Kicking Out a Fast First Draft

A couple months ago, fellow WU guest blogger Sharon Bially interviewed me about writing, working, and mothering. She asked if I had any “tricks.” I mentioned that I did: I write fast. Since then, I’ve had a lot of people ask me how I do that, and some even wonder if I should. Because I love to hear about other writers’ processes, I thought I’d throw my method into the proverbial ring.

Fair warning: My process will not appeal to many of you. (Any pantsers out there?) This is not a let’s-see-where-the-characters-take-me method. And you’ll notice I’m not going to say anything about artistry, or the wonder of crafting a beautiful sentence. These things are hugely important to me, but I leave that for revision, which is a critical distinction.

When I talk about writing fast, I’m not talking about a fast re-write or a fast revision. (There’s no such thing.) This is about quickly putting a story on the page from which the painstaking work of rewriting and revising can begin. So, without further ado, buckle your seat belts. Here we go.

Every genre has a standard word count. MG may be 45k. YA may be 75k. Commercial fiction may be 90k. Fantasy may be 120k. Figure out your word count, and divide it in half (more on that later). For this example, I will use the YA standard and come up with 37,500 words. Then apply these percentages:

1. Introduction,wherein characters and current situation are introduced: 10% of the total word count  (or in this example, 3,750 words);

2. Rising Action, wherein protagonist faces a change of plans: 15% (5,550 words);

3. Progress, wherein protagonist works toward his/her goal and things go well: 25% (9,375 words);

4. Raising the Stakes, wherein things go awry, conflict sets in and all seems lost: 25% (9,375 words);

5. Final Push, wherein protagonist puts it all on the line, faces the climax, and reaches the goal: 20% (7,500 words); and

6. Denouement, wherein you wrap up loose ends and convince the reader that the exercise has been worthwhile: 5% (1,875 words).

Seem rigid? It is. Sometimes I break my own rule. But paying attention to this formula provides excellent pacing, and pacing is tricky business.

Next, for each of those six sections above, and keeping in mind the word count parameters, I outline the action in each section in short bullet points. Essentially, asking myself what needs to happen to get me from point A to point B. This is exterior action, not interior motivation.

Then I write every chapter I’ve outlined solely in dialogue. I don’t even put in the tags. Character A says “X” to B, B responds, C questions, A responds, go, go, go, as fast as I can. As the action points occur, I insert them like stage directions. It might look like this:

Oh you did not just say that.
I most certainly did.
Take that back.
[A slaps B, and B falls over]

Another trick I learned from my daughter, who’s blind and incredibly insightful: I can better “hear” my characters talking if I close my eyes and don’t look at the screen as I type. Try it sometime and let me know what you think. Typos be damned.

Then I go back in and flesh out out where the action and conversations take place, what the time of day is, what the weather is like, what people are wearing–ideally making the setting and details significant to the action and characters. I don’t necessarily do this in a chronological way, but rather hop around within the draft–writing the parts I feel inspired to tackle at that particular moment, thus avoiding the dreaded “writer’s block.”

If I get to some detail I have to research, I don’t stop writing to do it. I throw down an @ as a place marker. The @ sign doesn’t show up in your typical narration so they’re easy to do a Search for later. For example: @length of Lake Superior lakeshore.

What I have now is a rough first draft. The word count is about half what the finished product will be because there is still much to be explored and added, but because the initial framework is in the right proportions, future drafts will grow within that well-paced frame.


But, you see, once the story is trapped on the page, it isn’t going anywhere. That’s the trick: The quick capture. Once trapped, the story is my play thing. It’s time for the first of many, many revisions. It’s time for the hard work to begin.


*The Frame is my own modification of a formula I learned from Michael Hauge, who writes and teaches about effective screenwriting.

Photo courtesy of the LSE Library


About Anne Greenwood Brown

Anne Greenwood Brown (@AnneGBrown) writes MG and YA fiction. She is represented by Jacqueline Flynn of Joelle Delbourgo Associates, and is the author of the LIES BENEATH trilogy (Random House/Delacorte Press). Her new book THE TWISTED LIFE (Albert Whitman & Co.) is anticipated for March 2016.


  1. says

    I also write fairly fast, but my process doesn’t look anything like this. I guess I’m more or less traditional with complete sentences and punctuation and whatnot LOL.

    Your process is fascinating though. How long does it take you to get this draft down? Days? Weeks? Months?

  2. says

    I also write fast based on my experiences doing nanowrimo. I used to agonize over every sentence and rewrite my opening chapter many times then I tried nanowrimo and I’ve never looked back. I can write an 80,000 word novel and edit it in 3 months. I base my writing on two ideas;

    There is no such thing as good writing, only good editing.

    You can’t edit a blank page.

    Ergo get on with it and get something down. Some of my fast writing is poor but it gets the idea down so I don’t forget it and it is editable. But surprisingly to me, some of my fast writing is some of my best writing. So my suggestion to everyone is let yourself go and give it a try; you might surprise yourself.

  3. says

    I admit, I often type with my eyes closed and it really works! I think it blocks out everything including what’s appearing on the monitor. It’s my best way – during final revisions – to write a brand new scene or bit of dialogue. I’m so involved in how the page looks and the preciseness of it all – that when I know what needs to be added I just close ’em and type.

    I love your method – and because my novel is “done” and in those final stages before submission – I’m back to the WIP which is only a rough first chapter and scads of notes.

    I’m going to try The Anne Method. Thank you!!

  4. says

    Wow–this is so different from my process. I fall somewhere closer to the plotter end of the pantser/plotter spectrum, but I’ve never tried to do a bare bones outline of a full story first.

    I’m intrigued, particularly with the first part of your process and laying out the major story arc. This fits with what I’ve been reading in “Story Architecture.”

    I think I may adapt that for my next project and see how the draft goes. Thank you.

  5. says

    Love it! Definitely worth a try. I am also a huge fan of the fast first draft and substantial revision. Otherwise I spend all my time crafting beautifully detailed scenes that I later have to throw out because they don’t fit the plot.

    Thanks for sharing this, Anne!

  6. says

    Boy, do I feel better about myself! What I love is that I finally feel like I have a valid process. It may not be exactly like yours, but it’s so close it’s scary. And I suppose there is no one right way, but it feels good anyway.
    I start with about twenty lines of ideas that lead me through the parts you outlined. Then I go through and expand each section, inserting plot twists and turns. Then I go through and add dialogue. The process continues, and continues, until it’s done.

    And I love this:
    “There is no such thing as good writing, only good editing.
    You can’t edit a blank page.”

    Inspires me to write, write, write.

  7. says

    I love getting to read about your process! I am a planner – love my calendar and lists – so this method really appeals to me.

  8. says

    Wow, I never thought of going THAT bare-bones before. It’s almost refreshing, the way it makes the structure of the story so prevalent. I think I’ll give that a try for the next one

  9. says

    I love the idea of stage direction in a first draft. I’m usually a slow writer and even a slower starter of something new. This looks sensible and unintimidating — words that can encourage me to get going.

  10. says

    Brilliant. Seriously. I don’t get this bare boned but my process for each scene starts out with me saying in a couple lines what has to happen as I think of the “meat.” I add info. Then I put in dialog then I come back and look at the whole thing and fill out. I end up doing this in a very small way on each scene…getting each scene how I like it (in a still roughish-crappyish first draft way) before moving on.

    I have never understood how people can just sit down and type a decent sounding scene from start to finish–I do must of my plotting/dialog-thinking-up places like the shower or in the car and then scribble my notes on paper. So your method sounds like it would work well for my jumbled brain.

    I like the idea of doing this for a whole book…I really might just give this a try next book! Thanks for this!

  11. says

    My big takeaway is your daughter’s suggestion. When I got to the point that a blind person was going to make a suggestion, my mind went straight to ‘read it out loud’. Her close-your-eyes idea is brilliant and I will be using it.

    BTW, my process for getting momentum is concentration on character sketches and scene sequencing. Once those make sense, I’m off to the races.

  12. says

    Great post! I found writing fast actually came easier with practice and conditioning myself not to edit AT ALL even when reading back a couple of pages to get a feel for what’s going on if I haven’t written for a day or two. Like you, I’ve found the best method for me is to outline plot and characters. The outline I did for my YA that’s out next year was so detailed I guess you could call it a first draft. Unlike you though, I wrote the bare bones of what happens in each scene and what the character’s were feeling and thinking and totally omitted dialogue! Worked out at about 50 pages. It made the first draft fun and far less frightening!
    I think secrets of writing fast include knowing your characters inside out, not allowing yourself to edit under any circumstances, not censoring what your characters start doing (even if it’s not what you expect!) and practice. I’m much faster than I used to be, hoping to get faster still. Thanks for the interesting post!
    TWITTER: @ClaireMerle

  13. says

    This is amazing! So great to see I’m not the only one who does this. I call it layering when I describe it to my peers. For me, it’s such an effective technique. And I write so much better when I have a road map. My poor characters are talking heads before anything else is added.

    Although, I do love your idea of “the frame”. With my first novel, I started at “the outline”. I’ll have to remember this for novel #2.

    Thanks for the great advice Anne.


  14. Melanie says

    I’m definitely giving this method a try. I have been writing as a pantster and after two years, my novel still isn’t finished! I get far too bogged down trying to make each scene ‘perfect’ before moving on to the next. Thanks for posting your method.

  15. says

    I used to be a pantser, until I discovered how much easier it was to write cohesively and quickly when I planned. However, my method ends up a little long-winded at times (the ‘outline’ was over ten thousand words, while the novel itself comes to just over 70K, pending the last revision) so I’m intrigued by your action point method. The idea of writing all the dialogue, then fleshing out the scenes sounds both completely foreign and incredibly appealing. I think I may give it a try for the sequel! I also love the idea of typing the dialogue with my eyes closed.
    Thank you :-)

  16. says

    Um, I LOVE this. I find that writing a fairly fast draft is the only way I can stay away from the dreaded panic but this is even better. This I think I could try.

    I like the bit about closing your eyes, too. I studied the Story Workshop method at Columbia College Chicago and part of the pre-writing work we did in class involved closing your eyes and searching for sensory details. It’s super interesting what you can come up with that way!

  17. says

    Wow, what a fresh and fascinating approach!

    One of my biggest hurdles is how long it takes me to finish a book, so I’m extremely interested in finding a faster, git-er-done method.

    Thanks for offering an innovative approach, which I’m eager to try on for size!

  18. says

    I already use the 6-stage structure for planning my novels, but I don’t break it down in percentages like that, and I definitely don’t fly through my first drafts like that. I kind of want to, though! Thanks for sharing your process with us. I definitely think it’s worth a try.

  19. says

    This is just fascinating, and I will definitely be trying it. My problem (and yes I do see it as a HUGE problem) is almost the opposite of how you do things. I must get every single word right with a first draft. It is ridiculously cumbersomely slow. And I long to be a fast writer like you are. If I am really in the zone I can write speedy fast, but that’s different than the “quick capture” you’re describing. You’ve inspired me to give this a try — thanks!

  20. says

    Ann, really interesting approach. I’d love your (or anyone’s) thoughts on a few things! I love YA, but I also find that YA is particularly conducive to the “journey” plot–for which your approach works really well. I’m wondering how you’d approach other types of narratives, perhaps those that don’t follow such a straightforward arc. Also, I’m wondering whether you ever lose motivation because there’s no longer a sense of mystery about where the plot is going. By nature, I like to be extremely organized–I WANT to know where my plot is going. But then I find that filling in an outline takes some of the excitement from the process. I’d love your thoughts. I’m in the middle of my first draft, second book right now and I’m grappling with ALL of this!

    All best,

    • says

      Jennifer, fair point. I do write YA, and I have never tried this approach with anything else. That being said, I don’t see why it wouldn’t work with other genres IF the process works for you at all (which is definitely going to be on an individual-by-individual basis).

      But I really get your point about losing motivation when there’s no mystery to where I’m going. Sometimes the story is so “done” in my head it almost feels redundant to write it all down! (Those are the bad writing days.) That’s where the outline comes in handy– Maybe I sit down and find I’m not in the mood to write a romantic scene, but I could muster up the strength to tackle a fight scene. Once I get going, the blood usually flies. (It’s the ol’ butt-in-chair rule.) And I should say, because my outline is bare bones I don’t really know what that fight is going to look like, only that one occurs. So there is some sense of mystery and exploration there.

  21. says

    Thanks for sharing your process! As an amateur writer I have been looking for a process to get my ideas for stories (mainly microfiction) down quickly. Your process is so fascinating to me because I use some of the process already, i.e. symbols to go back & insert researched material. I don’t normally suffer from writer’s block, however, I’m constantly finding myself wanting to jump down to another portion of the story and jot down what I’ve already written in my mind. Again, thanks for sharing.

  22. says

    Yay! Plotters of the world, unite! :D

    I like writing a fast first draft, as well, although I don’t go quite as bare-bones. I’m also a huge fan of the plot outline. I like using “Story Engineering” by Larry Brooks, and his four-part breakdown, but I can see how your 6-step Frame would work equally well. Thanks for this!

  23. says

    This is so true! “once the story is trapped on the page, it isn’t going anywhere” I tend to write five pages and then read them, which is clearly multiplying my “first draft writing time” by two. But you are right, I don’t have to show it to anyone yet! :)
    Thanks for sharing your process.

  24. says

    Anne, I love reading about process, and yours is fascinating! I’m also a fast first-drafter, and although I don’t break it down quite so efficiently, I do have a good idea of where I’m going before I start writing. Thanks for sharing this.

  25. says

    I write fast as well – my method is different but I absolutely think this process is fascinating. I’m always amazed by the different paths we all take in telling our stories. I agree with much of the sentiments expressed in the comments – even a crappy draft is better than a blank page (nothing’s worse than that!)

  26. says

    This is BRILLIANT and I’m not just saying that because Anne is my critique partner and I get to read the heavily revised version of her fast drafts. I love what she says about trapping the story on the page . . . how it’s not going anywhere. As Anne knows, I’ve been a SLOOOOOOW writer. Painfully slow. I’m going to try this with my current WIP for which I’ve rewritten the first chapter 6000 times.

  27. says

    Fascinating! I tend to be a very organized, planning type of person. Outlines, a good sense of where I’m going, a list of steps to get there. (I have a degree in Urban Planning.) And yet, something in me cringes at the thought of going about a first draft this way. I’m giving the first draft a lot of thought now as I’m about to embark on my second manuscript, while the first sits in the hands of my agent. And I must admit to being stymied as to how to begin. The first novel was a learning exercise, something that emerged out of an image and recent experiences. Now I face the whole how-to-start-a-novel again, and the planner in me is in fierce battle with the try-to-write-beautifully-from-the-start side of me. (Plus I now seem to have two children, who did not exist at the start of the first novel!) Thanks for sharing your process.

  28. David Tames says

    “…those are the bad writing days…”
    Boy, can I relate.

    The last outline I wrote was over 20K, and the story fell flat. After 100 pages it felt like I was moving chess pieces around.

    When I decided to throw the outline away I wrote a 500 page first draft. Much of it was good. Much of it wasn’t.

    Started over with a second blank page.
    3 1/2 months later… a second 100K draft. Much better.

    Now? Revisions… where I sometimes cross out three pages at a time, reorganize scenes, rewrite entire chapters. Sometimes it feels like I’m rewriting the whole thing, again.

    But the effect? Something that works for me. Not stale. Not chess-like. Revelatory.

    Slow, though. A novel per 14 month pace.

    I once heard someone say the pantster approach is closer to the artistic process because of the similarity to the artist’s struggle. I would agree with that. Call me a masochist, but I’m often gratified when I find sections I need to cut… because if I find them first, and I turn coal into diamonds, then hopefully I can make every page a pleasure to read. (I know we all do this… just at different stages.)

    I’m glad for those who can churn it out. But for me…shrug…if I’m trying to create art, why rush into love? Why hurry over the words?

    The closing the eyes thing is great. Often I find kind of a trance thing happening to me where I turn into a bio-fueled dictation machine. I think closing the eyes helps us look inwards…where hopefully all of our best writing will come.

    • says

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment, David.

      I think both pantsers and plotters are artful in their approach to writing. What I’ve noticed is that the art just happens at different times for these two approaches. For example, there isn’t a single metaphor in my first draft. The first draft is all about churning out a plot. For me, the symbolism, metaphor, backstory, and multi-dimensional stuff all gets developed later, rather than as I go.

      The main difference between the two approaches, as you note, is the speed by which one gets to the final product. But something else you say rings true for me, everyone needs their own method. Despite the photograph at the top (which I adore), it really isn’t a race! ; )

      Happy writing to you!

  29. says

    This process sounds so freeing. I put much pressure on myself to write a “good” first draft…because if my writing ever comes out poorly, it would mean I’m dumb, right? I need to get over that hurdle and just be okay with putting “crap” down. It’s better than being paralized with writing dread.

  30. says

    Oh, interesting! I’m not a fast drafter. I’m pretty meticulous with my first draft, actually, but then I don’t need as much time to revise at the end. But this sounds worth a try. I’m not sure I could carry it out for a whole novel, but perhaps if I come up with an idea for a novella or something, I can experiment. It’ll be hard to resist the urge to craft a lot of pretty sentences, though.

    Actually, it’s not that far off from most of my outlines, really. They basically turn out as ten to twenty page synopses. Using this technique would at least make them a lot more coherent. Maybe we’re not that far off after all. What you call a very rough first draft, I call a very detailed outline. In the end, both help lay out the bones of the story before all the meat is added on.

  31. says

    Intriguing. I’ve noticed that when I really start to click, my writing goes from inclusive of narrative to dialogue only. So a process like this just might work. I love the way you break down the story structure into word chunks. I’m going to try this. Thanks.

  32. says

    I just love this. I’m also a plotter, and sometimes it feels like a naughty word among writers! However, it does mean I crank out my first drafts. I LOVE writing first drafts. I go from start to finish without any revisions, and I’ve never really understood how others can get anywhere revising as they go. More power to you if you can, but I firmly believe that in my case pausing to fix problems along the way would kill the creative process and the flow of the story.

    If I have some general idea of where I’m going when I start (outline), I don’t need to worry so much about overarching plot problems as I work on the first draft. Not to say I haven’t had to go back and make major changes (lots!) but I’d rather look at a finished draft, the big picture, before tackling those issues.

    I generally know the glaring problems as I go along, and I keep a running document of notes to remind myself where I’m going wrong. These lists are usually pretty funny in retrospect– lots of stuff like: “Why would X ever do that? Unbelievable.” Or “Too much BLAH BLAH BLAH in Ch. 5.”

    It works, somehow! Loved reading the comments to see how others figure this stuff out. THANKS!

  33. says

    Anne, what a fab post! Thank you for sharing your process. I find it intriguing how other writers work through their drafts with LIFE screaming around them. I admit I have a pacing issue. Sometimes I’ll be in the middle of a scene thinking “I’m I going on too long? Or not enough?” Oy! I’m printing this out for future reference.

  34. says

    This is along the same lines as another blog I read recently, and I have to say this thinking has totally changed my way of writing. After spending forever re-crafting the first quarter of my novel over and over I am now like a whirling dervish to get that story out. Thank you for getting me unstuck!

  35. Kerstin says

    Anne — Like others who have written comments here, I am also a painfully slow writer and find myself writing and rewriting the same chapters without making much progress on my WIP as a whole. You offer several tips which just may help me through those trouble spots and keep moving forward. I particularly like the dialogue, stage direction and @ ideas. (Not to mention your daughter’s suggestion to write with your eyes closed. Love that.)

  36. says

    What a very clever and innovative method of writing! Though I’ve never done anything remotely similar, I like that you begin the whole process in something that’s oddly like a screenplay. Coupled with the Snowflake method. I will definitely be trying this for a future novella I have in mind!

  37. Crichardwriter says

    I really like the suggestion about writing the dialogue without tags – I will definitely try this; thanks for sharing. I have planned out my first draft using the “Save the Cat”method which has 15 key points that your story has to hit (I highly recommend all three of the “Save the Cat” books by the way). Then, I make sure I put those 15 points of my story on index cards and fill in the spaces with details (more index cards) to bridge the gap between each of those 15 points. Then, I do a brief description of the scenes. Last, I freewrite on one side of the page longhand so that I can use the other side of the page to write notes as things occur to me, but I always keep moving forward. I also don’t find that I lose the mystery of writing by planning first because new ideas always occur to me to change it or freshen it up – the outline is just like the blueprint of a house, it tells you what needs to happen to build a house, but you still have a lot of leeway to change things as you are building the actual house (first draft).

  38. says

    I’ve done the dialogue-only exercise, but only one scene at a time — then I go back over the scene and flesh it out. It does work really well.

    I’m really intrigued by this method. I would be afraid of losing motivation with such a detailed outline, as Jennifer Miller mentioned, but on the other hand it looks like a great way to explore how things work on the page without having such a huge outlay of time. Reminds me of Lazette Gifford’s Phase Outline method:

    Now that I’m thinking about it some more, maybe I’ll try this on the last half of my WIP. It’s been giving me major problems, so an abbreviated version of first-drafting might be just the ticket to see if the last half will work at all or if I need to go back to the drawing board on the first half. Thanks!

  39. says

    Anne – thanks for the mention! And oh, what a fabulous post! I am going to print it off and tack it to the bulletin board in front of my screen. I am the world’s slowest writer, probably because I do NONE of what you’ve recommended here. I’m too frightened!! But with my life busier than ever and my writing time squeezed down to the time I can grab while boiling an egg (hee), I am determined to try it. Beware: I might call on you for support in the process.

    And to anyone who’s curious, here’s the interview on my blog, Veronica’s Nap, with Anne where the topic of writing quickly came up:

    (Including head shot, Anne!)

  40. Bob Smith says

    I now have a better understanding of the process. I still don’t think I can get my creative juices flowing. Do you talk as fast as you write? Will it help me if I talk faster? Or louder?

  41. says

    Well, okay, guys. Thanks for all the love. I was really nervous about how my crazy pants method would be received. If you try it, I’d love to hear how it worked for you (even if it didn’t).

    Best of luck to all of you in your writing!

  42. says

    NaNoWriMo gets me to write fast–that’s why I love NaNoWriMo. Without it I’d dither forever.

    Your ideas here would save time though in the rewrite, since the draft would probably make more sense.

  43. says

    Thank you for sharing your writing method. My first book was written on commission with a very strict deadling and so there was no time or leeway to meander about or to indulge in writers block. So it was 3 months research interviews with tsunami survivors, write and edit at the same time for another 3 months then submit in time to make it to the printers etc. Writing on my own steam has been a whole different ballgame and I do appreciate getting some ideas about how to write and finish stuff. Like many out there, my biggest problem is allowing myself to just write stuff that isnt amazing – just write. Edit later.

    Great post.

  44. says


    Thank you for sharing your writing process with us! I think we all write differently, and none of the processes are crazy — they work. But it takes courage to write about how we write, I think, because there are so many people who never finish their manuscripts and thus feel the need to comment on everyone else’s writing / style / process, etc.

    I also write the first draft fast, after a prolonged period of plotting. Similarly, I like the screenwriting roadmarks for a story, from Save the Cat, Story, and others. But, I write the whole story, unedited, but including the meat of the story and places, not only dialogue.

    Thank you again for sharing!

    Jennifer King

  45. says

    Wow – for the most part, I consider myself an “organic” writer; definitely a pantser more than planner. But reading your post speaks to two parts of my writer’s soul: efficiency and how your process would work so well with how most of my stories appear, in full and complete “flashes,” through my head. I’m bookmarking this page so I can try this method a.s.a.p. Thank you so much for sharing!

  46. says

    I’m very intrigued by your approach and the use of a framework that sets your pace through assigning pre-established percentages…

    I’m a fast writer like you but less rigid about the framework. I’m not sure I could work towards specific word counts for each section of the ms. I think that would be too restrictive for me – at least the way I write a first draft: it has to be totally free, and if some parts are too long for the pace, then I simply cut out.

    I guess the big difference between you and me is that you ADD to your ms, while I tend to CUT OUT…I’m not afraid to simply consign stuff to the dustbin (or rather I put it away in a separate file for future use, you never know…)

    But when I cut out, that’s where you and I rejoin each other: yes, I would generally agree with the framework percentages, or rather proportions assigned to each plot element. Although I don’t think I ever manage to be quite so mathematically close to the framework as you manage to do it!

    Also you’re talking about the overall plot framework in percentage terms – I tend to focus on chapters and try to aim for the cliffhanger at the end. And that can happen in 1000 words or 7000. There doesn’t seem to be too much of a rule…

    So yes, I’m completely with you when it comes to jotting down the first draft – indeed, “jotting down” is the right term: it’s not real “writing”, not yet. And that’s the business of the second draft. Not to mention revision that comes much later…

    Thanks for the post and I see it got tons of comments: I think you really spoke to the interests of us all, poor writers! Well done!

  47. says

    Wow -! Well, I say whatever works is what we should do :-D

    I went to a workshop once where the author/screenwriter (the wonderful Alex Sokoloff) compared writing the novel and its various “stages” with screenwriting, or with movies – when watching a movie, after 15 min this happens, then another 15 that happens, then 15 more and this that happens, etc — she laid out this “plan” of novel and movies that was so intriguing and interesting and brilliant.

    But, still, despite all the great information out there, such as hers and yours, I still have to Panster it *laugh* …

    And I suppose I broke away from the “structure” even more with the novel I’m working on now… ungh. guess we’ll see. But, then again, perhaps the structure is there all along for most of us and we just can’t “see” it in a definable way unless we break it apart or someone does it for us!

    I admire and am a little envious of writers who can map out their work, for it could open the way for more “plot vs character-driven” works . . . well dang!

    Great post here! thank you!

  48. Carolyn Branch says

    Thank you for taking the time to explain your method so clearly. You have convinced me to give it a try. I’ve always been a dedicated pantser, and have 5 unfinished novels to show for it.

    My writing critique group will be so relieved when I share this news with them.

    • says

      Don’t be too hard on yourself. Unfinished novels are either (1) just not finished yet, or (2) a stockpile of scenes and characters to pull from for your next wip! No writing is ever wasted.

  49. says

    What an exciting approach. I’m a pantser who masquerades as a plotter during revision. But this approach could change everything for me. I like the concreteness of it. Thanks.

  50. says

    Wow, this certainly struck a nerve.

    I would just like to add another step to the “close your eyes” suggestion while writing dialogue. Read your dialogue out loud after you’ve written it. You’ll begin to tune your ears to what’s working, what’s filler, what’s awkward, what no one would ever say in dialogue. And using dialogue to get to know your characters — even if you cut it later — is a great way to discover things and begin to develop individual character’s unique voices.

  51. says

    This is an intriguing approach. I’m a plotter, too, but I don’t work well with the word counts. My math is fine, but I handwrite first drafts. I write fast (is it a mom thing?), and I do it by setting a slightly insane goal of 1200 words per day (roughly eight pages in my favorite blank books).

    And no, I wouldn’t show my first drafts to anyone either. Like Anne Lamott, I’m always morbidly worried something bad will happen to me before I can revise one, and someone else will read a first draft. Eek!

  52. says

    This is fabulous! As someone who’s trying to break the habit of editing my first draft, I’m going to attempt parts of this with my current first draft! Baby steps for me. But as long as I’m moving forward at a faster pace!!

  53. says

    This discussion was useful to me.

    My current project is a complex science fiction/fantasy story. I planned the entire story then did a first draft relatively quickly, pushing through with a few places having “something happens here” placeholders. With the second draft, I have slowed to put more refinement into the story. As I progress through this telling, more details of the story universe and characters is be revealed to me. Some of the revelations and epiphanies are so exhilarating, I feel I am addicted and need more. For example, I had an exciting epiphany that explains how and why Dragons bond with their riders. Now I need to do a little rewrite to incorporate properly this new knowledge.

    I am about to start a chapter that does not exist in the first draft (it was one of the “something happens here”). This chapter deepens one of the characters and provides setup for future events. I am going to apply the techniques described.

  54. says

    Great post! This is the best advice you can give any writer. I find that writing my first draft as quickly as humanly possible helps greatly. It gets all of my ideas onto the page- kind of like opening the floodgates on the page. I find if I write slower, then I begin to judge my writing too much- I start editing or censoring myself- Self Censoring is the biggest creativity killer there is. Some of my most interesting dialogue/ poetic flow stems from early first drafts. Admittedly my first draft will always need VERY severe re-editing, but it is balanced well by the speed of the first draft.

  55. says

    I love the idea, Anne! (If only my brain worked this way.) I imagine this is what some writers refer to as “blocking in the scene”?

  56. says

    I am a new writer with my first publishing contract. It took me five painful years to get my first manuscript to the point of publication. I’m on my second book and doing much better. I appreciate you sharing this information. I dont think I’ll strictly adopt it but it gives one pause. It helps as I develop my own formula. Thanks for the tips. PMc

  57. says

    Great idea! I’m learning to write and I love this. I recently designed a scene for my WIP and then built an outline of all the objective actions that occur. It was very helpful, but then I hit a block and I wasn’t sure why. I am trying your technique and I love it. In fact, I have been adding to it. A lecture series that I’m studying colorizes setting, action, internals, dialogue, and conflict. so I am to taking writing passes through my action list with each category at a time and change the font color depending on category. For me, its the answer so far. I can identify the type of content and quantity at a glance. It keeps me from trying to juggle each of those things in mind at once. The added bonus is that I already have the mark-up complete to apply the lessons from the lectures.

    Thanks for sharing!

  58. says

    Oh, my God … thank you for this. Seriously. I’m out of work this summer and am hell-bent on getting the first draft of this novel completed. My writing group liked the first chapter, which is encouraging, but I’ve been struggling with the question of “now what?” I’m very much of a writing sentence-by-sentence, word-by-word kind of girl and this approach sounds refreshing.

    I’m going to give this a try. Again, thank you!