Monday, June 15, 2015

Avoid a Messy First Draft by Alex J. Cavanaugh


Please join me in welcoming Alex J. Cavanaugh! It's always a treat when Alex stops by and shares his insight and experience. Known to his blog followers as the Ninja Captain, Alex is the author of several books, including his newest release, Dragon of the Stars.  


 
Outlining – How to Avoid a Messy First Draft

By Alex J. Cavanuagh

Some people can sit down and just start writing. Some need an outline and a plan. (I’m definitely the latter.) If you’re not one to outline and would like to learn or maybe you struggle with outlines, then I hope you benefit from my steps from idea to a published book.

I’m going to use my latest, Dragon of the Stars, as an example.

The idea came to me from a song. Ayreon’s Dragon on the Sea tells the tale of Queen Elizabeth I sending Sir Francis Drake to face the Spanish Armada. I envisioned a Dragon spaceship, and mulled the idea over for many years.

Endings always come to me first, and the sight of the Dragon ship battling invaders stuck in my head. That would be my ending. From that point, I brainstormed what made this ship unique and how did it come into being. I worked back from the ending until I had a solid premise.

This is where an outline is really beneficial. I wrote down the highlights from beginning to end. I kept the character arc in mind and added layers to that as I continued to expand my outline. Characters are crucial to me, and I wanted to ensure that the main character underwent a transformation. (Otherwise he’d be weak and anemic and need a transfusion instead.)

Then I noted where I needed research. I focused on world building–what was the main character’s home world like? What was the climate, the industry, the politics? What about the Dragon itself? What fueled the ship? I spent some time looking up details and facts so I could give the story a solid foundation.

Once I felt the outline was full and ready, I ran it by a critique partner. Not everyone does this, but I wanted to be sure there was enough for a quality story. He gave me some suggestions, which led to new ideas of my own.

By this time, the outline was several pages long and I had numerous pages of research. I read over it many times, looking for the proper beats and any holes in the story. I fleshed it out even more. Once I realized I was adding a lot of details, I knew it was time to simply start writing the story.

That might sound like a lot of work. And it was! From the time I began working on the outline to its completion was several months. But here is where all that planning pays off–once I completed that first draft, it wasn’t a big mess. After a month of revisions, I was ready to send it to test readers. After that was another month of revisions and then it went to my critique partners.

Outlines aren’t for everyone. But if you are frustrated with a messy first draft and hate the revision process, it might be worth a try. I may loathe that first draft, but editing afterwards is a lot more enjoyable!

 

Dragon of the Stars                                                                            


By Alex J. Cavanaugh
Science Fiction – Space Opera/Adventure/Military
Print ISBN 9781939844064 EBook ISBN 9781939844057
Dancing Lemur Press, LLC http://www.dancinglemurpress.com/
What Are the Kargrandes? http://whatarethekargrandes.com/

The ship of legends…

The future is set for Lt. Commander Aden Pendar, son of a Hyrathian Duke. Poised to secure his own command and marriage to the queen’s daughter, he’ll stop at nothing to achieve his goals.

But when the Alliance denies Hyrath’s claim on the planet of Kavil and declares war on their world, Aden finds his plans in disarray. Entrenched in battle and told he won’t make captain, Aden’s world begins to collapse. How will he salvage his career and future during Hyrath’s darkest hour?

One chance remains–the Dragon. Lost many years prior, the legendary ship’s unique weapon is Hyrath’s only hope. Can Aden find the Dragon, save his people, and prove he’s capable of commanding his own ship?

Purchase Dragon of the Stars

ITunes 

Alex J. Cavanaugh has a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and works in web design, graphics, and technical editing. A fan of all things science fiction, his interests range from books and movies to music and games. Online he is the Ninja Captain and founder of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. He’s the author of Amazon Best-Sellers CassaStar, CassaFire, and CassaStorm. 

Visit Alex

Insecure Writer's Support Group
Twitter 

I dislike outlining, so I think I'll give Alex's advice a try. How about you, do you like to outline? What helps with your first draft? 
 
Happy writing,

Karen

52 comments :

  1. Loved hearing about your outlining process. I just can't do one that detailed--I tried and just stared at the page. But I do need to know the major plot points before I write and now I'm trying to know where they should be word count wise so I don't get out of control.

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    1. Yeah, I know I write a really detailed outline. Going over word count is the one thing that's never happened to me though.

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  2. Natalie,
    Alex has great ideas, doesn't he? I think maybe we all use some kind of outline, whether in our heads on on paper. How detailed depends on our style and what we are doing. Good to have you stop by! :)

    Alex,
    You are welcome! And thank you for sharing with us! It's great food for thought. :)

    Happy writing,
    Karen

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  3. Great post, Alex! I'm not an outliner. I've tried, but my story always veers away from it. Yet I would love to save time in the revision process! I usually have my characters flushed out in my head before I start to write, though. That helps a lot.

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    1. Knowing your characters well definitely helps!

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  4. Outlining seems like such a good idea, but the only story I've ever outlined went waaay off course once I started writing it. Maybe it takes practice. I'm not really sure, but glad it works for you. I do like the idea of knowing the ending and working backwards to get there.

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    Replies
    1. Mine don't always stay on course either, but at least it gives me a starting and ending point.

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  5. I can't do it. I never know where the story will go until it comes out of my pen or my fingers. I envy those that have a clue.
    Great advice though.

    Heather

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  6. Christine,
    I'm thinking that many of us do some form of outlining (like choosing characters, etc.) but don't always think of it as such. Good to meet you! :)

    Shell Flower,
    I like the knowing the ending idea too. Want to try it on a story soon. It's nice to see you here. Thanks for coming by! :)

    Heather,
    I agree, it is good advice! I think we all have to find that right method for our writing to be most successful. Appreciate you stopping by! :)

    Happy writing,
    Karen

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  7. I never outlined. Now I enjoy having one, though it's much looser than yours.

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    Replies
    1. Mine's looser than you think. Wait, that sounds bad...

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  8. Thanks for taking us through the process of your massive outline, Alex. I think my rough drafts are a little like your outlines - especially since I write them in a burst of speed and they don't always have all the description in them that they need to have for a finished product. I'm going to try one of your kinds of outlines one of these days.

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  9. I usually figure out the main conflict first and then come up with the ending. Sometimes my endings change after I start writing but I do a basic outline.

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  10. I often see the ending before the beginning, so appreciate that you shared that is how you start! I have used index cards to outline, and tend to write the outlines in 'scenes.' Still very new as I have only worked on one novel. Thank you for sharing what you have found works for you!

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    1. Good to know someone else starts with the ending!

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  11. I always use and outline but I've never started with the ending and worked my way backwards.

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  12. It sounds like you have a great process that works for you, Alex. I've never been one for formal outlining. I start with a character and a situation and go from there. I do have ideas for several scenes that will happen at some point in the story, and I write those down. That's the closest I ever get to outlining. I always know the beginning and the ending, but the path from one to the other comes together as I write.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Sometime my path takes a detour despite an outline.

      Delete
  13. Thank you so much for this post, Alex. I'm also an outline person, and get bogged down in messy first drafts. I plan to work with your practical suggestions for my next book.

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  14. Thank you for the information. I am not an outliner. When I tried it I probably didn't outline enough detail and completed the outlined facts and didn't have very high word count.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's not for everyone. I've tried not outlining and had a mess.

      Delete
  15. Thanks for an insightful post, Alex. I'm a pantser who struggles to be a plotter. I know and understand the benefits of outlining---and in fact, I do outline first, but always after the first chaptaer or two my outline becomes more of a road map that I use to keep me on course when my characters veer me off. I end up where I need to be, but the route may change along the way. I keep saying I'm going to write a detailed outline and stick to it (those who do say the writing goes faster and easier), and maybe I'll give it a go for my next book.

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  16. I couldn't get through my super-sized books sans outline and notes, either detailed or in the form of a table of contents telling me what goes where. Just vomiting forth whichever words come to mind, without any sort of structure or point to anything, doesn't create a very good story.

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    1. Carrie-Anne, I can only imagine your massive outlines!

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  17. *waves madly* Hey, Alex. And howdy, amigo. I'm a panster. A panster who jots a paragraph that masquerades as an outline. I can't even begin to imagine your outlines, Alex. But I do see how your first drafts are way cleaner than mine. I am bookmarking. When I start the next one, I'll try the Ninja Captain's method. To be continued. :-) Thanks for having Alex over, amigo. xoxo

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    Replies
    1. Hey Robyn!! Give it a try. It just might work.

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  18. Bish,
    It's funny how we change things up over time, isn't it? Guess it just changes with our projects and preferences. Always good to see you. :)

    Tyrean,
    Alex's insight is helpful, isn't it? Even if our style is different, I think we can appreciate and learn from other writer's methods. :)

    Susan,
    It's funny how sometimes we get different pieces to our writing, isn't it? I often start out with a sliver of an idea, then bounce to the end or middle. Appreciate you coming by. :)

    Lynn,
    Alex's has some wonderful ideas, doesn't he? Ultimately it's what works best for us, but we gain so much insight from other writers. Glad you got to meet Alex. :)

    Diane,
    Reminds me of editing backwards - not something you initially think of! Thanks for coming over. :)

    Lori,
    Appreciate your thoughts here. It's interesting how our writing comes together, outline or not, isn't it? :)

    Janice,
    It does sounds like Alex has streamlined his process, doesn't it? Looking forward to giving it a similar try. :)

    Cecelia,
    I think we all have to come to terms as to whether we like working with outlines or not. I don't like them as a rule, but they do help me stay focused, even if a general one, for certain projects. For others, I just wing it! lol :)

    Lisa,
    I think there are many pantsters who struggle to be otherwise. But I think in the long run we do our best with what suits our style and all. Glad you got to meet Alex. :)

    Carrie-Anne,
    It's interesting to see how we all like to work- what gets us to "the end" and all that good stuff. Appreciate you stopping by! :)

    Robyn,
    Hey amigo - hope you are feeling better! You'll have to let us know how it goes if you decide to give Alex's method a try! :)

    Happy writing,
    Karen

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  19. Yes, I've heard of some best selling writers who take 2 years to outline, research, write character profiles etc. Seems a long time but I sometimes think I'd be better off this way. My pantser days are over!

    Thanks for hosting Alex, Karen.

    Denise :-)

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  20. Awesome. Sometimes I can write by an outline, and sometimes I can't. They definitely make for a faster drafting process, but when characters decide they want to reveal new aspects of their story in the middle of a draft... Maybe I'm just too nice. ;)

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  21. *waves at Alex and Karen* I actually did something similar with the last YA novel I developed - due to start writing it this fall. I knew how I wanted it to end and then worked backwards. As the story slowly developed, I added more and more layers to character arcs, the world, and the main plot. Eventually, I even moved on to a few secondary characters in relationship to how my MC would bounce of them. But the reason I said all this is because it's the first time I EVER wrote a complete outline and synopsis and then shared it with a CP for a response. It really helped me. I'd recommend it to anyone. Thanks so much for sharing this, Alex, and to Karen for hosting you.

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    Replies
    1. Awesome! I shared the outline for my last two outlines with one critique partner and he really helped me fill in details and make it all make sense.

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  22. Great tips, Alex. I wrote my first novel without an outline. I. Will. Never. Do. That. Again. It took forever to finish and was about as structured as a bull in a china shop. Martha Alderson's The Plot Whisperer changed all that for me.

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  23. Denise,
    Good to meet you. :) It's always nice to have Alex visit. I think he makes a great point here.

    Crystal,
    Ha - maybe you are too nice! :) I might be too in that respect. Some things I can use an outline - or an outline-ish, others, not so much.

    Sheri,
    Waving back - thanks! :) I liked hearing about your process. Sounds like the time was well spent for you!

    Jenn,
    I like your comparison about the bull in the china shop. :) Live and learn, right? Will have to check out Alderson's book, thanks.

    Happy writing,
    Karen

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  24. Characters, stories, get them right and thats half the battle. The rest is like a little bit like (and this is where I go horribly wrong describing this, lol) like a future history and being Science Fiction, all I've got to do now is marry the lot together using the history as a backdrop. I love the bit about having an ending before putting pen to paper. Now thats pretty cool if you ask me.

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    1. I always know the ending first. Weird, huh?

      Delete
  25. I use outlines too, very dynamic though, as in always changing. Write by the seat of my pants and then outline to see if I can deepen the plot lines and subplots.
    Wonderful to read your process, lets me know I'm not too out there with mine. My endings usually come first too!

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  26. Silly question: is a first messy draft really and truly avoidable? To a certain degree, I suppose?
    I'm sure a combination of outline + experience of story structure etc. also helps avoid that initial mess...
    Well, I'm thinking that I need a CP to help me fill in story blanks.
    Thanks for the insight...

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    1. Michelle, mine aren't a big mess. By outlining to death, I avoid having to move things around or change point of view or key scenes.

      Delete
  27. Hi Alex, I like your outlining process. With such a detailed process one definitely won't have a messy first draft. I will try this process for my next book. Thanks for sharing your writing method with us.

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    1. It helps to go into a lot of detail before writing.

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  28. You sound a lot like me when I write. I have the outline, and then I do a ton of research to build a believable world.

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  29. Spacerguy,
    I think coming up with and working with the end is cool too. Need to give it a try. Thanks for stopping and following! :)

    Yolanda,
    I like the idea of going sotp then outlining - sounds like you can really fill things in that way. Good to meet you! :)

    Michelle,
    Why is it too, that some drafts have more mess potential than others? Or maybe it's just me with certain projects. lol :)

    Rachna,
    It's fun to see how the Captain handles the drafts, isn't it? Always something for us to learn! :)

    Sherry,
    Appreciate you stopping by. Sounds like you and Alex are those great minds who think alike! :)

    Happy writing,
    Karen

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  30. I'm glad outlining works for you, Alex. I think I've tried almost every plan out there, but SOTP it is for me. Best wishes with the new book!

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  31. Susan,
    I know you are a diehard SOTP writer! I'm thinking the outline is in your head. lol :)
    Happy writing,
    Karen

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Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. Have a blessed day!