SPOILER ALERT: The “Deconstructing SOLEDAD” blog series takes a look at the novel writing process step-by-step. For those who’ve read SOLEDAD, I hope you enjoy this “behind the scenes” peek into the creation process. And if you haven’t read SOLEDAD yet, you are hereby duly warned there are spoilers aplenty in the following posts.
DECONSTRUCTING SOLEDAD #3: Chapter Beats
In my last post (you can read it here), I described how I created a plot skeleton for my novel SOLEDAD by adding a lot more detail to my high-level 3-act structure. So I guess now we’re ready to write, yes? Well, no. I actually have one last step before I begin the actual composition of the prose: the chapter beats.
The “blocking” of action in plays and movie-making is a loose analogy to this step. In films and theater, “blocking” refers to the physical movements of the actors in relation to the camera (for movies) or the audience (for plays). When I write out the chapter beats, I’m essentially noting the physical action through a series of events that progress as the chapter unfolds. However, I don’t just limit the beats to the physical movements (this is where the blocking analogy breaks down a bit). I also note how a conversation progresses, any key reveals or insights the characters have, and I usually leave a “beat” for the end-of-chapter cliffhanger or surprise (you gotta keep those readers turning pages!). Maybe the best analogy here is a bullet list of what’s happening in the chapter, with each bullet unfolding from the one preceding it (i.e., a logical chain of events that move the story forward, aligned with the chapter summary I already created in the detailed outline). Actually, the beats often are bullet lists, so forget all that crap I said about blocking (clearly I didn’t outline this paragraph). Simply stated, the beats are a bullet list of the stuff going on in the chapter (or chapter section), and they follow a dramatic arc that has a clear beginning, middle, and end.
I can hear you out there. Good God, you plan WAY too much! This seems too restrictive! I need creative space, dammit! I can’t work like this!!
Everyone’s different of course, and what works for me may not be for you. But from my experience and sharing notes with writer friends, I can tell you what I’ve found to be a fairly universal truth: the more you plan ahead, the more you flesh out your story beforehand, the less editing you have on the back end. Some people like to sit down and start writing their novel knowing little more than the beginning and the end, letting their muse carry them through the story. The end result is usually a hot mess that meanders and has pacing and narrative coherence issues. These can be fixed, of course, with a lot of editing. And if that works for you, great, but I’d rather struggle with an outline early on than a 100K-word monster of a first draft. It’s easier (and more efficient) to fix the design flaws in a house before it’s actually built.
All right, I’ll stop with the preaching. If you’re not converted from your evil, write-by-the-seat-of-your-pants ways by now, you never will be. But I will say one last thing about jotting down the beats of a chapter: it’s a great way to prepare for an efficient writing session. When I’m writing a novel, I typically get up at 5AM Monday through Friday and write for a couple hours. If I’ve done the beats of a chapter or section the night before, taking maybe 10-15 minutes to scribble them down, I’ve found my morning writing sessions are MUCH more efficient. I spend a lot less time pondering over the “what needs to happen next here?” question because I’ve already got my bullet list to follow as a guide. Fewer delays result in a more efficient writing session, and for someone who’s not the fastest writer in the world, every little practice that improves productivity is a win.
Below is an example of the “beats” for a chapter in SOLEDAD, from late in the second act. Sometimes I write these out longhand on a notepad, and other times I’ll type them in the “document notes” section of Scrivener. This is a longer chapter, with two parts separated by a section break (hence the “second half” notation).
- SOLEDAD RELAXES, CONVALESCES AT MOM’S HOUSE…
- MOM TELLS SOL SHE’S NO LONGER WITH HER FATHER…SOL NOT SURPRISED (THERE WERE SIGNS)
- TALKS WITH MOTHER ABOUT HER POWERS, HOW THEY’VE DEVELOPED…HOW GUZMAN USED THEM…
- MOM REVEALS SHE’S BEEN DOING THE SAME JOB AS SOLEDAD, JUST UNDER DIFFERENT CIRCUMSTANCES
- NEXT MORNING…RAFA COMES TO BREAKFAST…MOM TELLS THEM HOW IMPORTANT IT IS TO TELL NO ONE ABOUT KNOWING GUZMAN OR ABOUT SOL’S POWERS
- SHE SHOWS SOL HIERBA, ASKS HER TO COME WORK WITH HER ON A JOB
I hope you’ve enjoyed this behind-the-scenes peek into how I planned my novel SOLEDAD. In my next blog in the series, we’ll back WAY up (prior to the outlining steps we’ve reviewed so far) and look at my process for SOLEDAD’s character development and world-building. This is the “Research and Development” stage of the novel, and it’s a lot of fun. Stay tuned.
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