Alright, I know last week I skimmed over my goals for 2020, and that included a handful of writing goals, but I promise this is different! I want to take a closer look at my “Quest” fantasy project and where I want to take it this year. I’ve spent a lot of time planning and plotting over the past month, and I feel like I’m ready to approach this project once again.
I briefly mentioned it a few posts ago, but I recently read the book Save the Cat! Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody, at the recommendation of my friend and fellow blogger Charmaine Lim. The book takes the original “Save the Cat” theory by screenwriter Blake Snyder and adapts it to prose writing, particularly novels.
If you’re unfamiliar with the theory, I’ll try to summarize: Basically, it organizes plots into fifteen story beats, which are the points a story should hit in order to be effective and keep moving forward. The theory also identifies ten more specific genres that go beyond the typical story types like romance, epic, and so on. (If you’re interested in learning more, I highly recommend the book, or just check out this Wikipedia page for a more in-depth summary).
All this to say, reading Brody’s take on Save the Cat got me thinking about my own story structure and how I’ve approached it in the past. To be honest, my method of outlining in recent years has been “here is a big messy document with a bunch of scenes and the order in which they happen.” I knew there were certain events that I wanted to hit, but it was pretty much a free-for-all as far as outlines go.
Not that that was a bad thing! In fact, that outlining process has helped me immensely. Since it’s just freewriting for my eyes only, it helps me generate ideas and solve some plot problems in advance.
More recently though, I’ve learned that this method of planning can only take me so far. I can never seem to bring the plot to a satisfying conclusion, and I have a tendency to linger on one beat for too long. I had a feeling I needed to try something new.
But the thing is, I’m very stubborn when it comes to writing. I’m usually like “Well I know my story best, so I know what’s best for my story.” Not always the case. There’s a reason we have things like writing workshops and beta readers – sometimes, an outside perspective is necessary.
The other trap I often find myself falling into is my old friend, the crushing pressure to be different. I often feel like if I follow someone else’s story structure, my story will just end up being formulaic. Not the case. After all, every single Pokémon game has followed the exact same basic structure since 1996, and yet each entry has something interesting to offer and they never fail to sell well.
So picture me, sitting at the dining room table in my house, sheets of yellow legal pad paper scattered about haphazardly while I skim through the contents of Save the Cat! to try and figure out what the “All is Lost” beat is supposed to do (again). That’s what I looked like for a good portion of my winter break, because I realized that I needed to re-evaluate the structure of my fantasy writing project. Again. Which meant I needed to scrap my draft. Again.
As grim as that sounds though, I feel like the story is actually coming together this time. Reading Save the Cat! gave me a better understanding of heroes, which helped me figure out the broader plot of the story. And with the beat sheet, I was finally able to figure out how all of the scenes I’ve been writing for the past three years fit together. It was like putting a puzzle together – I had most, if not all of the pieces, I just needed to put them in place.
There are still some pieces missing, but on the whole, I feel a lot better about this project now. It hasn’t come without its heartbreaks – I’ve had to dismiss two characters to the background and sacrifice some of my favorite fantasy elements (like dragons ☹). Still, as I look at my notes and the outline I have, I feel like the story is concise, limited to the elements that are the most important. I feel like this is the year I can finally write a first draft that’s more than just a collection of words on pages.
I’m thankful for those old drafts too, though. They helped me understand my characters and the world they live in. I learn best just by writing. Things will get cut and scrapped along the way, but each word I’ve written has helped me get to this point.
As we all know, I’m a perfectionist. I don’t want to do something unless I’m certain I can do it well. The thing is, that just doesn’t work with writing. Even though the idea of writing this draft is terrifying, I know I’ll be grateful when it’s finished. As long as I write something, I can always fix it later.
I’m not sure when that will be yet. But for now, I’m going to commit to myself that I will write it in 2020. This has been a passion project for years, and I owe it to myself to see it through.