If you watched Danny Marks's video on How To Write Book, he said that he starts the writing process by coming up with an idea, several key scenes, and then percolating ideas for several months before writing a first draft. I take a completely different approach that I'm going to outline here. My hope is that it will illustrate for you that there is no one "right" way to write a book. So for all you hyper-organized, list making, compartmentalized types out there, I present to you HOW I WRITE A FAST FIRST DRAFT:
Every genre has a standard word count. MG may be 45k. YA may be 75k. Fantasy may be 120k. I first figure out my standard word count and divide it in half (more on that later). For this example, I will use the YA average of 75k and come up with 37,500 words. Then I apply these percentages:
1. Introduction,wherein characters and current situation are introduced: 10% of the total word count (or in this example, 3,750 words);
2. Rising Action, wherein protagonist faces a change of plans: 15% (5,550 words);
3. Progress, wherein protagonist works toward his/her goal and things go well:25% (9,375 words);
4. Raising the Stakes, wherein things go awry, conflict sets in and all seems lost:25% (9,375 words);
5. Final Push, wherein protagonist puts it all on the line, faces the climax, and reaches the goal: 20% (7,500 words); and
6. Denouement, wherein I wrap up loose ends and convince the reader that the exercise has been worthwhile: 5% (1,875 words).
Seem rigid? It is. Sometimes I break my own rule. But paying attention to this formula provides excellent pacing, and pacing is tricky business.
Next, for each of those six sections above, and keeping in mind the word count parameters, I outline the action in each section in short bullet points. Essentially, asking myself what needs to happen to get me from point A to point B.
Then I write every chapter I’ve outlined solely in dialogue. I don’t even put in the tags. Character A says “X” to B, B responds, C questions, A responds, go, go, go, as fast as I can. As the action points occur, I insert them like stage directions. It might look like this:
Oh you did not just say that.
I most certainly did.
Take that back.
[A slaps B, and B falls over]
Another trick I learned from my daughter, who’s blind and incredibly insightful: I can better “hear” my characters talking if I close my eyes and don’t look at the screen as I type. Try it sometime and let me know what you think. Typos be damned.
SETTING AND DETAILS.
Then I go back in and flesh out out where the action and conversations take place, what the time of day is, what the weather is like, what people are wearing–ideally making the setting and details significant to the action and characters. I don’t necessarily do this in a chronological way, but rather hop around within the draft–writing the parts I feel inspired to tackle at that particular moment, thus avoiding the dreaded “writer’s block.”
If I get to some detail I have to research, I don’t stop writing to do it. I throw down an @ as a place marker. The @ sign doesn’t show up in your typical narration so they’re easy to do a Search for later. For example: @length of Lake Superior lakeshore.
What I have now is a rough first draft. The word count is about half what the finished product will be because there is still much to be explored and added, but because the initial framework is in the right proportions, future drafts will grow within that well-paced frame.
Of course, I WOULD NEVER IN A MILLION YEARS SHOW THIS DRAFT TO ANYONE! NOT ANYONE! Not even my mother.
But, you see, once the story is trapped on the page, it isn’t going anywhere. That’s the trick: The quick capture. Once trapped, the story is my play thing. It’s time for the first of many, many revisions. It's time for me to do what Danny described. It's time to PERCOLATE!
*The Frame is my own modification of a formula I learned from Michael Hauge, who writes and teaches about effective screenwriting.