Hey guys. I haven’t been good about updating on my progress like I said I would and I’ll expand on that in a separate post, but I have learned some valuable new approaches to writing and I want to share one with you now about framing your work (and no, not accusing it of murder, but committing the murder on paper is fine).
When I say frame your work, I’m talking about sitting down and sketching out the bare bones to grow your story in, like when a spider begins to build its web.
Spider’s have to have something in place before they can spin a web, and spiders are pretty damn creative about what they use. It can be something as stable as the corner post in a barn or as fragile as the space between two stalks of grass, but that frame allows them to build a complex and intricate web strand by strand, and it supports the weight of the web, the spider, and all it’s future meals that happen to wander into it. A writer must to the same.
So what do you need to do to frame a story?
1. Create the frame.
Frame work doesn’t have to be detailed or in depth. It’s a bone structure. Meat, blood, organs, skin, that comes during actual writing. So what you want to do is arrange the story bones to give you an idea of what to fill in. On my current project, I decided on a word count goal of 10,000 for the first draft. I never intended to keep it at that length, but it was short enough to help me achieve that goal in a short time, and I found it easier to generate a summary for something shorter. That summary gave me a beginning, middle, and end:
Taz is picked up by the Texas Rangers and put on prison transport bus to Huntsville on trumped up charges of wielding wild magic. During transport, the bus is attacked by Independent soldiers who take her prisoner. When they arrive at base, Taz finds her sister, Fred, is the head sorcerer in charge and the notorious Trickster responsible for mayhem and destruction against the Texas Republic. They catch up, both harboring secrets, but before they can truly reconcile someone raises a graveyard of zombies that decimate troops and takes down the town defences, and chupacabra are waiting to come in, because zombies alone just aren’t enough.
That right there gave me a loose beginning, a middle, and end to hold up as the stark bones of about five crucial scenes that needed to happen.
2. Work the frame.
Once you have your frame (summary + word goal) then you need to use it. Keep the summary somewhere you can see it while working. I have Scrivener, so it’s on a sidebar the entire time. You can write it in a notebook and keep it open, or on notecards, or tack it up on the wall, but you need to have that nearby at all times. Now make sure your word count goal is plugged in to whatever program you use and you can watch your progress. When you get stuck, the summary will be there to guide you back, much like a map on a long journey.
Working the frame is filling it in. Start wherever you need to, use the frame, and write and write and write. If you get halfway through and a piece of the frame no longer works? Take a couple minutes to rework the summary and then get back to writing. This is the no holds barred time. You write as fast as you can to get as far as you can, and you fill the frame with the first layers of muscle, those crucial scenes. Just remember: this is a first draft and first drafts are, by default, messes. Unless you actually finish it, it won’t be anything else. Which brings us to:
3. Write to the end.
One mistake writers make during the first draft, usually in the middle, is balking because they aren’t sure they want to take the story in a certain direction, but they don’t know where else to go, and so they stall out. I know, because I do this all the time. This is one of my biggest faults as a writer and I’m trying to break the habit. First drafts are supposed to be shitty and messy, but they can’t be cleaned up and improved unless they are complete shitty and messy piles. So if you get stuck, skip ahead or stumble sideways and keep going. Always move the story forward. Don’t worry about coherency or linear lines right now, just write to the end.
4. Craft the revision.
Once you’ve reached The End, let it sit a few days and then come back to it. Give it a read through. Now that you have something to work with you can see where you need to fill the story out, cut it away, completely change, or redirect the frame as the story needs. This is my favorite part of writing, because here is where I can work with something tangible instead of a blinking cursor staring off into the distant blank horizon. Now you can focus on crafting the tone, texture, subplots, themes, motifs, and every other part of the narrative that suddenly becomes clearer when you have a complete draft at your disposal. Your frame will disappear under the working pieces of the story and transform it into something solid.
Writing with a frame has helped me complete the first story in my Doneness Project. It’s taken me some detours and uphill battles, but I think this method will be helpful to many who, like me, struggle to complete their writing projects. Using a story frame gives just enough direction to prod one into finishing, while leaving enough breathing room for the story to develop into what it needs to be. Give it a try and let me know what you think.