book market, thousands of memoirs, some with more success than others. If this is something interesting to you, as a writer, ask yourself: what they all have in common?

Most of the successful ones are about famous people that had a profound impact on the world. Yet, there are also many stories of ordinary people that had a huge problem and solved it. Familiar? Yes, it’s the conflict in any story!

So, answering the title question: is your life that interesting? I would ask: what’s the conflict?

Is it interesting enough?

It might be boring to read someone else’s story from the very beginning. Yet, you don’t need to tell everything from the day you were born. Everyone has a story to tell or a conflict in their life. A specific moment or happening that it is, indeed, interesting. You just need to choose right.

Think about some happening that may have changed you or the way you see the world—some specific time in your life, a problematic or extraordinary phase. Eventually, you can talk about the way some big external happening had an impact on you and your family. How did you deal with it? It can be a war, a natural catastrophe, an economic crisis…

It is, indeed, a story

Telling your story is like telling any other story. It must have emotion, description, character development… Use dialogues and all the tools you use in fiction novels. It will be way more exciting and have a bigger emotional impact. Your readers need to empathize with you and understand what you went through.

Use your own voice, don’t write it as an essay for college, but rather as a beautiful novel. This way, your readers will feel closer to you and your story.

If you want to write your memoirs, it’s because you have something to tell. And you should! However, as with any other genre, it takes hard work to be good. Choose carefully what you want to tell and read other people’s memoirs to inspire yourself.

Organizing your ideas – Scenes

Random ideas are a fantastic way of training your creative ability, but they are not a story. You must organize them. How? Into scenes.

It’s a prevalent problem for beginners to organize their ideas into scenes. What is, indeed, a scene? Where does it end? How can I make it enjoyable?

I had been there myself, and after a lot of research, I found the better answers in Randy Ingermanson’s blog (I’ll give you some links at the end of the post). He taught me something that I already was able to prove to myself: even a weak plot can be an interesting book if you have good scenes.

Scene’s characteristics

The scene is the tiniest piece of your novel – such as a musical note within a song. It occurs in a delimited space of time in the story (minutes or hours usually).

One of the major problems for young writers is the length of it. Well, some writers put an average word limit, such as Randy himself. I don’t, but if the scene is getting too big, then something is definitely off.

A scene focuses on one character of your book, but not necessarily the main one. It has to have a clear beginning and end.

Types of Scenes

Something surprised me about Randy’s posts, and it can be quite frustrating, I must admit. It is the fact that after you read this, you’ll notice that many of your scenes weren’t scenes at all. Confusing?

Randy divides the scenes into two types: proactive and reactive. A proactive scene has the sequence: goal, conflict, setback. The reactive scene is about reaction, dilemma, and decision. And that’s it.

I could try to explain each one of them, but I believe that nothing better than his own words to explain this.

Proactive Scene

“When you start writing a proactive scene, do it at the point in your story when it’s natural to establish the focal character’s goal for that scene. Quickly establish that goal, and then spend most of the scene working through the conflict of the scene. Eventually, you’ll hit a critical point. This is usually a setback (in which the focal character fails to achieve her goal and is now worse off than before.) Occasionally, it will be a victory (in which the focal character achieves her goal and is now better off than before). Once you’ve hit that critical point, the scene is over. Start a new scene.”

Reactive Scene

“When you start writing a reactive scene, it should normally follow closely on the heels of a setback in a proactive scene. The point of a reactive scene is to give the focal character a chance to react emotively to the hit she’s just taken and to switch directions. Start out with that emotive reaction and let it run its course (usually a few paragraphs or a page at most). Then take your character into a dilemma—what to do next. There should be no good options. If there is a good option, it’s not a dilemma. The dilemma may take quite a while to work through. The focal character has only bad options. Explore these and reject them, one by one, until there is only one acceptable course of action. That’s your focal character’s decision and the reactive scene is now over. Start a new scene.”

Towards Perfection

Scenes are probably the most critical part of your book. They are responsible for your readers to keep reading. They need to catch attention and keep the interest in your story and your characters.

Good scenes make a mediocre plot shine. Bad scenes ruin the most perfect novel.

To read more about the topic, visit Randy Ingermanson’s blog on the links below.

Writing the perfect scene

How do you know when to start and end a scene?

Planning: a story is more than an idea

When you start to think about a story, what you usually have are some episodic ideas. Despite their quality, those ideas are not a story, even less a novel. Those need a plot and a structure.

I’m not saying that your ideas are not necessary. Every time you have an idea, you should take note of it with all the details, situations, and pieces of dialogue. It might be useful when you have the actual story. Some of those ideas you’ll use, some you will not. You’ll never know which ones are good enough at the moment they occur to you, so write them all down.

Major steps of planning

Writing a good story or novel takes some planning. Planning a good story takes some hard work.

When preparing your story, make sure you have all the main points worked out before you start writing the first draft. For that, you can’t neglect four important steps.

1. Know the genre

First of all, you must know the genre you’re trying to write in. There is no other way of doing this than read a lot of books in that genre. Study them.

Observe their structure, realize what they have in common, the distribution of the scenes, the rhythm. Try to find out why is the book interesting (or not). The most you know about it, the better.

2. The conflict

No conflict, no story. The most critical part of your story is the conflict. It is what makes your audience interested and catch your readers.

There is no story without a conflict, which makes it a massive step towards your goal. Take all the time you need in it. Do some research on tips and good practices. The conflict is the center of everything, and you need to think carefully about it.

3. Organize your ideas

Remember those ideas you wrote before? The ones that came into your mind in the most unexpected places? That’s right. It’s time to get and organize them.

Reread what you wrote, improve the best ones and try to see where (if) they fit in. At this point, you are already working on the actual structure of your story. Start choosing what goes in each chapter.

4. Go deeper into each scene

Before you start writing the first draft, retake a look at your former ideas. At this point, the best ones should already be scenes for your chapters.

Observe what you have now very carefully, and go deeper into each scene. Add descriptions, dialogues, and other essential details. That will make your life easier when it comes to the time to start writing.

Outline

Outlining your story is, without a doubt, a great help. There are, nonetheless, authors that refuse to use an outline. Well, that’s okay, it’s not exactly mandatory, but it will definitely, make your work faster and easier.

With an outline, you can try ideas, explore them without making them permanent. It allows you to explore more without so much commitment.

The outline gives you the possibility of not being stuck at one point. You’ll always know what to write next, and as you’re writing, new ideas will keep coming to your mind. All of them help to turn the original plot even richer.

Inspiration is hard work

Many people think that a great writer has a stroke of inspiration, sits down at his desk and write the next Nobel Prize nominee. That’s far away from the truth!

Inspiration is the fruit of several months (sometimes years) of hard work. The good news is that, in the end, you might have that masterpiece after all.