My latest short story "The Night the Lights Came On"

Friday, March 15, 2013

Writing My First Draft

Chapter Outline - Click to View Larger
It's been quiet around here because I've been writing, and taking care of sick kids with my amazing wife. I initially wrote 9K+ words. Then I stopped and studied story structure for a month. Then I came up with a new outline. Then I started rewriting and now I'm back up to 11,357 words as I write this blog post. I've revised much of the first few chapters I had written so they follow my new outline. I started with trying to get every single chapter of my book onto one line of paper. Check out my results to the right. I think I'll do this with every book from now on. It took me a few days because I had to brain storm to fill in some of the gaps. I knew the major plot points, so I wrote those in but then there were still a lot of gaps. Filling in the chapters between was tough, and that was just getting one sentence down. Once I had this chapter outline done I could see the entire book on one page. This is awesome! I can see that everything is in the right place according to the story structure I've been studying. I knew I wanted my book to be short, about 60,000 words. I also knew I wanted each chapter to be short at around 2,500 words. So that gave me 24 chapters. From there I know that the 25% mark of my novel where I move from Act I to Act II is at the end of chapter 6. Right now I'm fleshing out chapters 5 and 6 to get there because in my outline I made it too easy for them to escape from the underground research facility. This was like putting together a puzzle, and while it took a lot of brain storming it was really fun and I'd much rather figure this story stuff out now rather than while writing the story. They say to try all different kinds of writing, outlining, no outline, but I've come to discover I'm definitely an outliner. I enjoy writing so much more when I know where I'm going. It shouldn't be a surprise - that's what I'm like with everything else in life. I like to have everything planned out in advance before making the first move. What about you writers out there? Are you an outliner or a seat of your pants kind of writer? Thanks for stopping by.


  1. DAN!

    I do something very similar (and have for years). My process has evolved off the page and into Scrivener. Now what I do is create a new project (currently working Giant-Robot Planetary Competition) and once I have my project, I'll figure ~40 chapters. I'll start with adding 40 new files in my document numbers 1-40. Then I'll go into scrivenings view and I'll add one line for each chapter that sums up that chapter.

    THEN I'll decide if I need to go back and flesh anything out. At this time I'll come up with names for places (restaurants, hotels, people, space stations, equipment, etc). Things that i know will slow me down when I'm really writing fast.

    Next, I'll figure out if I'm going in the direction I want my story to go. Is there enough tension, is the 'big reveal' big enough. Is there enough action (or too much). Having this one line view helps enormously (as I'm sure you'll find out). At this time (as you said) I can decide if I need to flesh something out a little more and expand on that one sentence. Or, am I ready to rock and roll?

    With my latest work I dove in head first. I started on Sunday and I'm already 12,000 words into my first draft. This book is going to be a lot of fun. I've already had to make adjustments and that's what's so wonderful about Scrivener. I can just retype the one sentence for a chapter, or add notes to that one sentence (need to reveal x in this chapter and reference is in chapter y).

    I highly recommend Scrivener. It's done wonders for my thought process and productivity :)

    I hope the kids are doing well!


    1. Hi Jay! Cool! Your process sounds awesome. It is so powerful to be able to look at your whole book at once. I think it's really what I need to be able to craft a plot that will produce a story worth publishing. My last three novels need so much restructuring that they'll probably stay trunked for a long time and then someday I'll use them to create a new outline this way and start from scratch with a rewrite. I will definitely be buying Scrivener. My Macbook just died so it'll have to wait, but for now I took each sentence and expanded it into a chapter if need and like you said the writing went really fast because I knew where I was going. Thank you so much for your awesome comments and for asking about the kids. They're finally all healthy and doing great. They've been cooped up for so long so we're going to a hotel in town tonight to swim in the pool, hang out, and just get away for a night with them. I never had a chance to try and hit 3K words in one night like we talked about on Twitter, but I'll shoot for it next week :)