Wednesday Writers Wisdom: From Idea to First Draft by Julia Allen
What is Wednesday Writers Wisdom?
I’m glad you asked. I originally started this series to share writing advice with other writers, especially beginning writers. I know when I first started writing again in 2010, I needed a lot of help. So, thus WWW was born. You can expect to find writing advice shared by me, other #ourwriteside authors, and guest authors. Our emails are always available for question suggestions as well. I’d like to start the conversation and answer those questions you must have answers to. After all, this isn’t just OUR Write Side, but it’s Yours, too.
Our Wednesday Writers Wisdom comes to you today from Julia Allen, a fantastic writer we discovered in Facebook groups. She started her own blog recently sharing weekly writing advice and agreed to write a special one for us. Today she is discussion the process of writing from idea to completing your first draft.
Julia Allen received her BA in Creative Writing and English from Michigan State University. She did her senior thesis in poetry under the tutelage of Diane Wakoski, but has been focused primarily on fiction as of late. Common writing themes that can be found in her work address identity and the type of strength that can be found in ordinary people. Julia is currently working on a Young Adult fiction novel and can be found at local cafes in her hometown when writing, and painting, drawing, or reading when not.
From Idea to First Draft
When I was offered this chance to guest blog, I worried about what to talk about. My blog picks a different aspect of writing to focus on, but I wanted this blog to be a little different. So, I decided to make this more personal and talk about my writing process and how I got my WiP from idea to finished first draft.
I’ll start out by saying I’ve been writing stories, songs, and poems since I could write. I’ve started countless short stories and dozens of novel ideas, but I never managed to finish anything longer than a poem. My novels would peter out, lose steam, and writer’s block would rear its nasty little head. I was a religious pantser. I couldn’t even fathom doing an outline and often had no idea what was going to happen next, let alone at the end. That was my method, unbridled chaos. And I never finished a story.
Two years ago, I was reformed. I began to take my writing and my dedication to writing more seriously. I read about different outlines and planning processes to use for mapping out my story and decided to try them. I bought packs of index cards and sat down to outline my story idea, to make decisions on plot points, to define my characters, and to discover the ending of my WiP.
I wrote detailed character sketches for each main character (any character that affected the plot), including backstory and personality type. I wrote less detailed sketches for every other character. However, all these sketches included character motivations and goals, their weaknesses and flaws, and idiosyncrasies and quirks that made them human and relatable. (For more on building characters, see my blog post on characters.
Most importantly I made a scene list and it changed my life. I advocate using index cards for this step because you can shuffle them around as you discover the order of your scenes and you can add or remove any easily as your plot figures itself out. And it’s a simple process, you make a card for every scene in your story. I always made my cards using a two sentence format; one sentence to explain what action is happening (Bill meets Susan), the other to state what conflict that action causes (Jenny gets jealous and bullies Susan).
Scene lists help you in multiple and fabulous ways. They allow you to see any plot holes in your story or missing action before you begin writing. They help you decide the pacing of your story and find where you’re lacking excitement. And most importantly, they help you to actually write the scenes. You can even write scenes out of order since you know what happens in each one. This is how I chose to write my first draft since it kept me from getting writer’s block. I knew everything that I needed to happen and when, so if I ever got stuck, I could tackle any other scene and come back to my problem scene later with fresh eyes. I had the freedom to write whatever inspired me that day, leading to better writing and stronger scenes. I knew what I needed to do in each scene, which meant less rewriting and less wasted time. Using my scene list I was able to complete my first ever finished first draft in around six months. My scene list and planning made this miraculous feat possible.
Planning beforehand may not sound like loads of fun, or it may even intimidate you, but it saves the agony of starting over because you changed the plot half way through, it keeps writer’s block in the timeout corner where it belongs because you always know what you’re writing, and it will make for stronger stories and less rewrites since you know how you’re getting from A to Z and every stop in between.
My final tip for your scene list is to add the goals of what your scene should achieve (show budding relationship between Jon and Mary, reveal Tom’s evil plan, show inciting incident, etc.) The more clearly you have the scene in your mind before you begin, the easier they’ll write themselves.
Are you a pantser or a plotter? Did I change your mind? Comment your process below and visit me at hijinksblog for weekly tips. Happy writing!