What about the Sketch ..?
The process of writing a sketch is straightforward. A sketch is something that will assist you to write effectively, provide support for your writing process and most importantly … keep you sitting in front of that laptop producing good work. You may find you have the sort of confidence that will allow you to do without this excellent tool in your toolbox, and if you can that is fantastic. However, if you are in any doubt at all about your ability to sit straight down and write a 60,000 word manuscript, without anything other than a great idea in your head, please think again.
What Is A Sketch?: A sketch is a document that many may call a ‘synopsis’ or ‘story line’. However, a sketch from my viewpoint is much more than a synopsis, or a collection of carefully crafted story notes. It has the depth and roundness of a complete short story with references where required to character function, plot development, the beginning, middle and end definition of the story and very importantly, relevant references to your research file. Everything you will need to complete your sketch will be found in your set of ‘Subject’ folders. As previously described, your folders will contain information that is researched or collated to create the foundation of your writing project. As a quick reminder, the minimum number of folders could be entitled as follows: Manuscript, Research, Sketch, Images, Maps, Downloads and Character Profiles.
Producing A Sketch: The folders titled ‘Manuscript’ and ‘Sketch’ are self explanatory. The ‘Research’ folder will contain all your research notes from say ‘the Internet’ or information and data ‘CD’s. This can encompass subject matter relating to the setting for the story, the education and background of your characters, how poisons work and even how a specific firearm operates.
The ‘Images’ folder will probably contain images relating to the scenario such as pictures of a particular town at a certain time in history. Other images may be of how people in a specific country dressed around a set of dates and maybe even some satellite images of an actual country, including road networks and street names etc.
The ‘Maps’ folder will probably store maps and geography of countries involved in your story, possibly confirming travel routes between countries. They will enable you to calculate distances and time in relation to your character as he or she moves through various countries or parts of a specific country. Having your main character travel by train, from New York to say Chicago in a couple of hours, will not go down well with a fussy reader.
Having a ‘Downloads’ folder to keep a track of internet downloads is always a good idea. It gives you a hot link back to the source of your research in case you need more information from the same website.
A place to keep all your character profiles is essential. Maintain a folder entitled ‘Character Profiles’ and keep it updated as you write with new or different attributes you discover about them or allocate to them.
Essential Elements: The essential elements of a good sketch are a story line that is blessed with a beginning, a middle and an end. The ‘Sketch’ will need to ‘set the scene’ for your story; introduce the characters involved in the narrative and ‘set the pace’ at which the manuscript will develop. This is why a sketch is valuable because in the writing of it, you can ‘test’ every element of the story to see if it actually works. Just to keep on top of it, label the three necessary parts of it as the beginning, middle and end. Don’t forget, there are also three important things you would be wise to outline within these three parts of your sketch, and they are back-story, characters, and plot.
Sticking to these basics will provide you with a ‘tight’ sketch and a great platform from which you can begin writing your manuscript. A good sketch will iron out many of the anomalies that may exist in your mind about how certain characters interact with one another and how their activities affect the unraveling of the main plot.
Capacity To Surprise: The words ‘hook’ and ‘reveal’ used often by reviewers when commenting on the elements of a novel such as a thriller or murder mystery, can often be boiled down to the basic ability of the author to write with a capacity to surprise. If you are not able to provide the right amount of ‘surprise’ in the thirty or so pages of a sketch, you will definitely not achieve that much sought after attribute in say four hundred pages of your final manuscript.
The way to ensure your sketch contains situations and scenarios that lead to a ‘surprise’ of some description, or necessary but unexpected twist in the general plot is to put it down after ten pages and don’t pick it up again for three or four days. Then, pick it up and read as if it is actually a short story you’ve not read before. If ‘surprise’ is present, you will recognize it. If it’s not, the likely hood is you will find the place where it should be. Because you know your story so well … in your head … it’s sometimes difficult to identify the ‘surprise element’ in the thousands of words that have been rattling round your consciousness for possibly months. When in doubt, my recommendation would always be to ‘put it down’ and pick it up later with a clear head and a more objective viewpoint.
The capacity to surprise is a major target to aim for in your manuscript. It means the difference between producing a good book and a great book. Don’t forget that often ‘surprise’ is not necessarily about the content of your plot or storyline but more about the way you reveal the various elements of your story to the reader. It’s an important point and it’s good to make sure you have it contained within your sketch.
Being The Reader: It’s always worth remembering the writer’s golden thought … The reader does not know what is coming next! So it’s the capacity to surprise and the twists and turns of the plot that will keep him or her reading that extra page or two when a lesser offering will have been put down … and possibly not picked up again. Put yourself in the position of the reader … your customer … when evaluating your sketch. If it still excites you, there is every reason to assume it will excite your reader. Be creative, be adaptive and be your own worst critic. Producing a good sketch will enable you … the writer … to see the ‘wood’ through the ‘trees’ and the trees only get thicker the more pages of your manuscript you get down on the screen. Your reader likes clear, concise writing, thrilling action and a plot that holds their interest to the very last page. Ironing out any possible lapses into boredom at the sketch stage will be invaluable in producing a working manuscript your readership will welcome.
Editing A Sketch: This should be a ‘no-brainer’. Its common sense to take a view that editing a ten or twelve thousand word sketch is a much more amenable task than a ‘deep cut’ edit on a full blown 60K to 70K manuscript. As highlighted above, simply seeing the wood through the trees is half the battle … and not getting so fed up with making thousands of corrections on your lengthy manuscript … before throwing it in the bin … is another! Take your sketch seriously and edit down the well directed skeleton story line and plot that will be fleshed out to become your finished novel. One word of advice; don’t bother with grammar … just get the words right, the story flowing and the smile on your face. Grammar is a technicality that can be corrected in the final edit … excitement is something unique and cannot be injected into your sketch by a piece of software.
Finalizing A Sketch: When you come to the point where you have written your sketch and edited it, you may need to check the following:
Is your story sketch divided in to specific sections?
Do your characters have credibility?
Is the setting properly researched?
Do you have a beginning, middle and end?
Have you decided on a target manuscript length?
Most importantly … do you like it?
So assuming you are happy with your sketch, the next move is to simply put it away and don’t think about it again for about two weeks. Then …pick it up … and read it again. If you still like it … start writing it! If for any reason the bells of warning start ringing, and doubt begins to set in … start again!
Without A Sketch: If you are one of those rare but fortunate individuals who do not require any level of preparation before getting down to the hard work of tackling your new manuscript, then you will possibly not have bothered with producing a sketch. If that is the case, or if you simply don’t like the discipline and time involved in producing a detailed preliminary of your intended work, then I urge you not to ignore the basic rules of preparation … which are … Be organized, Know your subject and Manage your time.