On my way to work this morning I stopped for a school bus that was picking up kids on the opposite side of the street. Yes, school has started in Florida. As the last student boarded, the bus tucked in its flashing signs and went on to its next stop which I had just passed a quarter mile back. I, however, continued in the same direction from where the bus came from.
I normally beat the bus to its stops so I knew where the prior bus stops were located. As I came up to one of those prior stops, I noticed two young boys waiting. Chatting away. Oblivious to their situation.
I can remember walking up to the bus stop with maybe two other people there. We all knew there were normally 10-15 people at our stop but for some reason, they hadn’t shown up yet. Instead of talking about the obvious, we chat about our teachers and the football game. Some time goes by. No one else shows up. We chat some more. Then each of us starts to pace nervously. But no one admits the obvious quite yet. We chat some more about nothing. Pace a few more times. Then someone breaks the silence. Dude, I think we missed the bus. Still in denial, we try to convince him that the bus is just running a little late and that he’ll be sorry if he walks home at this point. He decides otherwise and walks home. Two of us remain. The bus is 30 minutes late according to our watch. We’re gonna get a pass to miss first period! Whoa. Awesome. Still oblivious. Another 20 minutes and my friend breaks the silence. Dude, I think he was right. We missed the bus. Then reality sinks in. We walk home having missed the bus. Remember that feeling?
This is how I felt when I first started writing. So I can sympathize with someone who knocks out 40 pages but still doesn’t feel comfortable. Don’t sweat the details. That comes later. There are a couple things that I would do before jumping into the ring. I would write a 4 to 5 paragraph synopsis of my story. And don’t cheat by writing more than that. This synopsis becomes my mission statement. It’s a plot skeleton of sorts. Everything I write going forward (back cover, outlines, character briefs, marketing treatments, manuscript) is directed towards that mission statement. Next, I always try to create an outline that ranges between 15-25 pages before writing the manuscript. It keeps me on track and allows me to stay focused. I find that without an outline I have a tendency to stray into uncharted and illogical territory causing me much grief and editing down the road.
Looking at the big picture, never take the reader where he or she wants to go. Focus on basic human passions because they never get old or boring. And pick up a copy of Sol Stein’s How to Grow a Novel. It’s a permanent fixture in my library.
One page at a time,