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How to Write a Novel in Six Months: Week 11 Drafting Update

Updated on September 30, 2008

This week, the third of drafting, brought new information, challenges, and some frustration. The biggest thing I came up against was not enough motivation for my characters to do the things they were doing. That caused some trouble drafting and compelled me to go back to the scene design phase and do some more work there.

Photo: nuanc,Flickr
Photo: nuanc,Flickr


Feedback on the Synopsis


Last week I submitted my synopsis, or story plan, to my writing critique group for feedback. That process provided a lot of insight, particularly that my protagonist was being ‘acted upon’ in many instances rather than being pro-active and taking steps to save herself. This is a common problem in weak stories and I definitely will adjust story events so that my main character shines through.

My subplots also are still weak. While I knew this, somehow I just thought it might work itself out as I started writing. However, now that I’m nearly a quarter way through the draft, I need to spend some time clarifying where these stories are going.

Other than that, I was encouraged by the feedback I received on my synopsis. I definitely feel like I have the bones of a good story, which is not something I’ve been able to accomplish in the past. I’m very excited!



Scene/Sequel/Section Design


I have a new favorite writing teacher this week. It’s the late Dwight Swain. A writing buddy recommended his book, Techniques of the Selling Writer, and I’ve been going through it since I started drafting. In it he breaks scene design (and sequel design) down into very discrete and manageable parts. He does the same thing with all copy, actually. He breaks writing down into what he calls MR units, or Motivation Reaction units. Swain explains how to keep your narrative clear and logical, how to build tension, and the all important trick: where to end a scene.




As I wrote this week I started to get that old familiar feeling I was just ambling along, writing to for specific purpose. With that came the lost and panicky state of not knowing where anything would end up. Then I remembered something I had planned to do early on, yet never followed through on. I had intended to block out (design) all my scenes before writing them. However, once I had such success on those first scenes (the ones I designed), I guess I got cocky and thought I could just do it in my head on the fly. Maybe you can do that, but I need to put in more work upfront.




I took out my good old-fashioned college-ruled notebook and a favorite pen and started hammering out scenes. Because I’m near the first big turning point (a quarter way through the story) and I know exactly what happens there, I decided to start at that scene, build the motivation, and work my way backward to where I am now. I think that represents about 30 pages, or five or six scenes with some sequel (reaction, transition) in between.




My pages look like this:


Viewpoint character, setting


Goal – This is what I was missing before, more on this next week.


Motivation – Why does the character want to acheive the goal?


Opposition – What’s (who's) in the way of achieving the goal?


Conflict – I’m trying to put three increasingly annoying and/or disastrous conflicts in each scene.


Disaster – We have to leave the character in ‘peril’. I have been really weak in this area. We writers have to be really mean to our characters so that they can prove they’re capable of overcoming hardship! That’s why readers root for them!


Curtain line – This is the final sensory perception we leave the reader with, that we hope inspires a gasp, a giggle, or a snort!




Wish me luck this week as I try to catch up. (I’m 5 pages behind.) If all goes as planned, I’ll be to the quarter novel point come next week!




How to Write a Novel in Six Months, One Writer’s Journey


Week 1, Mapping Out the Six Month Plan


Week 2, Resources on Structure


Week 3, Index Cards Are My Friends


Week 4, Sketching Characters


Week 5, Researching Agents


Week 6, Outlining


Week 7, Detail Scene Beats


Week 8, Writing the Synopsis


Week 9, Drafting Update


Week 10 Drafting Update


Week 11 Drafting Update





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