Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com. Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and the Ellie Sweet books (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website including the free novella, Throwing Stones.
As I've discussed on here, I'm a plantser when it comes to figuring out my novels. I typically:
- Write a blurb similar to backcover copy. (Sometimes my ideas now come to me in the form of backcover copy. It's quite handy.)
- Spend some time letting the idea simmer. I'll carry around a pad of Post-Its and a Sharpie and jot down thoughts about the story. Sometimes I post them on my board just to get idea of how the story is fitting together.
- When I have my idea for the first line and opening scene, I write the first couple chapters of the book. Once I've spent time in the storyworld, I have a clearer idea of what of my original ideas will work and what won't. Like in the book I'm working on now (which is a 1920's mystery, kind of a Veronica Mars meets Great Gatsby feel) I thought my main character's brother killed the girl. But after I wrote those chapters, I just didn't get a murderer vibe from him, and I had to reevaluate.
- After those first few chapters, I'm ready to figure out the rest of the book. Usually that involves a couple things:
- Making a list of what I think will happen and trying to figure out my major plot turns.
- Writing a 2-3 page synopsis. (Sometimes I have to write half of the synopsis, then work on the list, and then come back to the synopsis. Not sure why.)
- An emergency phone call to a writer friend. Last Monday, Roseanna White helped me hammer out my 1920's book. I'm also in a group with several other YA writers, and they will frequently help me as well.
- Now I'm ready to write.
And once I've switched my brain from brainstorming mode to writing-the-first-draft mode, I usually get in a good groove with the story. I'm not thinking about my synopsis or my Post-it notes, I'm just writing. If I'm getting consistent writing time, then I typically hit that magical place where I know my characters so well that it feels as though the story is writing itself. Ideas for plot twists come along and surprise me, and yet they feel just right for the book. Everything is unfolding so rapidly that it seems like - for the first time - I'll be able to just write, write, write myself all the way to the bittersweet ending.
That's when all those great plot twists and backstory ideas that came out of nowhere when I was in my writing groove start to mess with me. While I like them better than what I came up with during my original brainstorming, it also means that my plans for the last quarter of the book don't work so great anymore. What to do?
1. Don't panic.
But I always forget this until I email Roseanna all panicky and she's like, "Hey, you do this every time and we always get it worked out. Don't panic."
As you gear up for the climax scene in your book, it's super common to feel like you've got so many loose threads, you'll never be able to tie them up well. Try to tell yourself that it's normal to feel this way, and that you're almost through it.
2. Don't revise - it's not time yet.
It's certainly close to the time, and that's what makes it all the more tempting.
As a young writer, I flitted from idea to idea and barely ever wrote more than an opening chapter or two. Then I decided to buckle down and write a whole book. When I hit this block in the first draft, I panicked and started to re-read everything I had written. I wanted to be sure I was remembering everything in the story correctly, but it only made me panic more because I saw all the gaping holes that needed to be fixed.
I started thinking, "I don't need to finish the book yet because look at all these mistakes! I need to fix these before I even consider writing the ending."
But the best time to do revisions is after you've written the conclusion of your book. I know it makes your inner editor frantic because it does mine too. Tell her she needs to sit down and be quiet. It'll be her turn next.
3. Indulge yourself with another brainstorming session.
This can be hard because up until now I've been in a groove and blowing away word count goals for weeks. It's hard to go back to just thinking about the story and the characters. Here are some ideas for what you can do:
- Spend some time doing a character journal for your antagonist, or for another character who wound up playing a bigger role than you anticipated.
- Make a list of surprising things that could happen at the end of the book. A lot of them might be too far out there to be useful, but you also might strike gold.
- Pull in your writing friends again. Tell them where you're stuck and see if they have any thoughts. This can be great because they'll throw out suggestions that are great, but would be a lot of work. I don't know about you, but my brain tends to search for ideas that are great but require minimal effort.
- Put the shower principle to work. (Or whatever we call the fact that we always seem to get our best ideas when we're not actively trying.) Go for a walk or vacuum or sketch your characters. Don't try to force the words because you have a goal of a thousand words a day. Remind yourself that once you have this figured out, you'll get back into a groove.
4. Press on.
All you need, really, is the idea for the next scene. When you have that, write it! Even if you're still not 100% about how the rest of the book is going to play out. Pushing through the block by writing the next scene can get you there.
Have you noticed a place where you commonly struggle in the first draft? What do you do when that happens?