Faster Writing Through Organization
As a new writer, one thing I noticed early on was that prolific authors stay in our memories more. We see their names, buy their books, and as a result, they make more money. In my quest to be an author, I quickly realized that I don’t write fast. My first two books took over two years (each) to write. One, because I didn’t write daily and two, because I didn’t always know where my plot headed.
When I prepared to write my third book, I knew things needed
to change in my writing process. Both in pre-planning the book and daily
writing. After all, one book every two years isn’t *exactly* prolific.
At first, I identified the major plot points of my story and wrote to each. But it was those gray areas in between that really bogged down my writing time. To speed things up, I took a hard look at each step of my writing and focused on five major points:
- Really know your characters
- Plot a course to follow
- Envision each scene
- Leave room for changes
- Write every day
When writing multiple stories, we must actively work to make each
character individual and three-dimensional or we fall into the trap of every
hero or heroine sounding exactly the same as all previous books. I’m not
talking about an author’s voice here but about what differentiates our
characters and makes them unique.
I begin with a character sheet for each character, which is of my own making. The important part of my sheet is not to remember what color hair and eyes they have but to highlight those things which make them stand out. How do they deal with surprises that come their way? How do they react? What makes them laugh? What is the one thing they wouldn’t want a mate to know about themselves? How has that event colored their world and what is their reaction to it? What are their goals, motivations, and events that put them into conflict? These are the things I capture on the character sheet. Because once I know how a character reacts to what he or she is comfortable with, I can plot events that make them uncomfortable. THIS is where they grow and change and what keeps a reader coming back for more.
I include physical descriptions and pictures too. They are definitely
important. Jim Butcher names them as tags and traits, noting that every time a
character is on screen, at least one of the tags or traits should be used to
describe the character. Doing so creates a mental link between the reader and
the character, allowing them to quickly recall at the start of the scene who the
Once I know my characters, I focus on plot. Before I begin this section, I must give credit where credit is due. Much of what I learned and will share here come from Cherry Adair, Debra Dixon, and Rachel Aaron. If you ever have an opportunity to take a workshop with of these ladies, I highly recommend it.
When creating a plot, I’ve learned to start with the end and work my way back through the plot. Note the major milestones or turning points that really shape the characters and then intersperse those sections with smaller points of conflict.
I bought a white board, divided it into 20 boxes, and a bunch
of different color sticky notes. The boxes represent chapters of the book and
the colored note pads are for my characters. (e.g. blue for the hero and pink
for the heroine.) I jot down notes of the scenes I can already visualize and
place them on the whiteboard where I think they go. At this point, it is about
getting scenes down, and allowing the ideas to flow, not about proper
I go back to my character sheets and develop scenes that
force my characters out of their comfort zones, pushing them to face some fact
about themselves or their beliefs that may need to change in order for them to
grow. Finally, I fill in the gaps on the board with sequels – those moments
between scenes where the characters emotionally react to what they just
experienced. (Scenes are where the action happens; sequels are where the
characters emotionally act, regroup, and make a new plan.)
The result is a multi-colored board, which is a basic road map to the end of the story. As with most maps, sometimes you get on the road and have to detour, but this at least gives me a place to start and the major points I want to visit along the way.
Once my board and characters are set, I’m ready to write. At the beginning of each scene or sequel, I answer a few questions to help me focus what I am writing utilizing my plot sticky notes. If it is a scene, I note what the action is. Who is the focal character? What are their goals for the scene? And most importantly, who doesn’t want them to reach the goal and what are they going to do about it?
For sequels, my questions relate more to the emotional
aspect. I start with the focal character and their immediate reactions to the
events that transpired the last time they were on stage. What is their
emotional reaction and why is it so strong? As humans, we review a scenario,
try to understand what happened, and reason through what to do next. New plan!
Or in some cases… plans. If I have conflicting plans, what are the potential results
of each? By noting down these answers, I’ve focused my characters thoughts into
a few sentences that I can build upon.
I spend 10-20 minutes on the scene/sequel questions, just long enough to get down the idea, and add in any relevant details about setting, then I’m ready to write!
And speaking of writing, nearly every writer I’ve ever met
has had a character throw them a curve they never saw coming. Sometimes a plot
twist comes so far out of left field that it’s not even on the same continent
as your plot notes. Maybe the twist makes so much sense, you gleefully jump
into it and rework your plot from that moment on. That’s okay. If it makes
sense with what you’ve already written, if you realize you’ve subconsciously
been planting clues for this all along, then go for it. Trust your character to
know what is best. You have to leave room for these twists that keep your
writing fresh. They aren’t predictable, but organic to the character and world
On the other hand, if your heroine’s elderly aunt has just been kidnapped by the madman and your hero says now is a *great* time for a love scene with the heroine… don’t listen. The timing is all wrong and the reader won’t believe that they are taking a nookie break instead of racing after the much-loved aunt.
Finally, write every day. This was a tough one for me (and
sometimes still is). The only way I’ve successfully done so is to schedule a
specific writing time daily and have a friend meet me online each day for
accountability. (You rock, Dragon!) We meet for a two-hour time block and check
in on the half hour to see how writing progresses.
Putting these five steps into play has already increased the
speed with which I write. For example, on my current story, I’ve put in 81
writing days and have 265 pages complete. By comparison with my last book, at
81 writing days I only had 230 pages complete. That’s an increase of 15%. Could
I increase that even more if I dedicated more time to the book and eliminated
the meantime, I will continue to tweak my writing process to make it work for
me. Will these steps work for you to increase your writing output? Perhaps.
Give each a try and discard what doesn’t work for you. After all, there is no “right
way” to write. Not every process works for every person. As authors, our process
is usually a mishmash of others’ ideas mingled with our own. For me, writing
faster required better organization at the beginning of each step in the
Cherry Adair’s Plotting by Color: http://www.cherryadair.com/Plotting_By_Color.html
Jim Butcher’s Writing Blog: http://jimbutcher.livejournal.com/ (Read 9/21/2004 to 11/3/2011)
Debra Dixon’s Goal, Motivation, & Conflict: http://www.debradixon.com/books/gmc.html
Rachel Aaron’s 2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love: http://rachelaaron.net/series.php?SID=4