Outlining and Telling in Chunks

Shonna Slayton — 

I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo for several years. Without problem I can churn out 50,000 words in a month. But then it takes me close to two years to edit those words into a manuscript worthy of querying.

In order to prep for NaNoWriMo, I’ve tried several versions of outlining—worksheets; notecards, a combination of worksheets/notecards. However, each year I’ve come across the same issue. I finish the story in two weeks and then I have to go back and add. During NaNo ’09 I just went with it and wrote two stories to make up my 50,000 words.

Here’s my problem. Since I know where the story is going, I rush through to all the good parts, leaving a lot of empty gaps to fill later on. Never mind my story pacing—I had trouble pacing myself.

But that all changed this past NaNoWriMo.

I followed Larry Brook’s advice on Storytelling in Chunks, based on his Beat Sheet that he talked about in his guest blog this week. During NaNoWriMo 2010, I wrote not towards THE END, but I wrote towards the next plot point, or pinch point, or midpoint, etc. His advice, in a nutshell was:

Instead of word count, shoot for phases of story.

You would not believe the difference this mindset made in my writing. Instead of chronically underwriting, I was hitting the marks on schedule, with fully formed text. This time, my first draft is like my normal third draft.

Is the writing any better? I certainly hope so. I know the story structure holding it up is better. I don’t have to go back into the story and impose a structure overtop of words already written.

Will I edit this one faster? Again, I certainly hope so. I’m still in my second-to-last edit on a previous manuscript so I won’t get to this shiny new NaNo story for a few more months. But I’m pretty confident that by writing my first draft with a concentrated eye towards the proper story structure, I’ve cut my editing time down by at least 6 months, if not more.

I’m curious, has anyone else tried changing the way you write? What were the results?

We hope you are enjoying our month-long series on story structure. Only one more week and we are done. If you’ve been holding off on buying Larry’s book you are running out of time to get in on his bonus e-book offer. His new book is called Story Engineering and is a nice convenient package for all his excellent advice.

Shonna Slayton

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Shonna Slayton is the author of the YA novel Cinderella's Dress, a fairy tale set in the 1940s, out June 3, 2014. Visit her website at ShonnaSlayton.com for a short video and to sign up for her newsletter.

2 responses to Outlining and Telling in Chunks

  1. That sounds like a great idea. I’m an underwriter but not in the structure sense but during an actual scene. I have to add details and flesh out showing. Great series.

  2. Kitty Bucholtz at

    Shonna, I totally get what you’re saying. I always wrote like that – from one story point to the next – and had great first drafts. Then a few years ago I decided to try what all my pantster friends were urging me to do and “just write it, whatever comes into your head.” They insisted I could be more creative. Instead I’ve got two seriously messed up manuscripts that needed to be fixed. I just started a new book this weekend for my master’s degree class and wrote my 5000-word assignment in a weekend. Again, the first draft looks really good! I tell you, I am NOT going back again! LOL! I’m a plotter and proud of it! LOL! :)