Fast Fiction: A Guide to Outlining and Writing a First-Draft Novel in Thirty Days
I picked up this book just before NaNoWriMo this past November, along with several other books designed to help people who were diving into the NaNoWriMo pool without a life jacket. But, while invaluable for NaNoWriMo purposes, this book isn’t just about plunking yourself down for thirty days and coming up at the end with a draft; it will help you prep and revise, as well. And, it doesn't lie to you and lead you to think you'll have a ready-to-be-published book in that time; as the title itself makes clear, this is about getting you through your first draft, and then working to improve what you have. So this book is an awesome find anytime you're writing a novel, no matter your time frame.
The book is divided up into three sections. The first, 'Before the Draft', takes you through the process of preparing to write the novel; it covers everything from ideas to setting to characters to point-of-view to themes to the three-act structure. Each topic within the section defines terms, explains key concepts, and gives clear, concise advice on the topic; there are also questions and/or exercises to help you explore each topic as it relates to the specific book you want to write. The section finishes with several action-oriented chapters that take all of the concepts you’ve been exploring in the previous sections and helps you turn them into a list of scenes, along with a story plan.
There is an immense amount of information in this first section; if you’re a beginning writer, it will introduce you to all of the basics you need to think about when writing your book. If you’re a more experienced writer, it will remind you to think about things you may be glossing over, give you tips for problem areas, or just help you think about things in a new way. One of the things I love about the book is the linked compare/contrast character charts, and her character interview lists; these replaced a bunch of others exercises I've been using but never found fully satisfying.
Once armed with your characters, your list of scenes, and your story plan, you’re ready for section two, ‘During the draft’. Here you’ll find short daily readings designed to focus your thinking and your writing, along with a daily task. The task is a loose, general prompt designed to tune you in to some aspect of novel-building, and often includes more specific prompts or probes to get you going. The order of the prompts is designed to guide you through the novel gently: week one is 'Launching in', week two is 'A New Direction', week three is 'Deepen the plot' and week four is 'Race to the finish'.
There is even a ‘cheat sheet’ that reduces the daily prompt exercises down to their bare bones to help guide you through the novel creation process.
This section kept me jazzed and motivated during last NaNoWriMo. It allowed me to keep firm contact with the forest during an event that can easily mire you in the trees. In fact, I bought this book only a few days before NaNoWriMo started, and didn’t have time to use the first section beforehand at all; I started each writing day with the short reading and the prompt, and finished each writing day by reading a little bit from the first section of the book.
I like that the prompts were general enough in most cases to fit with wherever I found myself on a given day; there were no overly specific prompts like ‘Your main character finds a note in his backpack—write!’. What I mean by this is, most of the prompts can be used at any point in your novel-writing; for example, a prompt that reminds you to be aware of genre expectations is a good one to have in the back of your mind on any given day, no matter if you’re writing the beginning, middle, or end of your book.
The final section, 'After the Draft', is short, and gives you some basic advice (along with suggested resources) for revising your novel. The first piece of advice is to put the novel (and the book!) aside for at least two weeks, and come back with fresh eyes; when you return, the book discusses several important issues to keep in mind while doing your read-through and revision.
When a single book covers most of the major elements of writing a novel AND gives you a targeted lesson for each of thirty days, there is a limit to how in-depth the information can be. Entire books have been written, for example, about developing characters, or how to use the three-act structure. But despite the limited space available for each, Jaden gives thoughtful, effective treatment to each. There is more than enough information to get the most novice writer prepped and ready to hit the ground running.
In my last post I mentioned I’m neither a pure plotter or a pure pantser. I also don't write my novels in order. So how does a book like this work for me? I didn't find the book restrictive in any respect; it's not the sort of book that's going to make you write your first page on day one and your last page on day 30; I was all over the place while reading it during NaNoWriMo. I’ve also been reading it as I revise MMORPG; it reminds me of all the elements I need to be sure are in place as I’m doing my revision passes, and helps me deal with the bumps I find there. In one example, during my second read-through I realized I need to add two more witness characters, and I need them to be distinct from those I already have. The sections on character development and the compare-contrast charts have been very helpful as I work those parameters out.
So, who is this book for? I think it's useful for anyone doing NaNoWriMo, anyone writing their first novel, and anyone who ever finds themselves banging their head on their keyboard wishing someone would just write a darn manual on how to write a book already. If any of these are you, Fast Fiction is worth a look, whether you’re hoping to write your book in thirty days or thirty weeks.