I’ve written 13 novels to date and each one of them has come into the world in different ways. Some came from a dream (Pulled,) some from the title name (The ABC’s of Dee), some from the cover art (Must Love Coffee.) Most of them have been written panster-style (by the seat of my pants with no outline.) Not because I hate outlining, but because it always feels a bit constricting. I like to wander. Play. See where that dark road leads.
There isn’t anything wrong with the panster method. Many writers do it. I will admit that just wandering to see where my muse may go does make for some painful second drafts as I try to muddle through the crap to find the actual story.
I’ve recently stumbled upon this book: Save the Cat Writes a Novel, which I talk a bit more about here. I bought the book mostly to give outlining one last attempt because, in theory, I love it. A gentle reminder about things that should be happening in your story at about this point. This book did a decent job of making the beats make sense in a way that other books on outlining hadn’t been able to do.
Because I’m a visual learner, I opted to make flashcards and lay them out on a board. Each card has, on the back, a fuller description of what the beat should achieve. The white cards are what you are choosing as the action of each beat. Some cards are several scenes, some are a single scene.
I’ve written beats for each colored card, and can now, in theory, start writing the first draft of a new novel. I can also use these beats as a way to tell me were other drafts of books may have gone off course when we were exploring those dark roads. *cough.
I have no less than three other books in draft 2 format that need my attention, but I felt like I needed to map out one book start to finish this way to see if it could be done and make sense to my noggin.
This first stage, I can say, felt really good. I have the major moments in place, and now all I need to do is write it. And that, after all, is the best part.
Stay tuned to see if writing a first draft with the beats mapped out like this is easier or harder than flying by the seat of my pants!
Danielle Bannister, author and flashcard making fool.