Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com. Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and the Ellie Sweet books (Birch House Press). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website including the free novella, Throwing Stones.
(This post is part of the Writing A Novel From Beginning to End series. You can find other posts from this series on the Looking For Something Specific? tab.)
Jill and I had an awesome time last week at the One Year Adventure Novel Summer Workshop in Olathe, Kansas.
|I've adored this T-shirt for a few years, but this is the first time I was able to snag it in my size before they sold out.|
|The auditorium where we did a lot of our talks.|
|Jill, me, and the DeGisi sisters.|
|I chased Emily down for a picture since last year she had Jill sign one of my books using my head on a stick. (See last Monday's post for clarity.)|
|Catsi and me!|
It's always so fun to be around young writers, who are so full of creativity and passion. I spent more time on stage than I was comfortable with (of course any stage time falls into that category for me), and I enjoyed interacting with the writers after my classes and during one-on-one mentoring appointments. It was fun to meet so many writers who I know from the Go Teen Writers community.
One of my favorite things about gatherings like this is learning about all the different ways writers go about writing their novels. The One Year Adventure Novel curriculum (which is designed to be used in a home school settings, but there are kids from public and private schools who do the course as well) is very structured. So structured, that I wonder how I would have done with it as a teen.
As a teenager and in my early twenties, I was a hardcore pantser. (Meaning I didn't outline my stories but instead just wrote it as it came to me.) I had tried plotting my stories a time or two, but inevitably I went a totally different direction than I had intended, so I stopped trying to figure out ahead of time how it was all going to work out.
If by nature you work best with no outline, there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. Sometimes as a pantser, I felt like I should have more of a plan if I wanted my book to be any good. That's really not true at all. So don't feel like you need to become more of an outliner if you want to write a well-thought out novel.
There are, however, some unique struggles to being a discovery writer. Here are some thoughts on how to deal with them:
Be ready for edits.
This is a huge one. When you discovery write, or write by the seat of your pants, your story tends to flow a very organic way. This is awesome. But it will often leave you with a meandering first draft with a variety of plot holes and aimless characters.
You will find sections that don't seem very well thought out (if you're like me, it's because they weren't!) or massive plot holes. Sometimes you'll find that characters are inconsistent from page to page because you hadn't figured them out until you finished the story. You also might come upon random tangents that never went anywhere and need to be cut.
Another thing to watch for is that your ending might be TOO much of a surprise. By which I mean, you didn't know what it would be, so you weren't able to lay the proper groundwork throughout the book to set up your awesome surprise.
Turning out a first draft that requires a lot of edits doesn't mean you did a bad job or that you needed to plan more. It only means that it's a first draft. They're supposed to be like that!
Beware of the never ending rewrite.
This was a huge struggle for me, particularly in my early days. I would write the first few chapters of a book, not quite knowing where the story would head. And then when I stalled out, instead of pushing forward I would instead rewrite the chapters I had already written, positive that I could make them "perfect" this time.
Don't let yourself fall into this pattern or you'll be stuck in a never ending rewrite. It's important to press on with the rest of the story.
Watch out for back story.
Because I was discovering the back story of these characters as I wrote, it all worked its way into the narrative. But you really don't need that much, so keep an eye on that in edits. A character's background is a great thing for you to know as the writer, but a little goes a long way with the audience. Critique partners are great at noticing back story that goes on for a bit too long.
Wait ... it's missing something.
My discovery written novels have always been the ones where I have to go back and add an entire character or a story line. In a different blog post, I've talked about my process for adding a subplot or plot layer after a first draft is written.
Double check your calendar.
Another issue I always ran into with my discovery written novels was that the chronological order of my story was way off. Mostly because I just didn't want to take the time to think through what day of the week it now should be if it's "three days later." So it's a good idea to fill in a calendar of some sort when you're done with your first draft or as you write.
Understand story structure.
We naturally absorb story structure by reading and watching stories, but it's still a good idea to at least be aware of the basics. This way if something isn't working with your plot, you're better equipped to identify what you might be missing. I blew off story structure for a long time, and my stories suffered for it.
If you write without an outline (or even without much of an outline), I'd love to hear your thoughts on the process. What have you found works for you? Where do you struggle?