She Writes FAST, Super Fast--Wanna Know how? (Patti Larsen, tHE sPEED-wRITING gURU, gUESt pOSTS aGAIN)
A few weeks ago, Angela kindly hosted my little mini-rant about writing speed. (See post here: YOU WRITE HOW FAST?) Since she’d actually asked me to post about my outlining method, it really was nice of her to accept the first post.
Which means I owe her this one.
I’ve spent years developing my process, pulling in assets from my days in English at university, from my journalism training, my time as a screenwriter. Improv actress, singer/songwriter, businesswoman… all of these things and more have contributed valuable lessons to the method I use in writing.
The great part? You don’t have to go through what I did (three decades worth!) to benefit. Because I’m going to give you the lowdown on how I do it.
Maybe some of my process will work for you.
That’s the only caveat. We all have our own system, things that fit our style and things that don’t. Please take from this what you like, test, play, examine, adapt. And use what you like while discarding the rest.
My first step is, naturally, the idea. You’re a writer. You know ideas come from literally everywhere and usually at the most inopportune times, like in the shower, when you’re asleep, driving the car… just do your best to keep a notebook or recorder handy so you don’t forget.
I then transfer my idea to something called a onepage or beat sheet I’ve taken from my screenwriting experience. It’s a single page where I break down the information I’ve been given. Title, genre, main characters, main conflicts, etc. all are logged on it. It’s simple, straight forward and clean. Makes it easy to file ideas away for later.
I usually allow an idea to percolate a few weeks while working on other things. It’s amazing how much will bubble up and demand attention, though, so don’t forget to add all the details that arise.
On this sheet I also track what I call the three stages of normal. Part one is the main character’s normal setting. Change is then triggered by an inciting incident, or choice, the character has to make. Think Katniss Everdeen choosing to take her sister’s place in the Hunger Games. Part two, abnormal, involves escalating conflict, leading the character through all the horrible, nasty, wretched things (can you tell I love this part?) you decide to put them through until they reach the second choice. Let’s use Katniss again. She has to choose whether to kill Peta or eat the berries at the end of the book. Choosing to eat the berries leads her to stage three, her new normal.
Understanding the basic structure of plot—all movies, TV shows, books follow this structure—helps you navigate from point A—the beginning—to point B, the ending.
I usually know by the time the onepage is finished if this book is a series or not. And will proceed to fill out a sheet for each of the books in that series before moving on. Why? Because not only is it necessary to know where the first book is going, how it ends, recognizing the fact you can track the entire series in short form first—meaning you don’t lose any threads along the way—is a powerful tool in keeping your readers happy and avoiding sophomore slump.
Once I’ve plotted out the entire series, I sit and write out my main conflicts, from the lead character’s point of view versus herself/himself, the antagonist, etc. Many of these conflicts cross over, but by writing them out separately I’m able to explore the idea fully.
Next, I use index cards to build scenes from those conflicts. Some people prefer to do this step on the computer, in programs like yWriter and Scrivener, but I love the tactile experience of spreading the cards out, of shuffling them around like some living deck or giant jigsaw puzzle. And, I find if I use the physical at this stage, I’m much less likely to miss something.
Once the entire book is plotted on cards, the scenes connected together in a coherent whole, I sit down at my keyboard and create chapter-by-chapter breakdowns. I love cliffhanger chapter endings, so I usually stop in the middle of conflicts to keep the reader turning the page in the middle of the night, but the choice is yours.
That’s it. Once the first book is logged, I outline the second, the third, or however many there are in the series. Line them up, all pretty and shiny, before settling in to write. The awesome thing about this process is, up until this point, I’m not committed to anything. I can change, switch out, alter anything I choose because I haven’t written 10k and have to then go back and delete 5k because I wandered off or am lost.
To the contrary. I am able to see clearly and concisely, exactly where the book is going at all times. So when I do schedule the writing of it, there’s no thinking. Only creating.
The best part.
About Patti Larsen: You’re not looking for my polished bio, huh? You sure you want more? The real dirty, down deep, nitty gritty? Fair enough. Here goes: I’m a card-carrying nerd. It’s taken years to admit it. I’m also a hermit in a writing basement who prefers solitude to people (cats always welcome). I’m a writing fiend who hears the voices of teenagers and blushes at the S-E-X parts. I don’t sleep very well. Ever. My mind is too busy. I am a feline loving married woman who could easily end up a crazy cat lady if my husband would let me. I am a paradigm shifter, a believer in self and my own personal power. I see everything in black and white until the gray is explained to me. I am a fiercely loyal friend, a confidant and a Tarot card reader and intuitive. I am a proud roller derby girl, a total dweeb and can’t dance to save my soul. I am terrified of heights and challenge that fear every chance I get. Oh, and I’m the Creator. The Queen of my own Destiny. I love that.
You can find her all over the Internet
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And if you want to learn my process in detail, you can find it here: http://www.pattilarsen.com/ecourses/#!/~/product/category=5383359&id=22581069