The Writing Process: The Outline and First Draft

Jan 18, 2011

Today is the What's Your Process Blogfest! Be sure to check out all the other great entries below to learn more about how other writers work their magic.


As mentioned in this post, I have to have some idea of my characters before I start a draft. I also have to have a basic plot outline. I use a tool called Freemind to map out my plot (see image). I have one main "bubble" with my title that leads to three other bubbles-- Act I, Act II, and Act III.

Act I leads to 2 bubbles: 1) snapshot of hero's old life/opportunity offered, and 2) hero resists opportunity.

Act II leads to: 1)Learning about new life/villain setup, 2) build to climax/try-fail cycles, and 3) climax and ultimate fail.

Act III leads to: 1)Ultimate climax and success, and 2) wrap-up

Then, under each of the bubbles listed above, I write a basic paragraph of what happens in that section. VERY basic. I've been known to write such epic statements as "more bad things happen."

Once that's in place, I begin the writing of my first draft. It usually completely terrifies me. I write from beginning to end--I can't jump around and write scenes out of order. The outline gave me an idea of how to structure the plot, and now I let the actual events of the story work themselves out. It tends to be very messy, but not nearly as messy as when I have no outline to give me a general plot arc.

Sometimes I get a quarter or more through the writing and realize I'm telling the wrong story-- it happened with Devs. So I go back and rewrite it. Sometimes I'll write a scene and realize I took the story in the wrong direction, so I'll cut and paste it into a "cut scenes" document and write a scene that goes somewhere else. Yup, sometimes I edit in my first draft. No point in finishing a story that's wrong, right?

I write in Microsoft Word, and I turn on Document Mapping as I go. I create chapters that at this point mean nothing except as navigation points. For each scene I write (sometimes there are several per chapter), I write a brief description of what happens and put it at the top of the scene as a header. I use Heading Styles so the descriptions show up mapped in order to the left of my document. This makes it easy to jump around to certain points in my document.

It also serves another purpose-- when I'm done with my draft, I take each of my scene headings and make an outline of them in Freemind. There, I can see my storyflow from beginning to end, and see how I need to fix it.

But that's a discussion for the next post-- rewriting.

Now go check out what everybody else has to say. And enjoy!

36 comments:

Trisha said...

Yep, mine's up already :)

Trisha said...

You sound a lot more organised than I am ;)

Lynda Young said...

Mine will be up in a few hours. You were more detailed than me. It's such an interesting process and amazing how it differs for everyone.

Pk Hrezo said...

What a great idea!! I just found your site and signed up for your blogfest.
I've heard of the three act process before... makes perfect sense, since every scene should have one.

Saumya said...

Awesome process! I should be more organized about mine. Excited for your rewrite post :)

Rachna Chhabria said...

Shallee..you are certainly more organised than me. My post is up ; my outline style is a little different.

Thanks for the blogfest. I am looking forward to reading everyone's posts.

Melissa said...

Wow, I never thought of using Microsoft Word to write a description of each scene and put it in the header. I did something similar, except I wrote it in my notebook.

Thanks for hosting this blogfest!

Francine Howarth said...

Hi,

Thanks for hosting the blogfest.

Wow! You're a very organised writer. My writing is based on and inspired by compelling images, and slightly unusual in the way characters tell their stories. ;)
best
F

L.A. Colvin said...

Mines up and thanks for hosting this. I love to learn how other writers do this.

Summer Ross said...

way more organized than me, but I'm going to take a look at this freemind site you gave, it looks like it really might be helpful. Thanks for hosting this blogfest,

Michelle Merrill said...

I like that three act format! Thanks for sharing :) Thanks also for hosting this blogfest, it's a lot of fun.

Lindsay N. Currie said...

Ah, you're so organized!! LOL I posted today on being a pantster - and that was before I found this blogfest. Looks like we're all sharing brainwaves today:)

Jennifer Hoffine said...

Wow. I like your idea of writing what will happen at the beginning of each scene. Even a pantster, like myself, could do that;)

Thanks for hosting this! I look forward to reading others.

Bookewyrme said...

Mine is up! And I had no idea you could do that with Word! I may try playing with that a bit and see if it helps me keep track of what's going on and where in my MSs.

~Lia

M Pax said...

I'll have to try your mapping idea. Thank you for sharing it.

Amy said...

My post is actually something I wrote a while ago. I hope that's not an issue!

LeishaMaw said...

I've never heard of Freemind. Thanks for sharing your process. :)

Karen Elizabeth Brown said...

Thanks for hosting this blogfest!

I like your idea of mapping out the scenes with bubbles. I'm partial to index cards myself, but it's not as compact.
Putting your description in a header also sounds like a great idea for the chapters. I might try that and see how it feels.

Happy writing!

M Pax said...

Thanks for hosting the blogfest, Shallee. It was fun reading everyone's posts. Learned a lot.

Elena Solodow said...

I also used to the do the header description. It was great with writing the synopsis!

The Golden Eagle said...

My post is up. :) Thanks for hosting the blogfest!

Interesting writing process!

Christine Danek said...

I will have to try that Word thing. I like the three acts. That's how I see a lot of my stories. Thanks for hosting this was fun and interesting.
Thanks.

Elaine AM Smith said...

Thanks Shallee for hosting this Blogfest. The range of different processes just shows that every writer has to find what works for them. I'm going to take a look at this freemind site - this is new to me.
Thanks
Elaine

David P. King said...

Great process. I'm the same when it comes to not being able to jump around between scenes. I'll be sure to pitch in mine later this week.

Marieke said...

Loved to read it! :D Won't get around to doing my own post today unfortunately, but I'll try to catch up later this week :)

SariBelle said...

Wow that's such a good idea to track your scenes with Word. Why didn't I think of that? (Probably because I didn't know Word could do that..)

Thanks for hosting Shallee. Great idea.

Jen Daiker said...

Wow what an amazing turn out! Awesome blog fest idea as well! Found out about it over at Elena's blog (because I'm slow).

It's awesome getting to see everyone's different techniques beacuse no two are alike!

Abby Minard said...

Wow, so orderly! Love the way you do your outline.

Julie Musil said...

This is such an organized process, and I'm impressed. It seems to me that your process would make it somewhat easier to create a synopsis. Take your summaries of each chapter and voila!

Michelle said...

Shallee, this is great! Love your structured plot map. I like that you've found a personal formula that works for you. So many stories ramble on just to fill up word-count, without giving a clear picture of how the MC is growing or the plot is progressing.

Damyanti said...

Thanks for hosting this, and visiting my blog!

I had fun writing down my process and reading everyone else's processes is turning out to be an educative experience. Thank you.

Plamena Schmidt said...

Thanks for hosting the blogfest! I hadn't heard of Document Mapping before.

Demitria said...

Wow, you're way more organized than I am!

New follower...

demitrialunetta.blogspot.com

D. P. King said...

Again, Shallee, great blogfest. I know I'm late, but my entry is up now. I've enjoyed reading - proof that there is no one way to write.

Madeleine said...

Hi Shallee, I'm back from my 'sick bed' now and trying to catch up with blog posts. I love how you work on your characters. It sounds like you enjoy exploring their every details which gives you a better understanding of what makes them tick and how their stories will unfold. Thanks for the link too. Great blogfest :O)

Marieke said...

I'm a week late, but catching up on this blogfest now after I finally put my own entry up =)

Your process sounds great. I love Word, because it's so user friendly, but I have to say I never tried document mapping when writing. :)

 
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