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Be a "Method" Writer

This is the fifth of a seven-part series of blog posts titled Structure for Gardeners. Check out Monday's post for an overview look at how we got to this point. Today we will concentrate on

SELECTING A METHOD with which to write your novel. Because, once you’ve decided the point-of-view of your novel, you then want to build a framework for how you will get the writing accomplished.


Write as many drafts as necessary, but don’t write drafts forever. Set a goal. Get it done. Then go back through the draft and polish – fill in what’s missing. Add color and character motivation. Look for holes that need to be repaired, stuff that doesn’t fit (throw it out).

Note: keep the cuts you make in your manuscript and store them in a “cut files” folder on your computer. Use the cut files for blog posts.

Some people like to have their computer read the draft back to them.

Here’s some examples of Method:

  • Nancy Rue – Takes three months to write a book … writes a 40-page, chapter-by-chapter outline … writes 15 pages a day … the next day, she reads what she wrote the day before … at the half-way point, review it all, and then don’t go back to it … then do the same pattern on the second half.

  • Angela Hunt – Takes three months to write everything, from all the prep work through all the drafts to finished manuscript … does extensive outlines and extensive character biographies before she begins, including to the point of pulling faces from the Internet that look like her characters.

  • Terry Brennan – Get an idea and start writing … have a starting point and an ending point in mind, and keep writing … dive into research and keep writing … write down some character profiles somewhere, then try to remember where they are when you need them … build the Excel spread sheet Timeline/Outline to keep things in order and keep yourself sane.

Each author needs to decide what kind of outline works best for you:

  • James Patterson writes one paragraph for each chapter; Michael Connelly writes in zones, moving from one plot point to another. Some authors use Story Boarding, which is generally one line/sentence summaries for each chapter.

Try to be flexible with your outlines. As Stephen King asserts, all writing is organic. Give your story and your characters room and permission to grow.

It helps to know where your story begins and where it ends before you start writing. Write multiple drafts of the outline … shape character arcs, develop complex villains, enhance the depth of your world.

Despite the outline format, you should be able to read the outline and know the overall story. Remember to only keep the scenes or chapters that move the story forward

DJ Williams takes a different approach to Structure and Method using the Layered Outline. DJ writes different drafts for different characters:

  • First layer – write from protagonist point-of-view

  • Second layer – write deeper on the secondary characters

  • Third layer – write from the villain’s point-of-view … make villain as bad as possible

  • Fourth layer – takes the first three layers and merge them into the perfect the story arc … add twists, strengthen locations and edit out the noise.

  • Always be asking yourself what happens to the characters throughout the story. Always keep focused on the story, try not to get into the weeds with too much detail in the outline. Write your outline without worrying about the right words – always be thinking story

  • Take a week away from your outline, then review and revise, before you start writing. Once your outline is ready, then freight train through your first draft of the book.

On Friday we will continue our investigation of Structure by looking at different aspects of Plot Development and the importance of Backstory.



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