“The wonderful thing about writing is that there is always a blank page waiting. The terrifying thing about writing is that there is always a blank page waiting.” -J.K. Rowling
Whose story is this?
Before writing, I recommend filling out a character worksheet for at least the main character (psst, this is one of your assignments). CLICK HERE to view and/or print the character-building worksheet. You do not need to answer all of the questions, and might not be able to yet. Some questions might not apply to your character. As you write your story, more details will come to light. I encourage you to add these details to your character’s worksheet. Character sheets can help you in the following ways:
- It provides a spring board for your story with built-in character development.
- Some of the answers conjure valuable details you might not otherwise have known.
- The details can sometimes bail you out of writer’s block.
- Helps to prevent plot inconsistencies and holes.
You are not required to continue using character sheets throughout the entire term. If, after filling out your main character’s sheet, you find it to be useless to you, then feel free toss it in the bin.
What? Yes, just when you thought you were done outlining, Fumbly asks you to do it again!
Please don’t give up and leave. This will not be the same as your Lesson 2 outline. You might be surprised to learn that I don’t love planning too much prior to writing. However, if I don’t plan at all, I fall into a tangle of random hole-filled webs of inconsistency… and never finish.
Chapter outlines should be great fun for this particular crowd, because we’ll be outlining just like J.K. Rowling! Instead of building the framework for your entire story, you’ll instead outline a few chapters at a time. I suggest beginning with only two chapters to acquaint yourself with the process.
“I plan a lot. This particular novel’s plan comprises a vast, complicated, colour-coded table showing all the suspects, with blue ink for clues and red ink for red herrings.”
-J.K. Rowling, 2018 (Twitter)
Before we move on… let’s admire Rowling’s Order of the Phoenix outline once more :
Have you finished gazing in awe? Now CLICK HERE to view, print, and/or fill out a similar chapter outline online or scribble one out yourself in longhand.
Beginning with Chapter One, track the time of year, chapter title (if you have one), general plot details, and what each important character (or group) is doing in this chapter. If, while filling out your outline, you discover more details about your character, add those details to the respective character worksheet.
Even if a character isn’t introduced until half-way through your story, track them in your outlines from the beginning. I am over half-way through my current novel, and I’ve been tracking a character the entire time… who probably won’t appear until the climax! It might feel useless to you. However, when you introduce new characters, it helps a great deal to know everything they’ve been doing until then.
As you can see, filling in these details for each chapter goes quickly. I usually tackle between three to five chapters at a time. If I don’t, my writing pace slows to a crawl. When armed with J.K. Rowling’s fabulous tool, I write faster than ever!
I also appreciate that I’m not committed to sharing all the details that appear in my outlines. It also barely dictates the chronology of each chapter. I’m free to “wing it” while also benefiting from the guidance the outlines provide. I don’t create well when confined, so these methods help me track details while also allowing me freedom to wander while I write.
Once you feel ready, begin writing. Do not worry yourself with style and perfection at this point. Your immediate goal is to tell the story, from beginning to end. You do not have to tell it well. Not yet.
There is one more detail to keep in mind while drafting your first chapter (though, depending on the story, this might be worked in later). Without this, no reader might ever commit to reading your story. They might read a few pages (if you’re lucky) and drop the book, never to pick it up again. Without this, your readers have no reason to read your story.
I’m talking about… The Hook.
- The Hook is that which “hooks” your readers into your story, committing them to read it to the end (or, at least, for longer than if you hadn’t hooked them). There are several ways to hook your readers, including the following:
Begin with action. Some say to begin with an explosion, but explosions don’t happen in all stories!
- Show the reader that they can relate to the story or character. If they relate, they are more likely to commit. This approach requires familiarity with the target audience.
- Paint a scene of intrigue. For instance, “No one was sure where the house went. It simply vanished overnight. Stranger still, the neighbors showed no curiosity.”
- The point is, your story is worth reading, and you need to prove it to your audience.
Bearing this in mind, just write. If you are fortunate to craft a good hook while writing your first draft, that’s great! If not, then the hook isn’t ready to be crafted yet and will arrive in a later draft… and that’s great too!
I will leave you with the only writing rules I will enforce in this class:
- Just Write
- Keep Writing
- Don’t Give Up
- Don’t Look Back
- Dismiss Your Inner-Editor
- Don’t Judge a Story Without Two Covers
- Feel accomplished every day you write, even if it’s only a few wee words.
“…write your story as it needs to be written. Write it honestly, and tell it as best you can. I’m not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.” -Neil Gaiman