Know Where You’re Going
You know you’re a writer. You know you want to write your book, and get it out into the world. But man, sometimes, it can take a while to get there.
That’s alright. You aren’t alone. All writers experience this when they’re trying to complete their book, at one point in their writing lives or another. Sometimes things just take time.
There are ways you can streamline the process.
A lot of it, depends on you and your self-awareness, like knowing your goals. This allows you to know where you’re going in your career, and thus set the pacing that you want to achieve with your writing. However, when it comes to writing your book or story specifically, you need to know where you’re going.
This isn’t to divide the pantsers from the outliners, that is, this isn’t to point out why those who like to discover their story as they go from those who want a beat-by-beat outline are better or worse than the other.
Here we’ll look at the ways both pantsters and outliners can prepare to write their stories ahead of time to make the writing process faster.
Pantsing vs. Outlining
Again, I’m not going to pin pantsing against outlining. However, I will express my professional opinion here, which of course, is not absolute:
If you’re writing for speed, or wanting to speed up your writing, having an outline is essential.
I know, no one wants to hear it, but it’s almost completely true.
There are of course those who find that when they don’t know where the story is going, they are excited, and that excitement spurs them to write faster and plow through a story. That is excellent. However, my experience in my own personal writing and in my ghostwriting career has shown me that knowing where I’m going in my project drastically increases my writing speed. It’s how I’m able to write an entire novel and edit it in 4 days.
Unless your mind works like a caffeinated and highly focused squirrel, you will spend your entire day writing 4,500 words without some idea of where you’re going with your piece. And by entire day, I mean from dawn to dusk. I’ve been there.
With that in mind, there are ways that you can get a clearer idea of your objective without necessarily creating an outline.
4 Ways to Prep for Your Story
The best way that you can speed up your story, is to create an outline.
Hear me out!
I know, I just said that you didn’t have to outline, and that this was equally for pantsers. What I mean by creating an outline is to know generally where your story is going.
There are various degrees to which you an outline your story, from just knowing your genre to using the Snowflake Method to the T.
Here are some questions you might want to explore when you create your story outline:
- What is your genre?
- Is this a comedy or tragedy in the classic sense?
Alright, let’s break this down a bit.
I. Know Your Genre
When you know your genre, you know that there are certain things that are required.Tweet
For example, when you know that your genre is romance, then you know that person 1 must meet or come across person 2, that there must be attraction, something that tests their ability to be together, and a resolution. Typically this tends to be that person 1 gets person 2 and there’s a Happily Ever After (HEA) or Happy for the Moment ending, though this isn’t always the case.
So from this, you know, regardless of your pre-writing style, that these expectations must be met for your genre.
Likewise, knowing your subgenre is equally essential, as it will further direct you.
Returning to romance as an example, what kind of romance is it? Is it a contemporary romance? Paranormal erotic romance? Crime fantasy romance? Post-apocolyptic western romance? Romcom?
Each of these has a different expectation from the subgenre. For example, a crime-novel will need a crime, a suspect, a villain, etc., and if your primary genre is romance with crime being secondary, then you know more focus needs to be on the two people getting together than the crime.
For example, in Janet Evonavich’s Plum books, they are crime first, then romance. It’s the questioning romantic factors of whether MC Stephanie Plum end up with Morelli or Ranger that is the common thread throughout the very long series, but each book is a stand-alone crime book. So, in her books, it is essential that there is a suspect she is going after, which is set up, that she struggles to find the criminal, and that she succeeds in the end.
Because of the romantic themes, she needs to be pulled in one direction or another with either of the romantic interests, and there needs to be something that is preventing them from having their HEA. If this was a romance first, there would need to be some form of romantic conclusion at the end of the book. But because there isn’t, it keeps the reader going on to the next book. At least, it’s part of what keeps the reader. But that’s a subject for another post.
Knowing the genre can help you determine the essential elements that need to be in your book, and thus help guide you to navigate your story. If you’re a discovery writer, it allows you the freedom to explore the story as you write, but gives you enough direction
II. Tragedy or Comedy?
This was somewhat known as the “first” genre distinction. Comedy in this context doesn’t mean something that’s funny, but something that has a happy ending, while tragedy means that it doesn’t have a happy ending.
However, it isn’t as simple as happy vs. sad ending.
What’s the Difference?
What makes something tragic is when the hero fails in their goal or their character arc. In every story, there is a goal for the character and/or a character arc. The character arc is the character’s growth, or the deep lesson they learned throughout the story. It’s rare that one is without the other, thought in some pieces like the James Bond franchise, there is no growth for Bond, only the success or failure or his mission, for the most part.
For example, in a favorite play of mine, The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus, Dr. Faustus seeks to obtain mastery of the sciences, and thus, sells his soul to the demon, Mephistophilis for these abilities. There is plenty of comedic value throughout this story, but what makes it a tragedy is that Dr. Faustus never repents and redeems himself. In fact, at the end (Spoiler Alert!), Mephisophilis comes to collect his soul. In the B-text of the book, his body parts are found strewn across the stage after being ravished.
Yes, Dr. Faustus achieved his goal in becoming an all-knowing sorcerer, philosopher, and scientist, but his character arc was not fulfilled because he never repented, and thus saved his soul. This opportunity is given to him plenty of times throughout the play, though every time he denies it.
Thus, because his character arc was a failure, the play is a tragedy.
Arc Trumps Goal
There are two ways that an ending can be determined: whether the goal is achieved or whether the character arc is achieved. But how do you know which one to use? And how do you know which one is which and when?
As already stated, Dr. Faustus’s story is a tragedy, despite attaining his goal.
Not that it’s also about whether or not the MC attains their goal, not the side characters. One could argue that Mephastophilis got his goal of Dr. Faustus’ soul, as he set forth in the bargain. And, like James Bond, he didn’t have a character that needed to grow within the confines of this play, therefore there wasn’t any growth to be had. If the story was about Mephastophilis, then the story would have been a comedy. But it wasn’t. It was about Dr. Faustus, who failed his character arc completion.
Situations like this can almost make it seem a bit muddled. The upshot is that the success or failure of a story defines whether or not a story is a tragedy or a comedy more than the attainment of the goal.
Alternatively to the Dr. Faustus model, there can be happy endings which are also tragic. This could mean that the goal is achieved but the character arc fails at the end, or the other way around.
For example, in a romance in which love is achieved, person 1 gets person 2, but in the end, one of them dies after they declare their love for the other. While it’s tragic, it’s actually a comedy because the goal—person 1 getting person 2—is achieved, as well as the character arc (which has to happen in order for person 2 to say yes to person 1, or for person 1 to prove their worthiness to person 2).
While you don’t have to know the story ending specifically, knowing whether or not you want to goal to be achieved or the character arch to be completed will give you inspiration as to how events should play out in your novel.
For those of you who are pantsing your way through this, it is a vague enough goal to reach for, but enough of a goal to keep your eye on the prize and serve as inspiration.
III. Consider an Outline
There are various ways that you can outline, as I’ve mentioned. But, I want to make a case for outlining, even to the adventurous exploratory writer.
Outlines can be as simple as knowing the beginning, the end, and the climax, or it can be as detailed as knowing what will happen in each chapter.
An argument for not having a detailed outline is that it allows you to play as you write. You can see what happens and how, and it makes the story both interesting for you to write, and can create a more interesting story.
Some arguments against having a detailed outline is that it can be too boring to write because you’ve taken the surprise out of it, and it can be time consuming to write out the outline.
In my ghost writing, I work from an outline. Whether I create it or it’s given to me, I make sure I know exactly what’s happening in each chapter, including how a character feels and how they react.
I’ve discovered a few things while I do this.
- More often or not, a character’s backstory, personality, and overall development becomes more flushed out as I write the story, no matter how much I already know. This is a deeper form of exploratory writing. Because I’m not worried about how the plot is going to move forward, I can let the character surprise me rather than the plot.
- Because I know where each chapter is going, it makes it easier for me to skip around to different chapters. If I am bored or don’t want to write a certain scene just yet, I can jump to the next scene or another scene and write it. Then, when I return to the scene that I don’t want to write, I find it’s easier because I know where the characters are going to be at the beginning of the next one.
These two things help me write faster and also keep me from getting bored while I write it. Because I’m ghostwriting, and thus writing for someone else, I am somewhat under their thumb when it comes to content. So if a genre or story line isn’t my cup of tea, this helps to keep it interesting for me.
You can be as detailed or as vague with your outline as you want to be, but know at least the major points of your story.
- Main Character
- Main Antagonist
Again, you can know each of these to whatever degree of detail that you need, but having at least a vague idea of where you’re going can speed up your writing.
For example, knowing that in the beginning you want your MC to be in the middle of action, or knowing that you want to introduce your MC through another character, or even just what their daily life looks like can be enough to start your novel. Knowing if you want the ending to result in success or failure can be enough.
Developing the relationship between your MC and your antagonist can lend a rather large hand in developing your story as a whole. If you want to learn more about this, subscribe to my news letter so you can check out the free mini course one Plotting and Outlining Your Novel.
IV. Know the Beats
Knowing the beats can also help you streamline your writing. This ties back to knowing your genre and subgenre, but on a more detailed point.
What Are Beats?
The beats in a story are what set the pacing. They can determine how fast or slowly your piece is read, or more aptly, how quickly or slowly a reader perceives the scene.
For example, considering a car-wreck scene, you need to put the beats in in order for the reader to fully grasp what is happening. Car wrecks are generally quick occurrences, but for the reader to get the full weight of the scene, they need to experience it, thus it needs to be slowed down so the reader can delve in and “experience” it.
If you’re writing say erotica which has a scene in which there’s a 2-minute hook-up in an alley, you want to slow it down for the reader to experience, especially if that’s the name of the game for the book. Getting in touch with the senses is a good way to do this.
How Beats Help
When you know what the scene is that you need to write, that is, you know that something has to happen in the scene, then you can set up the beats for that scene or chapter. This can help you get the words on the page.
As I mentioned above, getting in touch with the senses can help you establish the beats. So, if you’re writing about a car-wreck, what does your character smell? Hear? Feel? Taste? See?
If you are working to get words onto the page at a quicker rate, considering these aspects when you go into a scene can help create a more vivid experience for the reader as well as put you, the writer, further in the scene and thus help to give you clarity on what should come next.
Try all four of these techniques to plan your novel, and then try it out. See what works and what doesn’t work.
If you want more information on how to prepare for your novel, subscribe to my mailing list to get your free Planning and Outlining Your Novel course. You can subscribe using the banner at the top, or the form below.