When I decided to take the Compact Universe independent, it became clear I was going to have to produce more stories in a short amount of time. You hear a lot of talk about “pantsers,” meaning they write by the “seat of their pants,” and outliners. In the past, I’ve done both. The Jim Winter novel Road Rules was written in 13 days because I had a strong outline. The novel that spawned the Compact Universe took months because I did not do much outlining.
Then I learned about beat sheets, which focus the plot of the story. I even downloaded a beat sheet template here that uses Excel to calculate potential word counts. This is useful when you set out to write a novella and it threatens to become a thick volume in the Game of Thrones series.
And then I realized I was doing it ass backward. I thought the beat sheet was supposed to be a way to keep score while you worked off your outline. So I dove into Tishla, the follow-up to Gimme Shelter, and started banging away.
Then I realized the story was getting away from me. Oops.
So here’s how the next four novellas are being done:
- Write a short sketch. What are the basic parts of the story I want to have happen? In Tishla’s case, I want her to pick up where Kai left off in The First One’s Free, then give her a reason to go after Laral Umish. It’s a quick and dirty way to get a look at the story.
- The beat sheet: Organize the story around four major “beats” or events that happen within a story. There can be four minor beats as well for a longer or more complex story, but the idea is to have a blueprint.
- Short outline: Now this has to look like an actual story. The sketch is mainly a shopping list of what I need to have happen. The beat sheet is a blueprint. The short outline is the artists rendering if we want to continue the architect metaphor. It’s a synopsis written before the fact, and it’s not something written to attract an agent, an editor, or a critic. It’s intended to tell me where to go. (When one is not handy, my wife is usually happy to step in and tell me.)
- Long outline: This is a chapter outline for a novella or longer. If I have a specific word count in mind, this is where I manage it. If you’re a pantser, this part is not going to work for you.
- Scrivener: This is the part I’ve added to the process. I used to work in Word, and I’ll probably continue to do short stories in Word, but Scrivener is not a word processor. It’s an IDE for long-form writing. What’s an IDE? See this web site? The theme was written by a developer who worked with Auttomatic, who created WordPress, to get this site to look the way it does. (Depending on when you’re reading this, that developer might even be me, but not at the time I wrote this.) That developer likely used an IDE – a program that let’s you write code in an organized manner so you’re not chasing random text files all over creation – to do this. For writers, it means you can organize by chapter, keep sections for detached scenes or for character information, and so on. In my case, I’ll be mapping out my scenes and putting the word counts where I can see them.
Going independent means I have to work fast, but it also means I still have to work well. This system lets me do that.