Before the Draft, Writing, Writing in Reverse

Before the Draft: A New Approach to Outlining in Scrivener

It’s no secret that drafting is my least favorite part of the writing process. In the past, I’ve been what you’d probably call a plantser. I did a fair amount of planning in advance, but I left a number of details open during the drafting process. I had enough filled in that I’ve never felt like I had writer’s block, but I would still start most drafting days with a feeling of dread. As I began brainstorming this new project, I decided to explore a new process, and I drew inspiration from two sources.


I’ve been following Ms. Weiland’s blog for years, and she’s written several posts on using Scrivener to outline and edit your novel. One particular post on flagging the major plot points in your Scrivener file caught my attention, so I ordered her book to explore it more in-depth. As I read through STRUCTURING YOUR NOVEL, I felt reassured that my previous novels hit these major plot points, BUT I’m positive they didn’t on my first draft. I had to go through several revisions before I was hitting the inciting incident, first plot point, second plot point, etc., at all the right areas of the manuscript.

So what am I doing different with this manuscript? I set it up in Scrivener the way Ms. Weiland suggested. I laid out my major plot points first, and now I’m filling in the necessary scenes to reach each point. I’m confident that my first draft is going to be so much more solid from an overall pacing and structural standpoint than it’s ever been before. Here’s a shot of how it looks, minus the specific scenes of course :).


2. Writing in Reverse seminar by K.R. Conway at NESCBWI

When I read the description for K.R. Conway’s seminar, I was intrigued. How do you write in reverse? The main idea is to plot in reverse–to figure out the climax of your story and work backwards. This concept made a lot of sense to me, so I’ve been using it to plot out this story, and I’ve found it quite beneficial to start with where the characters end up and work backwards to the beginning. It’s helped me figure out how they reached the tipping point at the end and actually who they are as characters. (The reason you only see generic scenes in the screenshot above is because I’ve plotted out everything after that already.)

I intend to take this one step further and attempt drafting most of this in reverse. Like many writers, I believe the beginning is the hardest thing to write. I think by starting at the end, I’ll know my characters so well by the time I get to the opening of the story, I’ll be less tempted to info-dump and have a better sense of how to introduce them to readers. We’ll see. I’m excited to find out!

Now there’s something–me excited to draft. I shall be starting next Monday … at THE END :).



Before the Draft, Writing

Before the Draft: Outlining in Scrivener

I know I promised the last post in this series last week, but I spent much of the week at the hospital or at my parents’ house as my mom recovered from her hip replacement. She’s doing great, by the way (Hi, Mom!). In any case, I did meet my daily word count goals for drafting, but I just couldn’t get to the blog. So, here we go with the last post in my “Before the Draft” series. And it’s on…

…outlining. Which you already know from the title, but I feel like it deserves dramatic music because writers have such varied views on it. I can understand that. I didn’t outline at all for my first two books. One of those I barely claim, and the other probably would have benefited from some additional structure. Then, before I started writing DUET, I discovered Scrivener–cue choir of angels–and my brand of outlining was born.

I love a lot of things about Scrivener, but the corkboard is my favorite organizational tool. Once I’ve completed my research and figured out my characters, I use the corkboard to lay out my scenes. I start by making notecards for the scenes I’ve been jotting down in a Word document from the moment I first had the idea for the story. Then I go through my character profiles and add notecards for scene ideas that came up during that process. Finally I get strategic and figure out what other scenes I need to connect all of those. I give each scene a title and write a few sentences about what I expect to happen. I was going to post the corkboard I’m working from right now, but I’m not quite ready to talk about that project yet, so here’s the corkboard from DEXELON:

Screen Shot 2013-09-13 at 2.56.02 PMMy pre-draft corkboard isn’t a complete list of scenes, but it gives me direction when I start drafting. I don’t finish a scene and wonder, “What happens next?” This DEXELON corkboard is a pretty good example of how I use it. You’ll notice a couple of notecards don’t have descriptions. Those are scenes I added after I started drafting. And those of you who have read DEXELON might notice the descriptions don’t match up with what actually happens in the story. That’s because I solely use the corkboard as a pre-draft resource. I rarely update the notecards once I start drafting, so it’s kind of fun to look back afterward and see where I originally thought the story would go.

As you can see, I’m definitely not a pantser, but I’m not a super-detailed plotter, either. I like to know where I’m going, but I’m fine with diverging from that path if the story takes me in a different direction. In the half-dozen scenes I wrote last week, I already moved around a few notecards and inserted a new one. If I had to do all of that in a Word document, I’d go crazy!

How do you outline? Do you like to have every plot point laid out in advance or just let it come as it flows?

Other posts in this series:
Before the Draft: Research
Before the Draft: Procrastination
Before the Draft: Character Development
Before the Draft, Character, Writing

Before the Draft: Character Development

I know I promised I would start writing today and you could all hold me accountable. The thing is, my mom is having her hip replaced today, so I’m hanging out at the hospital. Prayers are welcome. But, the good news is, I’ve finished my “Before the Draft” steps and I already started drafting. Ok, so it was only a couple hundred words, but I put the first words on the page. Yay!

So, today’s post is about character development, and I have one other post planned for later this week to round out the series.

I first heard the tip to draft character profiles when I heard Mary Higgins Clark speak several years ago. She basically asked how you could write a story about someone you didn’t know, and that made a lot of sense to me. I’ve used a variety of formats for character profiles and currently use the Scrivener template, but I always hit the same major points before I start drafting. Here’s what I like to know about my characters in advance.


Names are very important to me, particularly for my main character. This may sound odd, but I look at it from the MC’s parents’ point of view. Who are they and why would they choose that particular name for their child? Is it a family name? Is the name connected to an interest of theirs? Did they choose it because of its meaning? After all, the parents have a major impact on who this character turns out to be. Maybe I’m over-analyzing it, but I know it was a big deal to me how we named our children. Anyway, I spend quite a bit of time finding just the right name for the MC. I can’t figure out anything else about the MC until I know his/her name. And usually I end up slipping the reason for it into the story somewhere :). I spend so much time naming my main character I often choose the others more quickly, but they always have a reason, too.


I know some people like to find photos to represent their characters. I like to keep mine more vague. I hit the highlights–hair, eye and skin color, build, height. I try to come up with something that distinguishes the character, whether that’s a birthmark, a signature wardrobe choice, or a mannerism. Laying out these details in advance keeps me from changing a character’s eye color in the middle of the book. This way I can always refer back to my character profile to confirm that information.


Quiet, bubbly, outgoing, nervous, studious–I need to know before I start writing what adjectives to apply to my characters and how those traits will play out in the way they speak and act.


This section hits on the heart of who the character is. How was she raised? What does he believe? What’s happened in the past that affects the present and what she expects for her future? What does he like to do in his free time? It’s also where I answer a key question that contributes to the story’s conflict: What does she want most and what will prevent her from getting it?


I like the way the Scrivener template breaks out internal and external conflicts for each character. Maybe the reader will only see one or the other for a particular character, but as  the writer I want to know what the character is struggling with. The character’s actions will come to me more easily if I’ve already figured that part out.

Story notes

I also like to jot down general thoughts about how a character will react to plot points I’ve already been thinking through. It goes something like: “When x happens, she’ll … ” In that way, the character profile becomes somewhat of a catch-all for me.

How much do you like to know about your characters in advance? And how deep into the cast do you go? I do a profile for anyone who plays a major part, even if the reader’s only going to see the character through the MC. For THE DEXELON TWINCIDENT, I laid out all the family dynamics for the MC’s best friend, and I didn’t end up using any of it. But maybe I’ll get a chance to write a sequel and show him more :).

Other posts in this series:
Before the Draft: Research
Before the Draft: Procrastination
Before the Draft: Outlining in Scrivener
Before the Draft, Writing

Before the Draft: Procrastination

When I started this series a few weeks ago, I thought I’d be much further along in the process by now. But then there was WriteOnCon and a contest for which I needed to critique others and my son started Kindergarten and …

… and those are all excuses.

The truth is, I hate drafting! And while I was moving along quite nicely with my research earlier this month, I let myself get distracted. I kept asking myself why I wasn’t closer to starting the draft, and that’s when it occurred to me that I was procrastinating. Because the longer I take to finish my research and develop the characters and start outlining the plot, the longer it will be until I have to sit down and actually draft.

I know for some people the draft is the best part. They love getting those initial words on the page. For me, it’s torture. I would much rather be presented with a first draft to revise and polish. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. I have to do both.

Anyway, now that I realize I’ve been procrastinating, I’m going to knuckle down. You can all hold me accountable. I will start drafting the second week of September. That leaves me the rest of this week and next week to complete my other “before the draft” steps. I have at least two more posts in this series planned, and I may not post one of them until after I’ve started, but I will make drafting a priority. And I’m sure you’ll see me grumble about it here, too :).

Where are you on the drafting/revising scale? Do you prefer one over the other, or are you a lucky writer who loves both?

Other posts in this series:
Before the Draft: Research
Before the Draft: Character Development
Before the Draft: Outlining in Scrivener
Before the Draft, Writing

Before the Draft: Research

It’s always interesting to me to read about other writers’ processes for getting ready to draft. Ever since I participated in NaNoWriMo in 2011, I’m firmly in the fast draft camp. I don’t necessarily finish a draft in a month, but I have set word goals every day, and I don’t revise anything until I’ve typed “The End.” In order to do that, I must have everything I need all lined up before I start drafting. Since I’m in that stage now, I’m going to do a “Before the Draft” series, starting with how I research.

Ah, research. Some people might find it tedious, but I’m fascinated by the things I learn. I start out with an idea, but I usually don’t know how to execute it until I start researching. And the research isn’t always the same. How much and what kind of research depends on the story. I’ll break it down by the novels I’ve completed and then list what I’ve done so far/plan to do for my work-in-progress.

THE MODERN CAVEBOY’S GUIDE TO SURVIVING BATS, BULLIES AND BILLIONAIRES (A boy living in an underground city escapes through caves)

Meramec Caverns
Meramec Caverns
  • Trade magazines – I scoured caving magazines for descriptions of various expeditions to make sure I had the terminology correct, as well as descriptions.
  • YouTube – I viewed countless caving videos to get a feel for what cavers experienced and also to see it.
  • Meramec Caverns – I dragged my family to Meramec Caverns for a first-hand look at some Missouri caves, since the story is set in my home state.
  • Middle grade novels – Since this was my first foray into writing MG, I read numerous books in the category, focusing on boy main characters to gain a sense of the voice.

DUET WITH THE DEVIL’S VIOLIN (A prodigy violinist is sucked into the music)

  • Non-fiction books on prodigies/renowned violinists – Even though I’ve played the violin for 25 years, I was never a prodigy. I didn’t know how a prodigy would feel, what others would expect of her, etc. I needed these resources to ground me in what a prodigy’s life would be like.
  • Fiction – I read a few books featuring prodigies for the same reason as above.
  • Internet searches – The best search I did when researching DUET was on the greatest violinists of all time. It led me to the story of Niccolo Paganini, rumored to have made a deal with the devil to play so well. That story became the basis for my major plot point.
  • YouTube – I just about memorized videos of the musical pieces I included so that I could describe each swell and accent of the music.

    Bates Motel
    The Bates Motel at Universal Studios
  • Universal Studios – Ok, so this wasn’t originally research, but after we went there, I knew it was a perfect fit for Miranda’s trip into the “Psycho” theme. I like to keep trip journals of vacations in case I decide to use a location in a future book. I write down my impressions, descriptions, interesting facts I learn. I don’t always make this happen when the kids are along, but it’s come in useful more than once.
  • Young adult novels – When I decided to age DUET up to YA, I read a number of YA books to immerse myself in the different issues and voice nuances.

THE DEXELON TWINCIDENT (Twin girls–one of them training to be a black belt–separated at birth by alien abduction)

  • Personal interview – I grew up with a mom and brother who did Tae Kwon Do, plus my son has started, so I know a bit about martial arts. I’ve watched classes countless times, but I still needed a personal interview to describe a black belt test. Lucky for me, my mom is a fourth-degree black belt, so I had the perfect source handy.
  • Non-fiction books – I used the text by the founder of Tae Kwon Do, complete with form descriptions and photos of positions.
  • Science fiction novels – I read a number of sci-fi books at all age levels for ideas about the other planet and how things might work between the two worlds.
  • Internet searches – I mainly used the internet for research on twins, and something I came across on a twin site gave me the idea for the title.

Current WIP (secret for now)

  • Trade magazines – Once again I’ve referenced trade magazines, in this case to get a better feel for the setting and what happens there.
  • Promotional videos – I’ve scoured the internet for videos promoting the type of organization my character will get involved in.
  • Documentary – I’ve watched a documentary, again to get a feel for the setting and what might happen there.
  • Existing stories – I’ve read a few novels and plan to study a couple of movies with similar settings to see what’s already been done.
  • Play – I went to see a play that will have a strong influence on the novel.

I’m not finished researching the WIP. I’m sure I’ll end up incorporating some of the other tactics I have in the past. How do you research? Do you tap into any other resources I didn’t mention?

Other posts in this series:
Before the Draft: Procrastination
Before the Draft: Character Development
Before the Draft: Outlining in Scrivener