Tuesday, 12 May 2020

Saving The Cat...

Last week, I said I was sailing in First Draft Lake. Unfortunately, I got blown back towards The Great Sifting River because I didn't like how the book was starting.

Now, because I'm a planner not a pantser, I don't always write a book in order. I have a general idea of the structure, and if I can really 'see' a scene that's later on, I write it, knowing that it will almost certainly be in the book, and probably roughly where it is, and that I can fix lead-ins and exits in the first edit, to smooth out any rough junctions. I use Scrivener to write, and so I create a separate document for each scene. These are really easy to move around, if I change my mind about the order or structure. I normally spend a decent chunk of time getting this basic structure into some semblance of where it might end up (though things always change between writing the plan and writing the book!).

That's not what I did this time!

I had a very rough outline when I started writing. Rougher than normal, but I was keen to get going, and foolishly, I thought any issues would get sorted as I wrote - I would fill in the large gaps in The Plan after I'd started writing. I don't know why I thought this. This isn't how I normally work. I think I was just over-eager to get going.

I'd written a few scenes at the start of the book - and had got about 7500 words down. Not much. About 8-10% I suppose. But it didn't seem to be the start of the book. It seemed to be the bit after the start - where I begin building all the plot strands and laying out the pieces on the board. I didn't want to write more until I was a bit more certain about the structure.


So, just over a week ago, I sat down and created a worksheet, based on Blake Snyder's "Save The Cat" screenplay structure. Yes, I know I'm writing a book not a screenplay, but I find the structure he outlines really helpful, especially with the suggested number of scenes for each section. I don't follow it to the letter, but I do find it a good jumping off point.

Here's a snapshot of what a bit of the worksheet looks like (click to enlarge):


On the left is the description of the 'beat' - the title for it, the approximate % through the book it comes, a summary of what concept it covers, plus an indication of how many scenes are needed to cover this. On the right are empty boxes for me to write scene notes in. The number of boxes is the same as the guide for how many scenes the beat needs. As I say, I don't follow this tightly, but it gives me a bit of a guide. If the beat is supposed to have maybe 12 scenes and I only have 2, there's a problem! Likewise, if there are meant to be 3 and I have 15, there's a problem.

This is very much like my old method of writing the single 'beats' on big index cards which I laid out along the long edge of my dining room table, with smaller index cards in columns at right angles for the 'in-between' scenes:

I wrote about this, way back in 2016! It's interesting to see that my method has barely changed in the intervening years, even if I've shifted to a worksheet, rather than the cards. This is my 9th book. You'd think I'd know by now what works for me! I don't know why I started writing without the majority of the plan sorted.

Anyway, after a day of staring at the worksheet and filling it in (in pencil!) I'm feeling more confident about how to fix the start, and where I'm going with it all.



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