Oh man . . . most of us have that first book that sits on our computer or under our bed that will never see the light of day. Right? The key to success is learning what you did right and what you did wrong. Ally Broadfield joins us today to share her first book experience. Welcome Ally!
That Throwaway First Book by Ally Broadfield
I’ve been an avid reader for as long as I can remember, but it took me a long time to decide to go out on a limb and try to write a book. I started casually working on a young adult romance in 2008 while working full-time as a children’s librarian at a small private school. I wrote whenever inspiration hit, and managed to find and join an online critique group and mostly finish my manuscript. Though I didn’t know the term at the time, I was a pantser, writing completely on instinct and jumping around from scene to scene as the ideas came to me. It never occurred to me to plan what I was going to write. When I was laid-off at the end of the 2009-2010 school year, I decided to get serious about my writing. I started reading craft books and writerly blogs. I also discovered Romance Writers of America and began joining chapters and taking workshops. It was a bittersweet day when I had gained enough knowledge to realize what a mess my first manuscript was.
I made all the classic newbie mistakes. Though I had a black moment and a beginning, middle, and end, I started the story in the wrong place, there was too much backstory, and most of the scenes were full of fun, witty dialogue and very little conflict. I knew enough to recognize that my manuscript needed a major overhaul, but I didn’t have the skill or experience to fix it. So in early 2011, I made the difficult decision to set it aside and start a new project.
Disclaimer: If you’re one of those people who sat down and pounded out a perfect first draft of your first book and had a publishing contract within a year of placing your fingers on the keyboard, please go away. This post isn’t for you. Shoo.
I’ve been reading historical romance since I was twelve, so I decided to go in a completely new direction and wrote a short story for a Jane Austen inspired writing contest. It was a 5,000 word sequel to Sense and Sensibility featuring the youngest sister, Margaret. The shorter format and ready-made character helped me maintain the story structure. Though I didn’t final in the contest, I received several compliments and gained the confidence to keep trying.
Next I decided to tackle a single title historical romance, but I still floundered a bit with conflict and story structure. That summer, the Liz Pelletier from Entangled Publishing gave an online workshop through about how to use Blake Snyder’s beat sheet from his book, Save the Cat (for anyone who isn’t familiar with beat sheets, they are a plot structure template used by screenwriters). Somewhere around the same time, I stumbled upon Debra Dixon’s GMC: Goal, Motivation & Conflict, and The Complete Writer’s Guide to Heroes and Heroines: Sixteen Master Archetypes by Tami Cowden, Caro Lafever, and Sue Viders, and voilà, I had found a way to map out my stories that provided me with the basic story structure I had been craving, but still gave me the flexibility to adapt as the story took shape.
Step One: The first part of a story that comes to me is always the characters. As soon as they’ve taken shape in my mind, I pull out The Complete Writer’s Guide to Heroes and Heroines and decide which archetype best describes the hero and heroine. There’s also a fantastic section in the book that shows how the various archetypes interact with one another. If I get stuck while I’m writing, I read back through the archetypes to help me determine how my hero or heroine would be likely to react in a specific situation.
Step Two: Once the character archetypes are set, I determine the internal and external goals, motivations, and conflicts for the hero and heroine, making sure that their goals are in conflict with one another. There are excellent completed GMC charts in the appendix of Debra Dixon’s book.
Step Three: Last but not least, I use the information from the first two steps to help me complete a beat sheet for the story. This helps me determine the correct place to start the story, the inciting incident, turning points, and resolution. If you’re not familiar with it, Save the Cat is written in an entertaining, easy to understand style that makes the information easily accessible, even to those unfamiliar with screenwriting techniques. (For more information about beat sheets, see Pat Haggerty’s excellent post about Using Scrivener to Save the Cat)
I’m still a pantser at heart, but following this process helps guide my subconscious as I write, and I have something to refer to if I get off track.
So, about that throwaway first book I wrote. Now that I’m armed with all of these writing tools, I just might go back and try to fix that story.
What about you? Are you still working on that first book, or did your first book get published? Do you have a throwaway book you’re considering resurrecting?
Ally asked a few great questions . . . also feel free to ask your own in the comments.
Tomorrow Amy Alesio brings us another great selection of romance.
Ally Broadfield lives in Texas and is convinced her house is shrinking, possibly because she shares it with three kids, five dogs, two cats, a rabbit, and several reptiles. Oh, and her husband. She likes to curse in Russian and spends most of her spare time letting dogs in and out of the house and shuttling kids around. She writes historical romance and middle grade/young adult fantasy. Her first book, Just a Kiss, is coming from Entangled Publishing in December 2013.
You can find Ally on her website, Facebook, and Twitter (though she makes no claims of using any of them properly).
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