By Alexandra Sokoloff
Hope everyone had a great holiday and a great Nano.
1. First, before you start a project, even if you already have a great idea that you’re committed to, it really helps to allow yourself to do free-form brainstorming, to see what themes and characters are rolling around in your head that might just help you with the new project. And if you don’t have that great idea yet, this is the way to uncover it.
First, You Need An Idea
2. Take a stab at writing the premise. You may not know what it is exactly, yet – that’s fine!
What's Your Premise?
3. See if you can identify what KIND of story it is. Again, you may not know this at early stages – don’t worry about it! Just ask the question of yourself, and keep alert for the answer.
What Kind of Story Is It?
4. Make a Master List of movies and books in the genre of your new project, and that are structurally similar to your project (the same KIND or type of story).
Analyzing Your Master List
5. Pick at least three of them that are MOST SIMILAR to your own story and watch them, doing a detailed story breakdown as we’ve seen people doing here, identifying the key Story Elements, Acts, Sequences, Climaxes, etc. I really urge you to put some thought into which movies will be of the most use to your own story and not just do breakdowns for the sake of doing them – that’s fun, but it’s not the point.
Three Act Structure Review
Three Act-Eight Sequence Structure Review
6. At the same time, start generating index cards for your own story. Write every scene that you know or imagine in the story on index cards and stick them on a structure grid if you have a vague idea where that scene goes. Write cards for the climaxes and story elements even if you don’t know specifically what they are, yet. Allow yourself to be inspired by the movies you’re watching – let the movies show you what scenes are missing in your own story.
Index Card Method And Structure Grid
Story Elements Checklist For Generating Index Cards
7. Also do word lists of visual and thematic elements for your story to start building your image systems. Start a collage book or online clip file of images if that appeals to you.
Thematic Image Systems
8. Work back and forth between the index cards and your growing on paper or in file outline of the story. Write whole scenes out when you are inspired. Flesh out the acts by reviewing the elements of each act:
Elements of Act One
Elements of Act Two, Part One
Elements of Act Two, Part Two
Elements of Act Three
Elements Of Act Three-Great Climax
Elements of Act Three-Elevate Your Ending
9. As you continue to work the index cards, your sequences and act climaxes will become clearer to you. These will also probably change during the writing process – that’s fine! The goal of the cards and the initial outline is a roadmap to help your subconscious out when you’re doing that endless slog of a first draft.
10. As you find out more about your story, write the premise again, and make sure you have identified and understand the
Plan And Central Story Action
What's The Plan?
Plan, Central Question,Central Story Action, Part Two
11. When you’re ready to start writing from the beginning then write. Set a writing schedule and stick to it – you can sacrifice one hour of TV or playing on Facebook a night. Professional authors are people who understand that TV and social networking are the biggest waste of writing time on the planet. Do you want to watch, or do you want to create? The choice is yours.
12. Keep moving forward – DO NOT go back and endlessly revise your first chapters. You may end up throwing them out anyway. Just move forward. If you’re stuck on a scene, write down vaguely what might happen in it or where it might happen as a placemarker and move on to a scene you know better. The first draft can be just a sketch – the important thing is to get it all down, from beginning to end. Then you can start to layer in all the other stuff.
13. When you’re stuck - make a list.
Stuck? Make A List
14. Remember that Your First Draft Is Always Going To Suck
You can always watch movies and do breakdowns to inspire you and break you through a block.
15. When you reach THE END – celebrate! Most people never get anywhere near that far in their whole lives. Take several weeks off for perspective, no matter how much you want to jump back into it.
16. Then when your brain is clear, do a read through as suggested here to see what the story is that you wrote (as opposed to what you THOUGHT you were writing. Then start the rewriting process. Definitely do a re-carding of the whole story – it will have changed!