A Note from Headbuzzer: This is a guest blog post written by Anne Greenwood Brown, author of Lies Beneath! Chat with Anne on her board this week!
I love reading about other writer’s processes. Some write to music. Some outline. Other fly by the seat of their pants, never really knowing where the story will take them. I would call myself a layer-er. I take a step-by-step approach to most things in my life, writing is no exception. This is my approach for writing a FIRST rough draft.
Step One. I start with a Framework that I adapted from a process taught by screenwriter Michael Hauge. He provides a percentage-based approach to movies where 10% of the 2 hour run time is dedicated to introduction, 15% to rising action, 25% to progress, 25% to raising stakes, 20% to the final push and 5% to the denouement. I apply these percentages to my estimated total word count. Seem rigid? It is. Sometimes I bend the “rules” a bit because frankly it’s hard to pinpoint your total word count before you begin. But, like I said, this is for first draft purposes only.
Step Two. I write a detailed Outline within that framework, keeping in mind the word count parameters, and outlining 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.
Step Three. I then begin layering. My first layer is always Dialogue because it comes easiest for me. 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]
Steps Four though Six. After that, I have three layers that I don’t attack in any particular order. They are: Big Action (e.g., fight scenes and romantic scenes), Internal Narration, and Setting. For these, I hop around within the draft–writing the parts I feel inspired to tackle at that particular moment, thus avoiding the dreaded “writer’s block.”
Step Seven. Finally, I layer in the Finishing Details (clothing, body language, tone of voice, physical quirks, weather). I do this layer last because I often find that I don’t know my characters well enough until I’ve come this far in the first draft. As their personalities are revealed to me through dialogue, I have a much better idea of what they look like and what their quirky habits might be.
What I have now is a rough first draft. 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. Once trapped, the story is my play thing. It’s time for the first of many, many revisions. It’s time for the hard work to begin.