Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Grabbing the bull by the horns

Overheard at my dinner table:
Dad: You just gotta grab the bull by the horns.
Son #2: And do a flip onto it, and ride it on home. (laughs)
Son #1: (shakes head) Little kids are so literal.

Well, maybe I'm literal too, but when I saw the book First Draft in 30 days by Karen Wiesner, I thought, "Who wouldn't want that?" and bought it from the title alone. The fact that my familiy was (very) ready to leave the bookstore may have been a factor, but either way, on that day I became the newest author to fall for a get-a-book-quick scheme. :)

Upon closer perusal of my new treasure, I discovered that Wiesner's method doesn't actually produce a manuscript in 30 days, but rather a detailed outline from which you can produce a fairly painless, solid, semi-final draft. Okay, that sounds more reasonable. And, more what I need anyway, because I haven't thought too much about outlines since my junior high school days. I did create an outline for my first novel (and the whole series) but that was a simple roman-numeral plot sequence outline. Since then, other than a little dabbling in the snowflake method, I have been acting as a seat-of-the-pants discovery writer even though I know it doesn't suit me. Yes, I'm messed up. Moving on.

Wiesner's outline method includes way more than just plot; it has multiple days dedicated to research, character sketches, setting descriptions, and more. I've dabbled in these things, too, but without structure or order to them.

So, in grabbing a catchy title on my way out of the bookstore, I have stumbled upon a book that may be perfectly suited to shoring up my writing weaknesses. Giving structure, sequence and even deadlines to my pre-writing.

So how extensive do you make your pre-writing phase? Do you outline plot, do extensive research, do character and setting sketches and more? And what is the more?

And... how important do you find these steps in helping you create your masterpiece?

P.S. I have been away from novel writing for more than a year, but am planning to grab the bull by the horns, do a flip onto it, and ride it home. If all goes as planned and I don't get gored, I'll have a spiffy super-outline by November, and I can do NaNoWriMo this year to produce the manuscript itself. I'll let you know how the whole experiment goes. Oh, and I'm not affiliated with Ms. Wiesner or her book in any way. Just sharing!

Write on,

Amber M of Mindsbase


  1. Amber, it sounds like a great book! I love books like that, that get you motivated and give you new ideas. I do a very basic plot outline to start with, and jump right into character sketches and researching. Then I embellish my plot. Yup, I use the Snowflake Method now, and I love it! I've used it on my last few stories. I also fill a 3-ring binder with tabbed pages. The first tab reads: beginning, the second reads: middle, and the third reads: ending. Any new ideas I get for my story (while I'm out and about)go into the appropriate area. I also use the back tabs for research and separate it into setting, characters, ideas, etc. This usually takes a week or two. The fun begins when I get to dive right into writing the actual story. By the way NaNoWriMo rocks! It really is a great motivator to get going, and make some serious headway. Best of luck and great post!

  2. Thanks for the post, Amber! May that bull take you all the way home.

    I find I like doing a first draft without much pre-planning, maybe a quick sketch of the internal and external conflicts for my two most major characters. Once I've downloaded all the scene work my brain has cooked up since my last drafting session, I'll take out my notebook and do the world building, character building, and research that goes along with what I'm drafting. I find I don't have the patience to get everything together before I start drafting, nor do I even know what I might or might not need. For me, if there's no prose on paper, there's nothing. I can't outline in empty space.

  3. If all goes as planned and I don't get gored,

    LOL! I'm a hyper planner, doing chapter-by-chapter page-long outlines, but it wasn't ever thus. I've pantsed a novel or two as well. I think the creative process works better when it's structured, but not caged, if you know what I mean. But I also do a ton of research, both while I'm outlining and while I'm writing - my stories tend to be world-driven first, then character-driven. I may reverse that for my next series, though! Always working to improve my process, if I can... sounds like you are too!

  4. That sounds like a great book. I need to find a better balance between pantsing and planning. I plan and plot and get to know my characters before hand, but not enough. I do enough to get me through about the first half of the book, and then I take off writing. The only problem is I hit that middle and stall out because I don't know enough about my world and its culture and minor characters to keep going. And by then I don't want to plan and plot and character build. I want to keep writing and finish the dang thing. I think it's a case of an ounce of prevention would be better than a pound of cure. Because I've rewritten my first half of my current WIP about four times and I still haven't written the end.

    1. AND I'm so excited you are back. I've missed you. :)

  5. I also read that book for the same reasons you Picked it up. Good marketing on the title! Like what you said about it helping you. At storymakers there lots of talk was about Save the Cat. A similar how do I organize this mess in my head book. Always find other author's expertise helpful.


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