By Martha Reed
I know I usually take advantage of this blog venue to post something curious or silly but today I’d think it’s time that I stay on topic and give back to the writing community. Last month I had an amazing opportunity to work with five other writers in an intensive manuscript boot camp organized by the very generous Nancy Martin. Let me tell you, it was tough. We read and critiqued 200-250 pages of each other’s work each week plus Nancy gave us helpful handouts to review at the end of each meeting and we discussed these, too.
It was a terrific experience. I’m not the same writer I was a month ago.
What I’d like to do now is to share some of the things I learned.
In the past, when I started writing a new piece, I would just free draft; let my creativity flow and take me wherever it wanted to go. I plan to still do that because, frankly, that’s a lot of fun to let my imagination fly.
The difference now is, and this is what I learned at boot camp, is that I’m going to structure my editing process. Previously, I would re-read my draft mss and remove any duplication or inconsistency. Now, I’m going to sit down with my draft, outline each chapter on an index card and build a chapter outline. Each chapter index card will delineate the character for POV, the emotional issues or conflicts underlying that character, the next step and the motivations for the character making that next step. I’m hoping this will add emotional depth and using an outline should help me trim the process time-wise.
When I first started out, and took formal classes for this sort of thing, I dismissed “plotting” and “outlining” because they seemed too structured, too formal to use. Now I see that they are useful tools when used in their proper place. I wouldn’t want to use them in a draft, that would seem too structured for my style and taste, but I see know that discounting them altogether was a mistake. If you’re going to be a writer, you need to use all the tools at hand.
I can already see the difference using a chapter outline is going to make. When I applied it to my current mss, I was able to strip out some unnecessary characters and sharpen the focus on the narrative question. (We learned about that, too). This is going to help me distill the theme of my story which should help hold the reader’s interest, and keeping the readers turning the pages is exactly what I want to do.