Wow! This is amazing. There’s no comparison to writing my entry for last year’s NaNo Los Angeles anthology. Last year I scrapped a 4,000 word draft at about this point, and was scrambling to make the March 21 deadline from scratch. This year, I’ve only scrapped about 900 words. I will have time to adjust and polish before the March 31 deadline.
What’s the difference? There’s two parts. First, last year was when I finally created my own method of, for lack of a better term, “outlining.” I learned how to identify what I think of as “islands” and Save the Cat! (Blake Snyder) describes as “beats”. (I hate that term, by the way, but I’ll use it so as to communicate.)
I know that Mr. Snyder insists that all 15 of his beats be nailed down before starting to write, but I… well, I just couldn’t. Not the way he does it. What I did was write a logline using the “enhanced logline template” from Save the Cat! Strikes Back (also Blake Snyder), Chapter 1. This rocks for me.
The enhanced logline hits the high points of the beats (“islands”) without forcing me to think of a precise beginning or ending in advance. It skips several of Mr. Snyder’s fifteen basic beats—but the logline structure enables me to just write in my usual “seat of the pants” manner. When I start writing, I think, “Okay, I have a 4000 word hard limit, so that means everything up to and including ‘breaks into the second act’ has to happen in the first 900 words or so…” This helps keep me focused. Usually no more than a paragraph into a diversion, I’ll be able to ask myself, “Will this get me to my next island in 900 words?” If not, it goes. Often I don’t even bother writing the paragraph. “Yeah, that’s interesting, and if I had words to spare I’d go there, but…”
(By the way, if you want the lessons of Blake Snyder’s books condensed to one volume and re-phrased for narrative fiction rather than screenplays, Save the Cat! Writes a Novel (Jessica Brody) will save you the tedious translation of screenplay jargon into novel jargon.)
The other difference is that last year, I hadn’t had the experience of working with professional editors on fiction. I hadn’t had five subplots ruthlessly cut because—Dun! Dun! Dun!—they had nothing to do with the main story. In a 4000 word (max) science fiction or fantasy story, I can’t mess around. I need to get my universe established without wasting words, and get the story moving—fast. Maybe I can wander a bit in a novel—but if a subplot has no effect on the finale, I can and should chop it no matter how personally interesting I find it. Not helping me get to an island (beat)? It’s got to go.
In case you think that this eliminates all the art in a story—it doesn’t. I composed my best sentences in last year’s story because I absolutely had to cut something and yet convey its concept better. My story was more compelling for cutting extraneous events to the bone.
So onward! This year’s NaNo Los Angeles deadline is coming!