In this month’s post, I’m going to share three things to help you write a better story thatAREN’T writing. There’s a lot of writing advice out there about how to write better that are focused on actual writing. Things like dialogue, voice, and clarity. And those are incredibly important parts of writing. But sometimes you need to take a step back from the story and look at things in a new way.
Also, you’ve probably figured this out already, but these three things work best if you already have a story written.
Last year, I drafted and revised a young adult manuscript in about six months. Yep, six. And it was a strong enough story that my agent put it out on sub! Woo! Now, there are a few reasons why I was able to get this story done quickly. One reason is that I’m a pretty good typist. Two, I am able to set aside time each day to write. We need to acknowledge that this is really, really hard for a lot of people. Finally, I’m very disciplined. I don’t struggle with procrastination (about writing).
But I also used some really important non-writing strategies that helped me write a strong story.
- Write the pitch first. This is something I do with every book idea now, from picture books to novels to nonfiction. If you write the pitch first, you know the essence of the story. You know who the main character is, what their goal is, and what their challenges will be. And you know how to sell this story! This is crucial if you want to create something that has a chance at being published in the traditional publishing industry. So when I’m crafting my pitch, I’m reading the pitches of books that sold and are listed in PW Children’s Bookshelf. I’m copying text from those listings, deleting the words relating to those stories, and inserting words from my story. Does it work? Does it sound similar? Do I have a strong, sellable story idea?
- Outline. Yep, I’m a plotter. I am 100% fully onboard with plotting. Remember I mentioned I’m really good at not procrastinating (about writing)? It’s because I know what my plan is each time I sit down to write. I don’t have writers block because I’ve already mapped out my route. I think this is a skill I learned from running. I know how far I’m going to run each day, and where I need to go to get that mileage. If you think that plotting stifles your creativity, you might want to test this theory. I find that plotting enhances my creativity and productivity. I know my pitch already, so the next logical step is to outline the story. This helps me work out the details and add in fun elements that I look forward to writing. And it helps me identify areas that I haven’t quite figured out yet. But I am free to make changes to the outline because I’m not 20,000 words into the story when I need to make a change. I’m only 200 words in, so easy peasy! Change it up! Get creative! And when you’re ready to start writing, it’s so much easier.
- Halfway through the story, and after you’ve finished your draft, write a chapter by chapter outline. Wait, what? Why am I doing this if I already outlined? I don’t really need to do this, do I? Yep. I do. Here’s why. When you write a chapter by chapter outline, you get a chance to make sure that each chapter is working to advance the plot. You can identify the object (goal) of each chapter, the obstacle or problem in each chapter, and the outcome, that should make readers want to turn the page and start the next chapter. If any one of these is missing from a chapter, you need to figure out if you can add it, or if you should just delete the chapter. Again, yep. I’ve deleted whole chapters because I realized even though I had fun writing them, and they helped me get to know my main character, they were not essential to the story.
So there are three things I do to help me write a better story that aren’t actually writing the story. I hope they help you write a better story, too!
Want some extra advice on revising your story? Check out my 12 Days of Revision!
And don’t forget I offer critiques and editing.