Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Ask Us Anything About #Writing Part 2


Last month, we started our new Ask Us Anything About #Writing feature with Amy Shamroe, a novelist-in-the-making. 

Our Blogging Team continues to answer her questions with this important one! 


Is it better to just get scenes/plot points down and come back and fill in details or to spend time on everything you write in the moment? (i.e., get it all down NaNoWriMo style and go back and bulk it out or maybe spend two days on two pages getting it all down)...

The better way is the way that gets your story finished. I like developing outlines that are a bit in-depth with notes about what happens in particular scenes, things characters say and do, etc. Doing this gives me visuals to jump into when I begin writing the story in earnest.

For a beginning writer, I would highly suggest learning to plot to start with - simply because this will save you time in the long run. Experienced writers who write to a "formula" (eg., genre conventions, like a cozy murder mystery or a romance which each have certain steps that tend to fall into place and everything else just fits around that framework) can get away with just letting it unfold as they write, because their minds are filling in the structure and characterization behind the scenes. But if you were to mess up in the first draft because you hadn't planned it out well enough, that means a lot of editing and rewriting much of the book when you could be working on the next book in the series instead. I recommend studying the books "Save the Cat Writes a Novel" and Gail Carriger's "The Heroine's Journey" to get a solid handle on plotting.

Plot? What means plot?

A patch of dirt in a graveyard with a headstone on it? 😅
I am big into some form of outline with basic plot points. Divided into three "acts".

Oh, I'm so done with not outlining properly. Retrofitting an outline into a manuscript that's already written is a total pain.

Back-outlining is a great exercise though.

Yep, eye-opening. But the cutting and rewriting that goes with it: not so much fun.

I believe in the conflict outline and the bare bones plot. There is no point wasting time on characters, plot devices, descriptions, line editing, and proof reading for it only to get cut later. Better to “imagine” your way through the basic bones then go back and flesh them out once you have a solid skeleton.

My suggestion, and one I tell my editing clients, is to get the story down first. Write forward as long as the creative juices are flowing. Refining the story and the prose come in the second and third drafts. Don't shortchange your baby by only writing one draft and considering it done. So much can improve with careful rewrites. Choosing new refreshing words and phrases instead of the first ones that come to mind. Cleaning up awkward dialogue. And plugging up holes in the plot. But first get the story down.

Hmmm. Lots of interesting responses here! I start with a synopsis... usually five to ten pages that is mostly "here is the plot." Then I dive in and see where the writing takes me. Usually I follow the synopsis for a while and then... something unexpected happens! Oh boy!... and off I go, four-wheeling into uncharted territory (occasionally checking the synopsis "road map" to see if I'm more or less heading in more or less the same direction).

The past few books, though, I've been stopping short of halfway to make "chapter notes." These notes are the basic plot/character points I need to hit to reach the end, roughly divided into chapters (usually what happens is what I think will be one chapter ends up being two or even three). Those notes help me deal with the dreaded "muddle in the middle," where I *freeze* and wonder how the heck I got here and how I'm going to get out! 🤣
As for writing individual chapters, I let them flow, and sometimes I stop and research some quick bit I need. Sometimes I mark it with TK (to come) and rush forward.


I write cold and unplanned. I've tried outlining and it doesn't work for me. The downside? I spend a lot more time rewriting and fixing the timeline that a planner does.


I’d like to add a couple of things. I am a big fan of mind maps, maybe even as a preliminary for a more formal outline. And I use paper index cards with reckless abandon, while I am brainstorming, and later when I am writing from day-to-day. If you’re looking to get down the bones fast and furious, I recommend 2K to 10K by Rachel Aaron for excellent tips.

Hope that helps, Amy, and gives you some ideas and incentives to keep throwing out the words! Does anyone else have suggestions for Amy? Please leave us a comment. 

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