The writing craft books I read range from Stephen King to Aristotle and they all come back to the words we chose and how we use them. When we think about rhetoric, we usually think about nasty overused patterns covering poor content and worse logic. Excellent rhetoric uses natural patterns to add clarity and bouy sound logic. It is beautiful and memorable.
My mantra is to just start writing. Whether it was an English essay, the short story, or novel, I work best when I just go. My first lines hit me in the head.
“Tuesday is a bad day to get shot.”
“A Weaver’s last words are respected. Unfortunately, they a usually the ravings of a lunatic or expletives.”
Once I’ve got the line, I’m in for the whole ride. This is the crux of what it means to be a discovery writer. You have no idea where it’s going, but it’s gonna be a whole lot of fun finding out.
However, I have found three reasons for me to stop driving around aimlessly and ask for directions. All writing is discovery writing. You are putting words on paper or screen that have not been put there before. It is an act of discovery. So, whether you know what each page holds or you have an amorphous view of your ending there are alway things to discover along the way.
When to Plan
The opposite side of the coin is where I struggle. I bite off more than I can chew, forget things that excited me earlier, and generally slog through the middle because I have forgotten what I was doing.
Planning for a discovery writer can happen at any point during the writing process. It helps you with complex storylines, ensure their continuity, and helps your readers know where you’re going. The other thing I found is it helps you from just stopping at the end. With the number of times readers have complained about a book stopping, but not finishing, this is worth taking a look at.
Up to this point, I have outlined my novel at the editing stage before going into rewrites, but after the first big read through. In my current project there are so many threads I had to stop and write them down at the halfway point to keep them straight.
As we walk through planning for discovery writers, I hope this helps you think about the different aspects of your novel and what will work for you.
What To Plan
The first question to ask is what do you need to plan? In all other aspects of my life I overplan. I ask this question so that I stop planning. In this case it helps me establish the problem, so I can find the correct solution. On a sidenote, the things I plan out are the things that bring my writing to a screeching halt. Essentially, planning for a discovery writer clears the road for further discovery.
How To Plan
It falls into one of three categories: the bridge, braid, or a branch.
A bridge is needed when you have a starting point and an ending point, but no concept of what happens in the middle. This could be due to a kink in world building, stricky relational issue, or something assumed earlier, but did not explain.
1) Establish the Milestones
What is being transitioned between? This is a very specific issue. These problems in writing can cause pileups because you don’t know all the details. You were just driving through. In order to build a bridge, first you must stop and define the edges.
2) What Kind of Transition?
List with tasks need to be completed, how characters need to be developed, and the big change that must occur for these two milestones to link together. If this is a first draft, write it out and move on.
If you’re planning on the editing pass, The bridge needs to be a permanent answer to both sides of the problem. Think of the math problems that you did in high school. You found x by working from either side. As your editing, check how the problem developed and the progress of the resolution. Milestones do not mean the end of problems, just that the character was able to get through them.
The second area of the plan is the branch where the plot lines meet or diverge in scenes. These are highly intricate segments where information is revealed, characters interact, and tension is gained and lost.
1) Prioritize the Information
Which plot lines take priority in the scene? If this is a scene where both characters know something the other character needs to know, but they aren’t talking about it, you need to establish a very good reason. If this is a point where characters are going their separate ways, you need to be clear about their goals. Know which plot line takes point and why.
2) Write the Consecutive Events
Walk through the scene. Write it from beginning to end focusing on the priorities. Look at the undercurrents of tension and wind those in. Make sure the weight of the priority is proportional to the weight of the leaving or joining. Creating an ensemble or breaking up the team should not be done lightly or without thought.
3) Check Downstream
Check the ripple effect of plots and characters coming together. In a first draft, the general sketch of this is fine. When editing these scenes track the linchpin points of the story. Mishandled branching points can derail the flow of the story. So, know who is interacting, why they are interacting, and what will come of them.
The final aspect of planning is the closest thing to outlining that I do. It is the braid. My biggest problem as a writer is holding all the details in my head. The braid helps me handle multiple plot lines, get an overview of the milestones, and gives me a general diagnostic for my novel. I usually do this about halfway through my first draft because of the middle muddle.
If I can’t figure out what my character is supposed to be doing, they go on random side quests until I decide to write the ending I’ve been excited about. Creating the braid in the middle of my writing helps me re-align with the story, with what excited me about writing to begin with.
I have also done this just for the editing process to check the flow of the story. It gives me an overview of the milestones and lets me know where I lost track.
1) Title Each Plot Line
If it is a story line, then it should have a name. There are times when I will have multiple plot lines for a character, so don’t just title it “character name”. Call it something that shows the progression of the story.
2) List Key Points
For each plot line, list the main things that are going to happen. As each plot line interacts with other lines call them the name from the perspective of the plotline you were using at the moment. This will give you explicit markers before you hit branching points. If you were planning a series, mark the unresolved plot lines at the point where the current book ends.
3) Divide Your Book
This can be beginning, middle, and end – the steps in the heroes journey or three act structure. Whatever you are using, lay it out.
4) Braid the Plot Points
It is time to weave the plot lines together. Put them in chronological order and ensure that dependent events occur in the correct order. The second part of this is to put them in their place from beginning to end. Where does this need to be in the book, so that the tensions in the plot lines build correctly?
5) Identify Specifics
It is easy to lose track of what milestone goes with plot line. I color code each plot line so I can follow it through the story visually. This helps me identify places where it has been left out completely, fails to fill expectation, or takes over the story .
6) Check for Completion
The final step is most important during the editing process. You know where you want to end up, but your readers do not. The end of the braid should try to get there even if some of the plot lines are unresolved. Your task is to find a way to get each of your plot lines to a stopping point.
In the first draft, once you have the list of milestones you can jump from scene to scene following list down until you reach the end of the weave.
During the editing process you need to develop cohesion between the links and check how they are woven together. This is when you go back and look at branching and bridges for continuity.
For discovery writers, the braid plan has a lot to offer. It gives you milestones, a sense of progress, and a diagnostic tool to figure out what is and is not working. It clears the road, so that you can forge the bat plan has a lot to offer. It gives you milestones, a sense of progress, and a diagnostic tool to figure out what is and is not working. It clears the road, so that you can forge through and figure out what is next.
It does not give you how to get there, or the points along the way between the major events.
This is one way to discovery write.
If you are not a discovery writer, you can still use this method. You start by developing the braid, layout key plot points and position them in the book. Keep the threads defined, but tightly wound.
Layout your branches and build beats off of the diverging an intersecting scenes. Finally, go through and flush out the bridges between each milestone. It is a top-down way of planning.
So, I hope this is useful in your writing and helps you track the shape of your story. What is your planning method? Do you do it at all?
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There is an old maxim that everyone has at least one book inside them. I think sometimes that there may be one book for everyone and many books are locked up inside the heads of those like Rowling and King.
Do you have a book inside you? Do you want to write something, but you haven’t figured it out yet.
Sometimes you just need to dive in and get going.
Have you spent years planning, but getting past the blinking cursor feels impossible?
The ideas hit me right in the center of other writing projects. It is classic ‘greener grass’ syndrome. I dabble in memoir while drafting my fantasy novel or write blog posts when I should be editing.
The more I write, the more the ideas flow. Some are great, like my current novels (Spoilers!) and some are like my brilliant short story idea where teens manifest abilities through physical growths. He grew the third eye! Need I say more?
While you might not have a supportive husband who will look at you and say, “No,” in a horrified manner, there are a few simple ways to see whether an idea has traction or not.
It was a warm languid day in the classroom. Our teacher was saying something about history or finals. It was really too warm to pay attention. I fidgeted with my pen, curled up in my chair. Taking it apart. Putting it back together. Clicking it open. Clicking it closed. Starting all over again.
The ideal place to write is different for everyone. For some it is Starbucks during the midmorning rush, others enjoy long summer days with a notebook in a park, and some want the dark of night and a typewriter. The truth is you don’t need a special place, you need a functional place. If there is a way to get words on to paper, you are in a writing space. But it may not be your writing space.
When you have the option, creating your writing space helps short circuit your brain. When you sit down, you are focused, prepared, and able to delve into your writing.
Using spell check is one of the most convenient things in our world. As a self proclaimed grammar nazi and a fastidious wordsmith, the right word at the right time is vital, but I have never worried too much about spelling. It was always something I did mostly right. When I didn’t, there was a safety net.
For the last month it has been quiet here, but I have been busy. Besides end of year marks, moving, and generally being pregnant, I have prepped three big challenges and a ream of new posts and printables. The summer season is a great time to think about trying something new. Every new day is the start of a new year. We aren’t limited by Mondays, New Year’s Resolutions, or even starting fresh tomorrow. Often, the most important thing is that we just start somewhere.
There are sixty seconds in a minute. According to some law, the quantity of things we have to do will adjust to fit the time we have to do it. My old piano teacher always said, “You will never find time. You must make time.” I have been making time to read and write since I was seven. It is a struggle to preserve and value the habits through life’s many stages. The battle for it came out again when we had our first baby a month before I was starting my first year of teaching, but stories are vital for me. So we found a way. Whatever your goals are, you can go for them.
We were studying for finals, or singing Disney songs at the top of our lungs, which is just part of the process if you think about it. I was probably showing off my superb ability to match both Aladdin’s and Jasmine’s voices in A Whole New World. Super cool.
Then we heard a scream. We live in mountain lion country, so our first thought was that one was in the house. So I did the most logical thing and charged down the hallway into the living room. You were close behind me, thinking I had lost my mind. I may have been going for the shotgun in retrospect, but some recollections are fuzzy. Continue reading “You, Me, and…”