A big problem with my book was that I would approach scenes by thinking about what the protagonist would do next, and then I’d write all those things. It’s a kind of freewriting, like starting from a prompt. The problem was, I left it all in the manuscript, until a smart editor told me nobody would care and I should get on with the swordfighting.
Recently, while working on my next book, I came up against a new scene and asked that old question, what would she do next? I took out a pad of paper. Yes, paper. Some things are more fun with pen and paper.
Rather than get myself into 160,000 words of trouble, I wrote a list of all the possible things my new heroine might do the morning after the inciting incident. Here’s a partial list:
- Get up
Have her morning devotional
Check e-mail, Facebook, etc.
Read the news and find herself in it
Start writing a business plan for a friend
Ignore phone calls from the media
Answer a call from someone who wants to hire her
I filled a page and a half with this kind of stuff. If I had freewritten it all, I’d still be writing — probably enough to fill a whole chapter for my editor to delete.
Instead, I picked the few things that are essential to moving the story forward, like the phone call from the potential employer. Those will get dramatized. The rest will be summarized or left out.
At first, I was embarrassed that it took me all these years to figure this out. Then I got indignant when I realized neither of my college creative writing teachers ever taught me this. If it was ever covered at a writers’ conference, I missed it.
So yes, use freewriting to unblock. But some self-editing at the developmental level can prevent book bloat.