First Draft in 30 Days
By Karen S. Wiesner
(Writer’s Digest Books, 216 pp)
Scope: Manuscript building and outlining technique
Overview: Don’t let the name fool you. This is not some gimmicky book aimed at slapdash production. At the end of 30 days you won’t actually have a complete 100K-word manuscript. You will have a solid and cohesive outline. From there, it’s only a matter of fleshing out the idea with prose.
Pantsers might squirm at this process, but there’s value here for anyone struggling with flat, tangential, or entangled plot lines. Ms. Wiesner’s method is comprehensive and easy-to-follow. Each step builds upon its predecessor. Examples and worksheets elucidate the process. Conflict, motivation, and suspense are the central tenants of her technique, the foundation upon which individual creativity can flourish.
Outlining like this is a lot of work up front, but when it comes time for revision, you’ll be trimming and tweaking instead of slashing and rewriting.
- Begin with character. “If you can picture your characters clearly, actually see them, chances are you’ll write about them in a more intimate, comfortable way”
Consider: physical & personality traits, background & occupation, internal & external conflicts
- Identify your story threads. “Like a tapestry, every story is woven of threads that become invisible within the overall design.”
Go beyond main plot line & subplot. Consider tension, release, resolution.
- Pay attention to structure. “Each action produces a reaction, and each reaction justifies the next action.”
Work through your beginning, middle, and end allowing the unmet story goal to propel you forward. Actions are thwarted. The stakes increase. Tactics are revised. With the tension about to blow the release valve, let the final showdown begin.
- Outline. “Putting together an outline is much like putting together a puzzle, except in this case you’re not only assembling pieces—you’re creating them.”
Consolidate everything you have so far—characters, story threads, plot sketch—and create a scene-by-scene outline. This facilitates not only writing your first draft but, later on, your synopsis.
There’s much more to this book than what’s noted above—setting sketches, research methods, additional outline aids. At the end, Ms. Wiesner shows you how to test the strength of your outline, check for unresolved subplots, and shore up weak story elements.
The time-intensive process described in First Draft in 30 Days isn’t for everyone. But those who use it will be gratified in the results. For more information and downloadable worksheets checkout Ms. Wiesner’s website.