Writing

The Scene-a-Day Novel Writing Approach

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As most of you know, I’m a short story writer.  It’s my passion.  I love sitting down and writing a complete story all in one go.  I love the high that follows the finishing of a rough draft.  I love experimenting with all the different genres, narrative forms and ideas out there without being tied down for weeks on end to one particular thing.

But, as some of you also know, I’m in the process of writing a novel.  For anybody, novel writing can be a daunting task.  But for me, as a short story writer, I find it particularly daunting.  I can’t just sit down and write 80,000 words in one go.  There’s no glorious rush of joy from finishing a first draft.  There’s the fear of not matching the particular tone and style of the novel chapter/scene you wrote the day before.

For writers out there like myself, I wanted to talk a little bit today about the particular approach I’m taking to writing this novel.  It really works for me and it may work for other people as well.

So without further ado…

Step 1: Outline, Outline, Outline

As a short story writer, the idea of editing or revising an entire novel is mind-blowing.  One avenue I took to try to make that step easier later on was to outline every last scene in my entire novel.  It took a lot of time, I won’t lie.  I wrote different outlines for external/action arcs and two internal/emotional/spiritual arcs.  I then spent time blending both arcs together for a finished outline.  Finally, I wrote every scene down on an index card.  I listed three scenes per chapter and tacked all 45 scene cards onto poster boards.  Which leads to…

Step 2: Drafting — The Scene-Per-Day Method

Every day, I take down an index card from my board.  I read it carefully and then I sit down and write the scene as it’s outlined on the card.  Sometimes, this is a very strict process.  Write the exact scene, no deviation.  Sometimes there are little openings in the form of such phrases as “over the next few days” — I took those little openings and inserted sub-scenes or events that I began to realize as I was drafting the novel were going to be necessary.  Specifically, in one instance I realized it would be a good idea to have my character try to sell a particular item (she’s desperate for money, trying to support her family).  Upon seeing an opening on one of the scene cards, I wove that attempt-to-sell-item sub-scene in right before what was outlined on the card.

What I really, really love about the scene-per-day method is it gives me a clear beginning and end for every day. In it’s own way, it is like writing a short story.  These are bite-sized portions I can easily fit into each day without stressing or tiring myself.  In most cases, the scenes fell between 1500-2500 words per scene/day.  That’s a great number for me personally.

Having an established start and stop point helps me most as a short story writer because when I finish drafting that particular scene, I get a little mini-version of the “first draft high” I normally feel.  It’s a joy, a warmth in my chest as I realize I’ve reached my goal (for the day).  I then update a spreadsheet detailing the wordcount of every scene, chapter and total wordcount for the novel so far.  This is handy because I’ve always been motivated by numbers like that.

spreadsheet novel -edit

Step 3: Preservation of Previous Style/Tone

As I said, this is a big concern for me.  I found a way to solve this issue for me and it starts with having a playlist.  I have a playlist on Youtube that I use every single time I write on this particular novel.  It’s the same set of songs and when they finish, I start the playlist over again and continue writing.  Having the same songs playing as I write helps me get back into the same headspace as the day before and the day before that and so on.  Currently my playlist consists of instrumental songs like Samuel Barber’s Adagio For Strings and more contemporary music like Houses’ A Quiet Darkness.

Before I draft a given day’s scene, I start my playlist — both to tune out the chatter of the outside world as well as to get me back in the same mood so I’ll better replicate the existing style/tone of my novel — and reread the last scene I wrote.  Again, this helps get me back in the story.  That way I feel less like I’m just starting at random within the novel and more like I just finished writing the last scene and am immediately moving on to the next.

Done Novel- edit

Step 4: Check-Off!

After I write a day’s scene, I take the index card it was outlined on and I flip it over.  I write a smilie face and DONE in all capital letters.  I then pin it back onto my poster board so I can see my progress.  It’s a great visual measure of how far I am and how far I have yet to go.

And that’s it.  That’s how I’m writing my science fantasy YA novel (yes, I’ve given up and decided it is YA and there’s nothing I can do about that right now).  I hope these tips and ideas will prove useful for somebody.  Comment and let me know what methods, tips or tricks work for you — whether you’re a short story writer tackling novels or you’ve been writing novels since you were three (or so!).

Thanks for reading!

Alexis

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5 thoughts on “The Scene-a-Day Novel Writing Approach

  1. This is awesome – I’m in a similar predicament right now (tackling a novel, when I’ve only been writing short stories for years), and my approach is extremely haphazard. I probably need to get more structured, if I actually want to finish it. Right now, plot details, arc, characters, tone – just about everything – shift each time I write a new scene. I may use your static playlist idea, in particular – I’m always listening to music when I write, and it’s amazing how much different music can alter the tone of what you’re writing.

    1. Thanks for commenting! 🙂 Yeah, I knew if I didn’t get things all nailed down I’d run into problems quickly. What sort of novel are you writing? It really is amazing how much music can change the tone of your writing.

      1. Realistic fiction YA. I’m only a few chapters in, and ideally I’d like to have a draft finished in the next few months, but I’d probably have to leave my short stories alone for a while and focus solely on the novel – which has proved difficult, so far. I saw your other post after this, and that’s awesome you’ve finished your first draft. The concept sounds awesome – and I like that you’ve decided to set the romance aside. I’ll be looking forward to reading that one!

      2. It is so hard to put short stories down! LOL. They’re just so much fun. You’ll have to let me know how the novel process goes for you. I’m dreading edits (starting in June, I think). Yeah, I definitely didn’t want any romantic triangles or other YA-cliched nonsense, lol. Though I’m not judging those that do — to each their own! 🙂

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