When you do anything long enough, naturally you get better at it and discover techniques that can help you do it more effectively.
After writing a dozen or so books, I’ve discovered a really helpful technique for writing stories quickly. While outlining is nothing new, there is a next level of outlining that I have discovered that really speeds up the writing process.
I like to think of chapters as two types: plot drivers and connective tissues.
Plot Driver chapters move the plot forward. They are the meat of the story and focus on action, critical discoveries or revelations, plot twists, etc. In other words, some event happens that adds another step for the character to walk on. Without these kinds of chapters driving your story, your story doesn’t really go anywhere.
Connective Tissue chapters aren’t so focused on moving the plot, they are more expository. They explain or introduce characters, motivations, backstories, etc. If plot drivers are the meat of a story, connective tissues are what holds a story together and gives it meaning. These kinds of chapters are important too because they allow a reader to connect with the characters in meaningful ways. The reader can become invested in the character’s journey by learning more about them. They identify with them, root for them, feel the tension when a character faces conflict, and so on.
Now, I can see some of you eagerly waiting to point out other kinds of chapters, or say that one chapter can do both. That’s true — a really dialogue heavy chapter or one that discusses a character’s backstory can be both connective and a driver. I’m talking in general.
Here’s the hack: To speed up the writing process, I skip a lot of the connective tissue chapters, or what I sometimes call ‘blah, blah, blah’ chapters. Instead, I write the plot drivers first.
The key is to not ignore them completely, but to put in placeholder text — bullet points for how the chapter would look like had it be written. So it would look something like this:
- Intro to character
- Rushing out the door, late for school
- Minor incident on the way to school
- Arrives late
- Some dialogue with a classmate
- Some other stuff
- Comes home later in a bad mood
Molly took it upon herself to enact revenge on the girl who teased her on the bus. Taking out her notebook, she devised a plan. First, she would…
- Show Molly home life
- Brother stuff
- Mom and dad stuff
- Dinner conversation
- Goes to her room
- Checks message on phone
- Friend comes over
- Dialogue with friend
It was the day Molly had been waiting for. After discussing her plan with Gina, she was all set. It would go down today at lunch…
So this is obviously a made up example, I don’t have a story with a character named Molly. But you can see how the style changes between these four chapters. For the connective tissue chapters, I breeze through them with bullet points, and with the plot drivers, I take my time and write the entire chapter long form.
Also, notice how in chapter two, I mention Molly wanting to enact revenge on the girl who teased her on the bus. In the previous chapter, all I had was a bullet that said, ‘Minor incident on the bus’. I didn’t even know about the teasing, but now that I do, I can go back and describe that scene. Working backward is often much easier than working forward because you can avoid that dreadful question writers often ask themselves, ‘what happens next?’
I don’t actually need to get bogged down with the connective tissue stuff. I can use the bullet points to inform what will generally happen in the plot driver chapters. I can always make changes and one can . This allows me to move really quickly through the story. Once I have the entire story completed, I can go back and colour in between the lines.
The bullet points are sufficient — they can have a little or a lot of detail, the point is to get on with the plot drivers so that I can finish the first draft of my story quickly. The reason this is important is because when you’re writing a novel (as with many things in life) momentum is huge. If you can see the finish line, it will motivate you further to continue.
The second reason momentum is important is because your ideas will be strengthened because they will be top of my and current. If it takes you three years to complete a novel, then your connection to the material will likely be vague and distant. You won’t necessarily remember what you wrote a year ago or even two months ago. But if you can write the entire novel in 4 – 6 weeks, your ideas will be cohesive and current. Hopefully that makes sense.
What you may find is that once the entire story is complete, you can get a better sense of who your character is because you have the complete perspective of what they’ve been through and what choices they’ve made, and what they’ve had to overcome. So the plot drivers can actually inform the connective tissue chapters.
If you want to get really crazy, you can plot out your entire story with this method. You can put in bullet points of every chapter. The analogy here would be akin to sketching. You loosely pencil in the outline without committing to any of the lines.