First Draft tools

I’m chuffed that I recently finished my first draft of ‘Bell Time’, a contemporary rom-com set in a school. My main goal was to make sure it was much more tightly structured than my first novel, ‘The Day of the Dice’, where my first draft was 120k words. Waaaaaay too long! So I succeeded in this goal… but maybe a bit too much. My word count on this first draft is 42k words, which basically isn’t long enough really for a novel. And it’s too long for a novella. My husband’s opinion is that I’ve been super economical this time, and I can definitely afford to go back and extend it with more of the other characters and upp the comedy. So I’m hoping the editing process for this will be fun filled!

Anyway, I thought I would share some of the tools I was using to write this first draft. Some of them I picked up when I wrote ‘The Day of the Dice’ (some I really wished I’d had from the start of that process!), and some are new to this WIP (work in progress). I hope you find them helpful too.

  • Save the Cat Writes a Novel This is a great outlining tool which I used AFTER my first draft of ‘The Day of the Dice’ to whip it into a better shape. It helped to show me where some of the ‘beats’ of the story were not quite right. For ‘Bell Time’, I typed out a rough outline using the Save the Cat beat sheet- although I have to admit, the story took on a life of its own (as usual), so my finished first draft doesn’t stick to the original outline. But I did still stick to the principles of what the story beats should be.
  • The Secrets of Story Structure KM Weiland’s website is a Mary Poppins bag of extremely helpful resources in figuring out how the different parts of a story work. I used this series when I hit the 75% mark of my first draft, because I needed to go over what the final section needs to accomplish and how to do that well. Her site also has a database where people have submitted beats for existing films and stories, which I found useful, because this is my first time writing a rom-com and I found that some of the beats differ with this genre (for example, the inciting incident is usually where the couple meet for the first time).
  • StoryClock This is mostly used for film but I found it really helpful for finishing my first draft. The idea is that you plot out around a circle the key events. I found it helpful to then colour code them according to different ‘threads’ of the story. Then you can see how to make your story ‘symmetrical’ – where a story thread is introduced, and where it needs to come back into the story to make it ‘work’. This tool showed me where I had used a new character to function as a minor antagonist to create an obstacle for my couple, when I should have just used the major antagonist and not complicated the story further.

Overall, this process of writing a first draft has felt tidier to me because of these tools for structuring my story. There’s still loads I have to do in terms of editing, but I think if you have the right plot points in place, it makes everything so much easier. As much as you don’t want to be overly formulaic, there’s a reason why these structures work! The tricky thing is to give readers what they want, what feels ‘right’ for the story, without being predictable. Answers on a postcard please!

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