Finding The Story

Writing is a tough process. I sit down try to write out a rough plan of the story, then start writing scenes. Frequently my ideas for scenes don’t work, or when I figure out a way to make them work the story takes off in a new direction. The first attempt at writing the novel winds up being just a collection of random ideas and it takes 3 or 4 passes to get something passable from it. The process is long and painful.

Recently I’ve become a fan of I’ve been dutifully digesting Larry Brooks’ advice on story structure, but only recently have I discovered his advice about the “beat sheet.” What is the beat sheet? Just a list of scenes. You fill in 12 to 14 of them for each of the four parts of your novel, then you start writing.

Now I admit, on the face of it, it doesn’t sound like much. In fact, I’ve tried this kind of thing before and it hasn’t worked well. But I was missing one ingredient: The Mission.

The “Mission” tells you how to write a one sentence description of a scene that actually works. Larry Brooks says that the mission is about the information that the scene imparts, something important to the story. The test of whether a scene has a mission, he says, is whether (after reading the scene) a reader can tell why that scene is in the story. Knowing the mission of a scene is the key to writing a one sentence description that works.

Now I can write these one sentence scenes and move them around, and the process feels a lot like my much longer more painful process of finding my story but vastly accelerated.

How do I put this together with Larry’s other advice on story structure? For me, I work in both directions. I fill in the plot points, theme, etc. if I can, then I jump to the beat sheet, then back. It’s like my previous, much longer and more painful process, but the story outline feels so much stronger.

While I’m in the early part of finding the story I don’t worry so much about getting the scenes into collections of 12 to 14. That’s a longer term goal. Will all this help me to write a novel in one draft? Well, we’ll see. I am about half way through creating my beat sheet for my next novel and in November I’m going to put this theory to the test. In November it will be National Write a Novel in a Month Month.

Stay tuned.

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