If your muse is the spirit that gives you a perfect story to write, what is it that let’s you crank out a rough first draft quickly?
Is it a pulp fiction muse? No. Pulp fiction stops at the first draft. The rest of us turn our fast, unedited, mixed-quality first drafts into good material by revising.
Your amuse? Maybe.
Asocial is a lack of interest in being social.
Atheist is a lack of interest in theism. (Or at least it should be.)
Amuse is a lack of interest in your muse.
Are you trying to write and your muse isn’t helping? Better get help from your amuse. Your amuse doesn’t care about a perfect story. If it doesn’t know what happens next, it might write “something magical happens” and move on. When your amuse sees too many directions for the story, it may write a paragraph on several of those directions and then keep writing the story that follows. Your amuse doesn’t care how much mess is left behind for the second draft.
The amuse finds it funny to make a mess of things. It would rather make a mess than not move forward. The amuse is amusing.
Of course, the amuse is nothing new. I’m just putting a name on writing with your editor turned off. I once heard a story about a high school English teacher who rarely had a student that was able to finish writing a novel as their term paper. Forgive me if you’ve heard the original and I’ve changed it. It was a long time ago. What I remember well about the story was her experiment to get those term papers done. She changed the assignment. They no longer needed to write a novel. They needed to write a bad novel. The competition was to write the worst novel ever written.
Every student wrote a novel that year. They probably were some of the worst novels ever written, but they gotten written.
I tried to make a list of all the books I’d read once. It was over 2000 titles long when I realized there was a problem. There were some authors where I’d read dozens of their books and didn’t recognize a single summary when I looked them up. For other authors, I remembered every single book. What’s the difference between the two? That’s hard to say given I don’t remember one type, but I’ll make a guess.
There are some authors whose books you can read very fast because the story is simple. We follow one character or group pursuing a single goal. All the story complications have to do with that single goal. You can zip through the story quickly and forget it just as quick. Nothing wrong with that. Some authors build successful careers on that writing style. I’m not even suggesting you shouldn’t use that style.
There are other authors whose books you can’t read fast. The people in their stories have their own motivations and don’t cooperate with the central story. In other words, the novels have subplots. These are the 2000 plus books I remembered well. Sub-plots make a story unique and more realistic.
Nobody has a favorite book that has no sub-plots unless it’s a favorite book from childhood. Adult novels that are simple quick reads are too much like other books in their genre. They are forgettable.
As an example, I’d like to talk about the plots of a few favorite books. Recent research has found that knowing the plot of a story doesn’t ruin a story. Even knowing the ending won’t stop you from enjoying a book. Still, I will hold back the endings.
I said I wouldn’t write more “Novel Report” posts. If you’re writing a first novel, the story of my progress is probably interesting enough that I should write something about it. If not, you can skip past the italic text to the main article.
My final revision (a fourth revision) took less than a month. I moved on to a proofreading review and found a fair number of spelling errors, missing and extra words, and unclear sentences to re-write. My manuscript then went out to three early readers for their review. I’ve considered their recommendations and made changes where it seemed apt. What still remains to be done is the book cover, the e-book formatting, and short stories for promotion.
I included my second try at a book cover with the review copies. My first reader liked the cover. I do not. I’m working on a third.
The e-book formatting appears fairly easy. I already format my word processor documents without white space because I learned technical writing for my job. I learned html and css before I started blogging as part of my computer studies. The guides I’ve found have been all over the place. I’ve been doing lots of trial and error and creating my own process.
The short stories are not zipping along as quickly as I’d like. I have 20 in the works. Four of them now have the outline ready to go, so those will be written and posted on my Killer Stories blog shortly. I could write them faster if I’d use a plot formula, but where’s the fun in that?
I now return you to your irregularly scheduled blog post.
As you know from reading the blog, I’m all about learning to write faster. One way to accomplish that is avoiding re-writes. My current novel is at about 107,000 words instead of falling short like earlier ones. I give all the credit to writing an outline first. The recommended outline length is one tenth the length of your novel. The original outline for “Book 5” came to about eight thousand words, so the novel was a little short in the early revisions. What have I learned about planning a novel? What’s my plan for the next novel?
When you set out to write a book, it starts with an idea. It bounces around in your head for minutes, days, or months as it becomes a story. When you’ve thought the idea through to your satisfaction, you write a synopsis of one or more pages. You then expand that synopsis into a chapter by chapter outline. That can be all you need to write your book. But, you shouldn’t stop there. Break each chapter down into scenes.
Why would you want to plan your outline down to the scene level?
By writing the scenes for your chapters you will accomplish four things.
1. You limit how far your first draft moves away from the outline.
2. You will have an easy way to check that each chapter advances the story.
3. You give yourself a way to check that each chapter has tension.
4. You give yourself an easy way to revise the novel before you write it.
What am I talking about here? Maybe you write your outline as scenes anyway. If so, you already write a good outline. The longer your outline, the stronger it will be. A weak outline is short because the scenes aren’t written.
How about an example?
When I had this article idea, I believed police procedurals were descriptions of the methods used by police to investigate crime. That’s only partly true. Police procedurals are a genre of detective fiction that follows actual police procedures.
If you are only going to follow one detective in your book, you can almost dispense with proper procedures. Some detectives ignore the rules. In making your protagonist true to life, they will follow their own path. On the other hand, they will still need to work with a police force.
It’s sometimes said that dialog must get right to the point so that you can get back to the story. Nothing is happening while the characters are talking. Of course, that’s not true. Ideas are being kicked around. Decisions are being made. Side stories are being told. Good dialog advances the story.
When critics complain about dialog, what they are unhappy with are two person debates that don’t go anywhere. Those are arguments along the lines of “Is not” “Is too” but more complex. Discussions like that show up in some stories because the writer finds it easy to write. It makes the pages of a first draft fly by. Smart writers omit useless dialog.
The dialog in good books serves many purposes.
Multiple first person is one of the most difficult points of view you can use in a novel. You keep saying “I” and that makes you think of yourself as the same person while you write both first person stories. They can sound like the same person to your readers too. That’s not good. The first problem is that the first person narrator should not be you when you write fiction. After getting around that problem, you need a way to make sure that your two first person narrators are different variations of not you.
Let’s start with a bit about who the first person narrator really is.
Setting in fiction is a combination of time and place. Setting shows the context of your story. A murder mystery, for example, will be very different between present day New York and 1855 Edo.
How much setting plays a part in your story is up to you. You can keep it light, mention the place and time, and let your readers fill in the details. Or you can rely heavily on setting, fill in all the details, and force your readers to see exactly what you see. The more your setting is away from the everyday, the more description you will need. For example, if it’s in 1855 Edo, you will need loads of detail.
Are you a seat-of-your-pants novelist? Have you found that your first draft is full of problems and plot-holes? You’ve discovered the reason why writing with a plan is so popular. Don’t give up. It’s not too late. You can make plans after writing the first draft and use them to fix your story. Good planning documents will make it easier to find your place and fix those problems even now.
Without summary documents, you would need to search your entire manuscript every time you needed to make a change. That’s no fun. The two documents I describe below will take time to create but save time in the long run. Let’s do this step by step.