Jeanne: Taking the Chill Off

This week, as you probably know by now, the Eight Ladies are doing a series of linked posts on the topic of cold start processes–that is, how we get back into our work-in-progress after being away from it awhile.

The idea to do these posts started when my sister posted this video of Diana Gabaldon on Facebook and tagged me:

The video really surprised me, because my own cold start process is day-and-night different from Diana’s.

When I’m trying to pick back up after being away from a work-in-progress for a while, I figure out what scene needs to happen next and work on that.

So, while Diana is examining the way light falls on crystal, I’m thinking:

  • Which characters are in this scene?
  • Which characters have a stake in this scene? That is, they don’t just happen to be there, they have a goal to accomplish.
  • What are their scene goals? The scene needs to have both a protagonist and and antagonist with mutually exclusive, or at least competing, goals,
  • Next, I work on the beats of the scene. What will each character do to attempt to achieve their goal? What will the other character do or say to block them and advance their own goal? I try to identify at least three beats (attempts to meet goal).
  • At this point, I’m ready to try actually writing. With this skeleton outline of the scene up on my secondary screen, I start letting the characters talk to each other on my primary screen.
  • If my head is actually in the game, the scene generally takes a left turn as I write it. The characters don’t do or say what I have laid out for them. They have their own ideas. That’s how I know I’ve tapped into my creative side.

My first drafts are generally 90% dialogue. To be honest, my finished product is probably still 75% dialogue or body language. I go back in and add setting when my critique partners complain that they don’t know where they are.

So what happens when my patented technique doesn’t work? I go back and reread the manuscript from the beginning, tweaking. This isn’t my first choice because, as the manuscript grows, it becomes time-consuming.

What do you do?


7 thoughts on “Jeanne: Taking the Chill Off

  1. My first drafts are mostly dialogue, too. And ARGH! BEATS! I hate them. I hate trying to figure them out. It’s probably the last thing I’d think about if I were stuck!

  2. I first learned about beats when I attended Robert McKee’s “Story” seminar in 2010. I sensed that I’d just been introduced to something that could be useful, but I didn’t fully understand them until we studied them again at McDaniel. With Jenny’s explanation, they became a lot clearer. Now they’re a go-to in my writer’s toolbox, both for restarts and for scene fixing.

    I’m really interested to see how the rest of the Ladies get their coffee pots perking again after a break.

  3. Huh. That’s very interesting! To me, there are two kinds of cold starts, and I’ll probably talk more about that on Saturday. But, there’s the cold start at the beginning of the story (which I love, because ALL possibilities are open), and there’s the cold start in the middle of the story.

    If I’m in the middle of the story, there are a lot of possibilities that have been closed off by decisions I’ve made in the first scenes. But in general, I already know who the possible characters are, I know basically what kind of world I’m working in, and what kind of settings are available to me. So, for me, I don’t need to know that stuff. It’s there — it’s just covered up.

    What I need in the middle of the story is some sort of loop or snag that I can grab onto, and pull the veil off of the story that is (probably) already there.

    This is where the hard part is — a lot of loops and snags (or crystal goblets) belong to some other story, and I can recognize that pretty quickly. So, I’m faced with a decision: do I try to keep working on the old story, or do I take that spark and start a new story? For the past few years, I tend to stick to the old story, which results in a lot of stalls and frustration. But I know from experience that the new story is going to face stalling and frustration in the middle parts, too. So while it may be more entertaining to go off on the new story, I’m still going to wind up with a half-finished story.

    The main exceptions are when the story I spark to is a short story that I can finish in four or five hours of writing. Then I can finish, and be satisfied.

    Oh, and a couple of NaNos where I treated the story as a practice session — basically a month-long writing sprint. Then, I was able to finish a longer story. I came in mostly underwritten, with lots of swearing and cheerleading (and thousands of words in unnecessary epilog) in order to “win” at 50,000, but the stories were approximately seven times as long as my typical 5,000 word specials. Put two of those together, and I’ve got a novel, right? LOL.

  4. Pingback: Elizabeth: Cold Starts and Fresh Starts – Eight Ladies Writing

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