On Writing: From Outline to Manuscript

“The first million words are practice.”

 –  Stephen King

 

In continuation from a previous post on writing a book: so, you’ve either typed out some sort of outline or decided to keep it all in your head. I personally like to write down the outline. And once I’m ready to turn it into a book—like, an actual readable book with chapters and descriptions and everything—here’s what I do.

First of all, I—to quote Miss Swift—“never, ever, ever” write my book out of chronological order. I always start with chapter one, work my way through, and finish the manuscript with the last sentence of the last chapter.

I do this for a few reasons.

Primarily, pacing. Yes, the flow of the story is something you more worry about when going back and revising it, but still. I need to ride along with the characters and be there to pave the path of the plot as it unfolds. That’s just my style; I know plenty of authors who do the exact opposite. It’s about whatever works to get the story laid down as neatly as possible.

Another reason I go in order is because I more or less “re-invent” the story as I write it out from outline to concrete existence. My outline will describe what happens overall, but when I get to a certain chapter, I might think of something else to add or another twist to throw in, based on what I’ve written so far. To me, typing out an outline is the equivalent of writing a story, and actually turning that outline into a book is a way of re-writing it and expanding on its ideas.

The next thing I do when writing the first draft of a manuscript: I think about what the first sentence should be. Not too much, since I know I’ll probably change it, but I do think a bit before I type. I want it to be something to draw people in, but also not too flashy.

In addition: I don’t worry about words. I don’t worry about how I describe things (though of course I do my best to get it right the first go around), and at the same time, I don’t worry about how many words total the manuscript will turn out to be.

I know it’s easy to fret over the length of your story, page-wise and word-wise. I do it myself all the time, even though I know it’s only the first draft and the word count means almost nothing right now. The fact of the matter is that my main goal is to get the plot down, and to bring the characters to life. Once that task—writing the first draft, in other words—is finished, I can move on to worry about the mechanics of it.

The first book I wrote was thirty-six pages long (though it was single-spaced at the time, so that brings the manuscript length up to seventy-two). Through the course of my tweaking, that went up to three hundred and fifty pages, then was chopped back down to just over three hundred. Of course, I’ve since thrown out that entire manuscript and am re-writing it from scratch, so there’s the writing world for you.

So yeah, that’s about it for now.

Occasionally throughout this series of posts I’ll re-iterate my disclaimer, and so I will now: these are my thoughts only. And while I’ve been writing for a while, I’m not published, and thus my advice is subjectively useful at best. So I appreciate it if you’ve even read this whole article.

 

And as per usual with my writing posts, I’ll include a random fact, so you can say you learned something:

The Japanese name for the (thankfully) cancelled show Jersey Shore translates as “Macaroni Rascals.”

Happy Election Day.

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