The Writing Journal #5

To say it’s been a wet and windy weekend in my neck of the woods would be somewhat of an understatement! As a Welshman, I’ve seen my fair share of drizzle over the years but Storm Callum has been on another level, quite literally if you look at the rivers around me. I can count myself lucky to be on higher ground throughout all of this, but there are many around me who are not so fortunate. To those people I would like to send my thoughts and sympathies for the damage that has been caused this weekend and wish you a speedy return to business as usual.

As much as I would love to indulge my innately British desire to chat weather for the rest of this blog, we must press on into Week 5 of the Writing Journal, starting with last week’s targets.

 

Target Number 1 – Add 2,000 words to my novel manuscript.

Status: ACHIEVED 😊

Not quite so spectacularly as my double word count from last week, but considering this project took more of a backseat this week in favour of my screenplay, I’m very pleased that I was able to not only meet my target but surpass it by a thousand words. This figure has been inflated by some words that I know will not make it into the final first draft, including passages that have been written to act as “markers” for me to know what I need to write in the coming chapter(s). In previous blogs I spoke about my internal debate as to what words should and should not be included in the week’s word count. Should it just be words that are likely to end up in the finished draft (editorial variations aside), or should you include those paragraphs that are character/world/story development and will never appear to a reader in such a direct form?

Personally, I think character and world development stuff should be considered separately and not included in the manuscript word count, but story mapping paragraphs should be. In my opinion, they provide an essential framework upon which I can hang the rest of the “real” story-telling. Yes, they will change over time, and yes, they are written as instructions rather than flowing prose narrative which removes the “editorial judgement” argument for including them in that week’s word count. Without them, though, it becomes a lot muddier to move forward, and so in that way they are just as important for moving the work forward as the prose that has come before it. World and character development are no less important (it would be madness to suggest otherwise!) but they influence the overall texture of the story and are not as directly linked to its forward momentum, which I think is the main purpose of setting word count targets for the novel’s manuscript in the first place. They can be monitored and have targets set for separately, and that may well be something I start to do in the coming weeks as my story continues to grow. For now though, these are the terms I will be sticking to moving forward to see how this impacts the overall progression of the first draft.

 

Target Number 2 – Complete the step outline for my screenplay.

Status: ACHIEVED 😊

After a couple of tricky weeks for my screenplay, I’m delighted to be able to say I met this target, even if it was a lot of hard work to do so! For the first time since starting to set these weekly targets, I had to constantly reinforce the deadline to myself, particularly towards the end of the week. Perhaps this was because of the previous two failures and I was subconsciously keen to avoid a hattrick, or perhaps it was because the target this week had no obstacles that necessarily had to take priority and so I could therefore focus solely on that deadline. Either way, this week it was a case of getting the job done, which I’m pleased (and relieved!) to say I did.

The biggest struggle with the project this week was making sure the ending was a satisfying pay off to everything that had come before. I had the rough idea for the narrative arc mapped out previously but as I really dug down into the latter points of the story this week, I came to realise that there were elements that were either lazy clichés or simply did not fit the characters that had emerged from writing the opening half of the screenplay. Putting debates about the relevance of three act structure aside for now, my approach when writing a screenplay is to break it down into four parts –

  1. The Opening – the set up for your story, introducing your characters/theme/tone/narrative.
  2. The Lead Up – the events that affect your characters as you build towards the game-changing mid-point.
  3. The Come Down – the events that affect your characters after the mid-point has taken effect.
  4. The Resolution – how the story comes to an end, after all previous events have been considered.

If you know your Opening and Lead Up, and you know the feeling/theme you want to have created by the Resolution, it can make life quite difficult in that third part of the script where you have to create a credible bridge between the two. This is where the outlining process comes into its own, and why I always encourage writers to make step outlines, if they don’t already do so. They are a fantastic way to see the bigger picture without getting bogged down by the movements of individual scenes, really helping you to see what is necessary, what is not, and crucially, the most original ways to tell your story. By approaching my screenplay in this way, I now have all the constituent parts I need to complete the screenplay, meaning all of my attention can now be focused on crafting the individual scenes knowing where they eventually have to lead to. It has also revealed some new character motivations I had never considered before, which is another welcome bonus to viewing the story at this kind of distance.

 

I’m starting this week with a great deal of excitement for both these projects, which is a wonderfully invigorating feeling.  My novel is starting to build up its own momentum every week as the story drives forward, and with the structural flaws of the screenplay addressed in the step outline, I feel like I can now attack the second half of it with a renewed enthusiasm and confidence that the story works again. For now, at least…

This week’s targets:

  1. Add 3,000 words to my novel manuscript.
  2. Write 10 scenes in my screenplay.

 

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