Wednesday, August 3, 2016

90-day Challenge: Not a Pantser, Not a Plotter

Deb McLeod's 90 Day Novel Challenge
By: Deb McLeod

If you saw my previous post, you know I created a challenge for myself to write a romance in ninety days. Nowadays writers need a way to put out content fast. So, as a writing coach with years of experience studying and honing the writing process for myself and my clients, I decided we were all taking far too long to finish. Especially me!

So I selected a genre I wanted to write in and outlined a process using all the tools I’ve collected or created in my career. The process broke down like this:
30 days to plot
30 days to write
30 days to revise
30 Days to Plot
Part of my process for plotting uses Blake Snyder’s beat sheets to plot the story arc and the character transformation. I wanted to write a dual narrative, so I did a loose beat sheet for each character to track how the plot will challenge and change their character flaw and allow them to seek out and accept love. This is a romance so that arc is the driving arc of the story. And for me, plotting the internal change is far easier to plot than the external challenge that weaves around the two protagonists and keeps them together long enough to fall in love.

Discovery: I work best when I pace my plotting and weave it during the writing phase.

I learn about character through writing scenes. By the time I plotted to the midpoint, I felt I didn’t know enough about each character to pull me through the hardest section to plot - the second half of the second scene.

I learn about plot through the ideas that come to me when I write scenes. As I write and the scene surprises me it might suggest a way to play something out later or the need to set up something earlier. This affects both the plotting and the revision.

I really like to plot in chains. I like to figure out a section at a time. Then write it and ride the riff so to speak to see what comes up as I’m writing. Then the next section is easier to figure out rather than trying to plot it cold.

Originally I’d thought I’d plot the entire book out and then go back to write it. But for me, the second half of the second act is where it gets always gets hard. And writing scenes contain so much discovery of both character and plot that it felt a waste to force the plot that might change as soon as I started writing. So I shifted gears.

It made sense to plot through the midpoint so I would know what I was writing towards. And by the time I caught up to the plot, I might know better what I have to work with in the second half of the second act when the characters begin to be squeezed.

So I stopped plotting at midpoint and started writing. I continued plotting between times as I got an idea or as one of the characters revealed something useful. When I caught the writing up to the midpoint, I took a day to plot out the rest.

Now that I’m there, I’m changing the plot as I go. Like this morning. My characters took over yesterday. What was supposed to be a kiss scene turned into something much hotter and more involved. Then today I had to rework the last scenes – I have 12 more to go – in order to figure out a way to keep them apart till the end of the book.

Discovery: Not a pantser, not a plotter. I can use the best of pantsing and plotting to reach my goal.

Does that make me a plotster? A panter?

30 Days to Write
I am shooting for a 60k word novel so during the writing month I would need to write 2000 words per day.

That’s not that big of a deal any more. I’ve started pushing my daily word counts the last few years. And I write more than 50,000 words for NaNo month every year. If you’ve succeeded during NaNo, you can see that every year you win, it becomes easier to win the next time.

But for this challenge, I deliberately worked against the NaNoWriMo adage I’ve always used – just get the words on paper. When I do NaNo each year, I plot, I write, I develop character and I count all those words toward my 50k.

In my coaching practice, my clients learn to challenge their process – or change the challenge. In our freewriting practice, for instance, once a 30-minute timed writing is easy, then the idea is to challenge yourself to do forty-five, or twenty. It’s the change that keeps the writing fresh.

So with my 90-day challenge I decided to count only finished scene words. I wanted my scenes to be like the ones I might take to a critique group. Not the slap-dash of a first draft or what I produce during NaNo. Because plotting days and revision days are part of the challenge so wherever I can cut time out of the process, I need to try.

Discovery: With the 90-day public deadline and the need to get the scenes down right the first time in order to save time on the revision, my scenes are coming in cleaner on the first try.

Writing really is exercising a certain kind of muscle. And it’s trainable.

30 Days to Revise
I’m not at the revision stage yet, but I’m already jotting revision notes at the top of scenes I already wrote. When the plot veers I go back to the pertinent scenes and make highlighted notes at the top of the scene so I can revise later.

Then, just today, I found “Romancing the Beat: Story Structure for Romance Novels” by Gwen Hayes. So I’ve taken the entire day to look at the plot and rework scenes that don’t fit into the beat structure she lays out. My plot did fit Snyder’s Beats, so I’m not that far off, but I can see now I was drifting to focus on the external arc and letting the romance arc slide. After comparing what I had to what she lays out for a romance, I’m with her on her beats.

I haven’t attempted romance in years. It was great to find out that I’m good on the beats until almost midpoint. Then… So it’s back to the plot for a bit while I figure this out. But I’m ahead of schedule and this will save me time in the revision stage.

The takeaway from the challenge so far
My clients, who are watching and cheering from the sidelines, are beginning to look at their own process. They know that this will be my next course offering and I’m going to challenge them to try it. So I’ll issue a challenge here to you – how well do you know your process? How much have you challenged your process and tried something new?

Here are my stats at day 36 so you can see where I spent time and what I achieved:
  • Total days spent on the project so far: 36 days
  • Average time spent per day: 3 hours
  • Exclusive days spent on character development: 3 days
  • Exclusive days spent on plotting the arc: 9 days
  • Plotting scenes and writing: 24 days
  • Word total for finished scenes: 39,444
  • See you next month when I’ll be in the middle of the revision.

About the Author: Deb McLeod, MFA, practices novel research immersion. For her novel, The Train to Pescara, Deb journeyed to Sardinia to study ancient goddess worship and spent time in the Abruzzi village her great-grandparents left in 1905. Her metaphysical knowledge for the Angel Thriller, The Julia Set, culminates from four years of studying and teaching meditation, clairvoyance and chakra healing. For over fifteen years, Deb McLeod has been a creative writing coach helping other writers to embrace their passion and get their words on the page. For more, 

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