Writing the First Draft of Your Novel or Screenplay in Ten Months

This photo below is from the dinner after our recent 10-Month Novel and Script course. Everyone was on a real high after completing the first draft of their story. It is a huge achievement and everyone could not believe how far they had come on this profound journey. Below are some testimonials from the writers in the class. And below the testimonials are some of the key steps, tools and techniques people applied during the course.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Fed-dinner_20160708-070849_1.jpg"The course really helped me with the structure of writing a novel. I had no idea there was so much to it. I can’t recommend it highly enough! I have friends all over the world now Facebooking about the course. It has been amazing to watch people develop their writing and their confidence. We were all so nervous 10 months ago but Roland and Kathleen have steered the ship steadily across the ocean of doubt and bought us to the safe harbour of the surety of our own abilities."
Jack Dempsey

"I’ve never been a very confident writer, always questioning my 'voice', always second-guessing my stories. I came to this course with a pre-set idea of the story I was going to tell and the characters that would exist among that world. At the start I rigidly tried to make this happen. However, learning to believe in the writing process and allowing myself to let go, I’ve taken the story in directions I never could have previously conceived."
Stephen O’Hanlon

"After working as a journalist, the best advice I received was in the first Unlocking Creativity Course (a pre-requisite to the N&S course), where we were told not to confuse editing with writing. This allowed me to give myself the permission to just write and play in the First Draft. I have now almost finished my First Draft, which wouldn’t have happened if I was wearing my editor’s hat. Unlike other courses I've done, this course focuses on the spiritual and personal benefits of writing and this has also helped me banish my inner critic."
Bridget Cormack 

"Where do I start? I honestly never thought I’d have the first draft of a novel 10 months ago. I’ve learnt to just follow the process and have faith in it. The Steps Board has been an amazing tool. I still don’t know how I came up with all those scene summaries but somehow they came. I think it’s amazing how all of our stories have just evolved and are all so different. I also really appreciated the feedback in the groups. I have grown so much in fact, that writing has become a part of my everyday life. I miss my main character and can’t wait to touch base with her each day. I committed myself to this course but the rewards have been tenfold."
Brigid Reilly

Some Key Lessons from the 10-Month process

Writing a successful novel or screenplay that resonates with readers doesn't happen by accident. It is an art and a craft that takes time to master. As John Tullius, author and founder of the Maui Writers' Conference, said, "I don't care how talented you are. It's not about contacting your muse. Success comes from taking the time to learn the craft."

There are many different facets that go into to the process of completing a story. Broadly speaking, they are - planning, writing, re-writing and editing. One mistake many aspiring writers make when starting out is that they mix the tasks up and find it very hard to move forward to completion.

One key thing, that makes a huge difference when it comes to writing your story is to have a step-by-step process to follow.

As Dwight Swain, author of Techniques of the selling writer says, "Faculty lies in knowing what to do next. To know what to do next, you must master process ...an ordered step-by-step presentation of materials that presses emotional buttons in your reader, so he feels the way you want him to feel."

Here are four key elements we recommend you consider if you want to write the best story you are capable of writing.

1. The Importance of Structure

A story based on classic story structure is one where you have readers wanting to know what happens next, while taking your main character on an emotional and spiritual journey of change.

The events of a well-structured story link the external and internal journey of your main character, thus creating a meaningful experience for your reader. It is the story structure that gives your story emotional depth and deeper meaning.

Academy Award winning screenwriter, Michael Arndt, who wrote Little Miss Sunshine and Toy Story 3, refers to screenplays as "machines designed to produce emotion."

According to Robert McKee, who wrote the book Story, "The function of structure is to provide progressively building pressure that forces characters into more and more difficult dilemmas where they must make more and more difficult risk-taking choices and actions, gradually revealing their true natures, even down to their unconscious self."It is structure which gives your story shape and meaning, takes your reader on an an emotional journey and keeps them turning the pages.

He goes on to say, “You might have the insights of Buddha, but if you can’t tell a story, your ideas will be as dry as dust. Craft is the sum total of all means used to draw the audience into deep involvement, to hold that involvement and ultimately reward it with a moving and meaningful experience."

The writer and creator of The Wire, David Simon, worked as a journalist for many years at the Baltimore Sun trying to get his stories in the paper about what was going on in the city. It’s racial problems, drug problems, crime, corrupt institutions etc and no one, not even the editorial writers, would take any notice. That is, until he turned the stories into a fictional TV series. Suddenly everyone took notice.

Writers are invariably delighted by the impact sound structure has on their stories. Below are comments from writers who completed out Ten Month Novel and Script First Draft Course that provide some useful insights on each point.

“The process of writing a first draft has been a revelation to me, full of many "ah ha" moments. While I am still sometimes too self-critical and hard on myself, I and my character have both learned to let go and trust.” Claire

2. You Need a Process

Writing a well-structured novel or screenplay doesn't just come about from having a good idea or being a good writer.

As Dwight Swain wrote in his book, Techniques of the Selling Writer.

“Four boys in Fred Friggenhelmer's town last night stole a chalice from a church. Caught, they reveal they'd been reading up on Satan and wanted to evoke Satan. Fred reads about the incident in his morning paper. It intrigues him.

"Here," he tells himself excitedly, "is a story!"

Fred is wrong. The theft is an incident. With skilled handling and the development of point of view and dynamic character and complications, climax and resolution, it may quite possibly build into a story. But for now it remains an incident and nothing more. A story is a complex thing. Its material demands skill in their manipulation.”

Coming up with the idea or feeling for a story is really only the starting point.

"As Pasteur once observed," Swain said, "chance favours the trained mind. Feelings tell you what to say. Technique gives you the tools with which to say it."

To write the best story you are capable of writing, you need a step-by-step process that guides your story and keeps you accountable.

You cannot judge the quality of your story until you have followed the process through to the end.

Understanding that writing a story is a process is a huge step forward for any writer as these two other writers who completed our first draft course explain.

"To allow the story to emerge with creativity, spontaneity and "juice" you have to surrender to the process. Creativity walks through the doorway of the formal story step process."

"I've had a ton of new ideas, both from myself and others. I've learnt more and more about structure and I'm not freaking out about it anymore. I've also gotten more depth with my characters, their flaws, their motivations, their hopes and dreams. They have ceased being names on a page or thoughts in my head, instead becoming real flesh and blood people in a real, moving, living world. It's been almost been like magic, which I find ironic since I'm writing fantasy."

3) The Dance Between Structure and Imagination


If you have completed our Four Week Unlocking Creativity introductory writing course which is the first step in the process, you will appreciate the power of your imagination, which we believe is the true source of creativity.

It is the source of many of your story ideas and gives your writing that quality that makes readers want to read what you have written.

However, if you just fly by the seat of your pants without a process or an understanding of story structure, your novel or screenplay will wander all over the place and have no meaningful shape or direction.

If you plan too rigidly, your story will go dry and flat. By following a step by step process, you set up a dance between the left and right sides of your brain, enabling you to access the power of your imagination while grounding your novel or screenplay in solid story structure.

Author Tina Howe said, “I think the cruelty of the form is that to write a good play the architecture has to be impeccable. The form demands rigour and a sense of structure. But then the cruel part is that for a play to live you have to surrender control and let your characters go. It’s a constant balancing act. The structure has to be right, but you have to leave room for spontaneity, mystery and silence. As territorial as we are it is important to be challenged.”

Good structure stimulates your imagination and produces magical results if you complete the journey.

“When forced to work within a strict framework," said T.S. Elliot, "the imagination is taxed to its utmost – and will produce its richest ideas. Given total freedom, the work is likely to sprawl.”

Your imagination informs the structure of your story and vice versa. This back and forth between the two produces magical results, enabling you to come up with story ideas that you never would have thought possible.

Once you learn to trust the dance between structure and imagination, you will be surprised by what emerges. As these two writers discovered while writing their stories with us.

"What at first sounded like a total contradiction actually made complete sense by the end; it made everything fall into place.”

“The joy of not knowing what will appear next in the story and seeing new characters reveal themselves makes facing that blank page worth it.” Satyam

4. One Step at a Time

The key to writing a powerful story and enjoying the process of writing is to break the process into manageable bit sized chunks and take it one step at a time.

“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report written on birds that he'd had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books about birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him put his arm around my brother's shoulder, and said, "Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.” Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

"The process and the structure we're being encouraged to write to is allowing me to push my character more than I ever thought possible. I don't know how I could write this without that guidance."

A Note About Our Courses

The importance of imagination and intuition in the storytelling process is why we make the Four Week Unlocking Creativity Course a prerequisite for our 10 Month Novel and Script First Draft Course. (If you book straight into the longer course, Unlocking Creativity is free.)

Unlocking Creativity enables writers to experience the power of their imagination, which we believe is the true source of creative power, an essential ingredient of the first draft course.

For more information about our courses please visit: www.writerstudio.com.au

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