Sunday, November 28, 2010

A Process For Writing

Just finished teaching another online class and I'm posting an outline of steps, with links, that I compiled for my class that suggests an orderly process of writing, so that it's here for anyone else who might be able to use it.

Hope everyone had a great holiday and a great Nano.

- Alex



1. First, before you start a project, even if you already have a great idea that you’re committed to, it really helps to allow yourself to do free-form brainstorming, to see what themes and characters are rolling around in your head that might just help you with the new project. And if you don’t have that great idea yet, this is the way to uncover it.

- First, You Need An Idea

2. Take a stab at writing the premise. You may not know what it is exactly, yet – that’s fine!

- What’s Your Premise?

3. See if you can identify what KIND of story it is. Again, you may not know this at early stages – don’t worry about it! Just ask the question of yourself, and keep alert for the answer.

- What KIND of Story Is It?

4. Make a Master List of movies and books in the genre of your new project, and that are structurally similar to your project (the same KIND or type of story).

- Analyzing Your Master List

5. Pick at least three of them that are MOST SIMILAR to your own story and watch them, doing a detailed story breakdown, identifying the key Story Elements, Acts, Sequences, Climaxes, etc. I really urge you to put some thought into which movies will be of the most use to your own story and not just do breakdowns for the sake of doing them – that’s fun, but it’s not the point.

- Three Act Structure Review

- The Three-Act, Eight Sequence Structure

6. At the same time, start generating index cards for your own story. Write every scene that you know or imagine in the story on index cards and stick them on a structure grid if you have a vague idea where that scene goes. Write cards for the climaxes and story elements even if you don’t know specifically what they are, yet. Allow yourself to be inspired by the movies you’re watching – let the movies show you what scenes are missing in your own story.

- The Index Card Method and Structure Grid

- Story Elements Checklist for Generating Index Cards

7. Also do word lists of visual and thematic elements for your story to start building your image systems. Start a collage book or online clip file of images if that appeals to you.

- Thematic Image Systems

8. Work back and forth between the index cards and your growing on paper or in file outline of the story. Write whole scenes out when you are inspired. Flesh out the acts by reviewing the elements of each act:

- Elements of Act One

- Elements of Act Two, Part 1

- Elements of Act Two, Part 2

- Elements of Act Three

- What Makes A Great Climax?

- Elevate Your Ending

- Creating Character

9. As you continue to work the index cards, your sequences and act climaxes will become clearer to you. These will also probably change during the writing process – that’s fine! The goal of the cards and the initial outline is a road map to help your subconscious out when you’re doing that endless slog of a first draft.

10. As you find out more about your story, write the premise again, and make sure you have identified and understand the Plan and Central Story Action.

- Plan, Central Question, Central Story Action

- What's the Plan?

- Plan, Central Question, Central Story Action, part 2

11. When you’re ready to start writing from the beginning then write. Set a writing schedule and stick to it – you can sacrifice one hour of TV or playing on Facebook a night. Professional authors are people who understand that TV and social networking are the biggest waste of writing time on the planet. Do you want to veg, or do you want to create? The choice is yours.

12. Keep moving forward – DO NOT go back and endlessly revise your first chapters. You may end up throwing them out anyway. Just move forward. If you’re stuck on a scene, write down vaguely what might happen in it or where it might happen as a place marker and move on to a scene you know better. The first draft can be just a sketch – the important thing is to get it all down, from beginning to end. Then you can start to layer in all the other stuff.

13. When you’re stuck - make a list.

- Stuck? Make A List.

14. Remember that the first draft is always going to suck.

- Your First Draft Is Always Going To Suck

15. You can always watch movies and do breakdowns to inspire you and break you through a block.

16. When you reach THE END – celebrate! Most people never get anywhere near that far in their whole lives. Take several weeks off for perspective, no matter how much you want to jump back into it.

17. Then when your brain is clear, do a read through as suggested here to see what the story is that you wrote (as opposed to what you THOUGHT you were writing. Then start the rewriting process. Definitely do a re-carding of the whole story – it will have changed!

- Top Ten Things I Know About Rewriting


I have succumbed and put the Screenwriting Tricks workbook up for Nook and on Smashwords, where yes, you can finally download it as a pdf file or whatever format you want. Any version - $2.99!

- Smashwords (includes pdf and online viewing)

- Kindle

- Barnes & Noble/Nook

- Amazon UK

- Amaxon DE (Eur. 2.40)


Joylene Nowell Butler said...

I've got your webpage link on fast click. It's gotten so whenever someone says they're going to write a book, or want to, but don't know how, I just fast click them an email with your link. You should change your name to Master Writer Alex. Nah. I'll think up something better.

Great post, Alex. Full of excellent tools. Thank you.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

They always say the teacher learns more than the student. Thanks for posting the writing process checklist.
And I crested 50,000 words today for NaNo.

Saumya said...

Such incredible advice as always! I linked to your blog on mine. Thank you so much for always sharing your wisdom.

Lisa Mondello said...

The class has been amazing, Alex. At times I felt a little overwhelmed, but only because there was so much and I wanted to learn it all! I'm really looking forward to going back through these links and notes I got from class. Thank you!!

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Good job, Alex! 50 K in a month is amazing, I'm in awe.

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Thanks, Saumya. It's funny how many people DON'T get it - that in the time they spend on Facebook or watching TV, they could easily have written a book a year. At least.

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Lisa, it's been fantastic to have you - thanks for all your great work and insights.

laughingwolf said...

with a murder in my apartment building early friday morning, i'm still so shook up i can barely think... but appreciate your kind advice and tips!

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Tony, how awful, I'm so sorry.

laughingwolf said...

thx alex, i knew the victim... one of the most gentle i've met... info on my blog, if you'd like to peruse

Brenda Janowitz said...

Thanks for a great class, Alex! I love your book and I love this blog. Can't wait to get involved in the discussion over here!

fotsgreg said...

I failed. I got 23,500 words and I advanced my plot significantly, but Hell Week at Walmart blew my chances of finishing out if the water -but I knew it would.

I figure I can have the WIP finished now by Christmas, maybe the first half of January if I work hard.

I'm actually happy as I advanced it by almost 12k words over where it had sat for quite awhile.

Lola Sharp said...

I'm with Joylene...I send your link to a lot of new writers. You have one of the best blogs for writers and I hope you are being thanked enough. Or at least enjoying lots of good juju/karma. :)

Happy Weekend,

Karen Elizabeth Brown said...

I've just discovered your blog and am waist deep in alligators biting at my brain! In other words, there's a lot of rich material here for me to work with and I'm thankful you are sharing this with us. I especially like the developing characters post. But I have much work to do, so back to the drawing board!

Karen Elizabeth Brown said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Lola Sharp said...

I swear I left a comment here this morning. (?) Either blogger ate it, or I'm losing my marbles. (either/both are possible)

Anyway, I said something similar to Joylene's comment, in that I often direct people to this site, especially new writers.
Thanks for being you and posting so much excellent information for writers.


Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Greg, that's a huge chunk of writing! Not a failure at all.

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Lola, thank YOU. It's always nice to hear. Glad it's working for you.

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Karen, you're very welcome. Alligators biting at your brain... that's definitely how I feel today.