“A goal without a plan is just a wish.” ~ Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Our resident hound asked, “Typically, how many drafts do you complete — of a novel or novella — before you submit it to a publisher / editor / agent? Why?”
When I first started writing, I’d start writing and had to rewrite huge sections. It took seven years and several rewrites to finish The Samurai’s Garden. But after ten years I’ve learned a thing or two that make the process much smoother. I write a story once, and edit bits and pieces as I go along. There are a few reasons for this:
- I usually plan my stories. I rarely dig into a manuscript until I’ve worked out several plot points, often using either a graphic organizer or outline that follows an established story structure. Romancing the Beat by Gwen Hayes and Romance Beat Sheets by Jami Gold are two that I like to use. I’ve also used various versions of Save the Cat by Blake Snyder.
- In addition to planning out the storyline, I spend time working out three important details about my main characters. These are described in GMC: Goal, Motivation, and Conflict by Deb Dixon. In a romance, there are two main characters (the hero and the heroine), so I work that out for both. In other words, What does he (she) want, why does he (she) want it, and what’s standing in the way that needs to be overcome? Usually one or more of these questions need to overlap between the two main characters – for instance, the hero might be what’s standing in the way of the heroine getting what she wants, or perhaps they both want the same thing for different reasons, so they work together to get it.
- I also spend time working out two other important details that help to define my characters and drive the plot. These are the internal conflict (and in a romance, often both main characters need one) and the external conflict (the big thing that’s keeping them both from getting what they want). Sometimes I’ll lose sight of one of these and start rambling about things that don’t help solve either problem. This is another reason why I need my outline.
- I don’t write in a linear fashion. Even with an outline, I start at the beginning, then write the ending, and then work on stuff in the middle. I’m not sure why I work this way, but it’s what works for me. Lots of times I’ll read a book that way too. I read the beginning to see if it interests me, jump to the end to find out where they end up, and then I’ll go back and read the middle to find out how they got there. Anyway, sometimes my characters will surprise me and go off in another direction, but generally they always get to the happy ending that’s the hallmark of a traditional romance. When that happens, I go back to my outline and decide what alterations need to be made.
Sometimes I’ll have an idea for a funny scene, or a good opening, or a romantic ending, and I’ll write that down, thinking it’ll develop into a story. And sometimes I can make it work, but not until I get the first three items above worked out. Whenever I try to just write, I end up with a jumbled mess that has so many plot holes and inconsistent characters that I’d never want to submit it anywhere. As a teacher, I never show up to teach a class without knowing what I’m going to cover, what materials I’m going to use, and how I’m going to present the information. So to me, it makes sense that I can’t tell a good story without planning ahead.