Focus & Wayward Scenes

20 Jul

Remy the Cat

Today begins Week Three of the second draft project, and I must say, I am ready to get down to business.  It is dark and stormy here, I’ve had my latte, and my ideas have exploded over the past week.  (Guess I should probably add, they’ve exploded in a good way.  Not exploded, as in, Oh no, now I have a load of worthless junk all over me.)

Last week, I faced – and duly overcame – a dilemma.  During week one, I was focused on getting words on the paper.  I started fresh, and was productive.  Then, somewhere around chapter three, I started thinking, Hmmm…This looks suspiciously like my first draft, except for the first scene.

I love seeing how this writing process unfolds.  The first draft, I wrote straight through, with no outline and no backward glances as I went.  When I finished, it felt fresh and like a good foundation, but it lacked depth and solid roots.  Letting my mind empty on the page provided a wealth of characters and ideas.  

The second draft, though, is not (only) about new ideas – it’s about sifting through the first draft, making sense of themes and adding dimension to characters, which then add credibility to the plot and actions therein.  While my first draft was highly unplanned and free, I fear my novel will never see cohesive, powerful completion if I do not pay meticulous attention to detail.  Hence the second draft process: clearing clutter, narrowing in on the important stuff, and loads of charts, lists, and outlines in place so I can write a focused draft.

So, I pushed pause.  Being a numbers-driven individual, it was hard to step aside from my nifty (and beautiful) word-count-tracking-spreadsheet-extraordinaire.  I focused instead on the character arcs I’ve developed over the past few months, which are much more rich than they were in the first draft.  I crafted a scene chart, which is basically a bunch of color-coded blocks on a spreadsheet, linked by arrows, and functions as a less-wordy outline of sorts (obviously, I’m feeling a bit more loquacious this week due to my charty, non-wordiness last week…).  I worked my way through my notes, section by section, laying out the scenes I definitely need to make those delicious character transformations happen.  Right on schedule, Friday afternoon, I finished it.

It was torturous to wait all weekend to move forward, but I told myself the rest would be a good catalyst to a week of great work.  Now, here I am, Monday morning – so ready to expand those scene-blurbs into full chapters.  I think I have a good structure in place so I can write freely through the scenes, and not waste time on the unnecessary.

I’d love to hear your thoughts, writers, on your experiences.  Do you like outlines?  Do they hold you back or free you up?  


PS: Finally saw Harry Potter.  Loved it, though there were some liberties they took with the story.  Those don’t bother me enough to think the whole movie was ruined.  It was visually exciting and the plot was mainly kept in tact.

PPS: Yes, that is Remy the Cat, at the desk where all my creativity happens.  I kicked him out of my chair, and now he’s snoring on the bed behind me.


11 Responses to “Focus & Wayward Scenes”

  1. jenniferneri Monday / 20 July 09 at 8:11 pm #

    I’ve said it before, but I say it again, Oh how I do miss my cat!

    Really nice post! I love the way you describe your process. has such a calm feel to it 🙂

    To answer your question, I do not follow an outline. I write one up only when I am nearing a final draft and all changes in direction have come to pass. I am sure that by following an outline I would be much more time friendly, however I cannot feel locked in, and I have chaged things too often…I use one to ensure that all is as it should be!

    • owlandsparrow Tuesday / 21 July 09 at 8:49 am #

      Oh, I love your idea – using an outline toward the end, like a checklist of sorts. I hate the feeling of being locked in, too. I’m trying to use my chart as a loose guide, but allow myself to stray from it if I think of other things. I definitely think following an outline exactly would be more time friendly, but would be too afraid of sacrificing the heart of it for the sake of a quick product. 🙂 Thanks for your comment, Jennifer!

  2. waggledance Tuesday / 21 July 09 at 6:23 am #

    I am in awe of your colour-coded spreadsheets and analytical approach, but if it works then it works! Congratulations on getting to second draft stage… I used to be a ‘throw it all down and see what happens’ sort of writer and that still works (mostly) for non-fiction but I’m developing frameworks and outlines for fiction as a way of getting me from start to finish. It’s an exciting journey, don’t you think?

    • owlandsparrow Tuesday / 21 July 09 at 8:57 am #

      Thanks, Waggledance (AWESOME name, by the way. Love it.)! I love the word you used – framework – because it describes most accurately the way I’m trying to organize my thoughts. I’ve got some basic underlying structure, and some ideas that I want to work in, but am not limited to a written-in-stone blueprint. Trouble is, I have so many new ideas for this draft that it’s hard to remember them all without some sort of framework at my side! And I totally agree, it IS an exciting journey! It’s amazing what the mind can come up with sometimes, and the connections it makes. I’ve found myself going, “Hey, where did I get that?!” and feeling totally surprised by a character or an idea. I love the process and it’s really neat to hear how others do it, too. What projects are you working on right now?

      • waggledance Tuesday / 21 July 09 at 2:05 pm #

        Ta muchly re name…am in that betwixt-between zone, trying to decide which half-finished project to, er, finish OR which half-plotted new project to start! I want to do both!!! Nothing like actually finishing something to spur you on, eh?

  3. Laura Best Tuesday / 21 July 09 at 6:32 am #

    Like Jennifer, I don’t use an outline. I often have a vague sense of where the story is going but sometimes that changes along the way depending upon my characters. I don’t like to feel restricted. I know many people use outlines and find it speeds things up but until I really know my characters I can’t be sure what they will do. I found your post very interesting, however. I enjoy reading how others write!!!

    • owlandsparrow Tuesday / 21 July 09 at 9:09 am #

      I totally identify with you here, Laura!! Many of my changes are springing up from getting to know my characters better. I re-read my draft and, so many times, felt like, “Wait – he wouldn’t do/say that!” I thought about what motivated them, how they’d react, and then BOOM – a whole string of changes & new ideas came about. It feels much more credible to listen to the characters instead of forcing them into some preconceived plot!! 🙂 Thanks so much for commenting! I, too, enjoy reading how others write!

  4. Linda Tuesday / 21 July 09 at 8:28 pm #

    I don’t outline, but I do draw up detailed character studies beforehand, and I write a detailed scene list as I go. In revision, as I insert, or move scenes around, I update this list. Having this list also makes it easier to see where I might need to change something to agree with a revision in another scene. It’s also a life saver when I decide to insert a new scene, so I don’t get confused and refer to something in the new scene that the character won’t know until a scene further on.

    • owlandsparrow Tuesday / 21 July 09 at 9:22 pm #

      Great ideas! I am always impressed when people are consistent and detailed with their work – this sounds like a great way to ensure everything is as it should be. This may seem unrelated, but this reminds me of LOST (definitely my TV show of choice). It’s my favorite largely because they have so much going on but never seem to forget what they revealed or when they revealed it. Granted, there are a lot of loose ends for them to tie up, but because they’ve done such an impressive job at weaving the little things together, I trust them to finish the series well. Likewise, your method sounds like a great way to keep track of what you wrote and when in the story you wrote it. Thanks for posting! 🙂

      • Linda Wednesday / 22 July 09 at 8:00 pm #

        Nice to meet another LOST fan! I’m so anxious to see how they end the show.

  5. Tricia Tuesday / 21 July 09 at 9:56 pm #

    I didn’t use an outline on my wip, but I am with the next one because I’m not ready to write it yet and I want to be sure that all of my ideas are laid out before me when I tackle it.

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