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90 Days to Your Novel: A Day-by-Day Plan for Outlining & Writing Your Book Paperback – December 20, 2010
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About the Author
- Publisher : Writer's Digest Books; 1st edition (December 20, 2010)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 288 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1582979979
- ISBN-13 : 978-1582979977
- Item Weight : 11.5 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.5 x 0.75 x 8.42 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #281,881 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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Apparently we not only want to write a book, but we also want to write it fast.
But do any of these primers actually work? Can we all become novelists because we read a book about writing a novel?
I decided to find out. I’ll admit, I had an ulterior motive. That’s right, I wanted to write a novel. After doing a fair bit of research, and reading the feedback that users were leaving for each title, I settled on Sarah Domet’s “90 Days to Your Novel.” This book purports to assist the first-time would-be novelist to complete a working first draft in a mere three months. Does this seem like a tall order? Yes, and Ms Domet makes no excuses for her up-front promise that you can expect to spend two or more hours per day writing in order to meet that goal. In fairness, there were some days, especially in the beginning, that I did not spend nearly this long.
First, a little background on the author. While she has published many short stories and nonfiction pieces in a variety of journals, as far as I can tell, she has never actually published a novel. Her blog site appears to not have been updated since March 2011. This is questionable. You may be asking yourself at this point if she has any information worth sharing with the would-be novelist.
The answer is: kind of, sort of.
The strength of this book, I would argue, is the tangible and structured way that Ms Domet goes about the process of having her reader organize his project. The book is broken up into sections in which you are always aware of where you are in your journey. For the first 21 days, you have daily assignments to complete, from coming up with character bios, to brainstorming plot ideas, to writing sample scenes to help you come up with ideas. The author is a huge fan of beginning with an outline for your novel, and throughout these first 21 days, you are constructing this outline and refining it.
Starting with Week 4, (Day 22), you no longer have daily assignments. Now you switch to weekly assignments. Each week will contain between three and four assignments in which you continue tweaking your outline but also start writing the content. The premise of the book is that by the end Week 13, you have a solid first draft.
Now, let me clarify that the title of the book is a bit misleading. This is, after all, a first draft you are holding at this point, not a finished novel. You now have to begin the painstaking process of revising your work, cutting things that don’t work, adding things that are missing, polishing for flow, etc. Many accomplished writers will tell you that the revision process can be gut-wrenching and tedious. But this is what you must do in order to take that first draft and turn it into a polished novel.
So the question remains: Is Sarah Domet’s technique effective?
I can only offer my own experience on the matter. For a while, I thought I was really on to something as I completed assignments and churned out pages and pages of scenes that I thought for sure would end up in my finished novel.
Unfortunately, that is not what happened.
I will give Ms Domet credit as a published author who knows a thing or two about the writing process itself. But had I realized up front that she had never actually published a novel, I would have looked somewhere else.
My biggest complaint is that Ms Domet focuses way too much on issues that are external to the story itself; One example of this is what she calls “scene balance”. She seems to think that the author needs to carefully balance the number of external and internal scenes in the novel so that they are about equal. She defines an external scene as any scene where there is action going on, where a character is physically interacting with the world around him. An internal scene, then, by contrast, is a scene in which most of what is going on is happening in the character’s head. The character may be thinking, reflecting, having an internal monologue, etc.
I would say that we should let the story dictate the scenes that need to be included. Ms Domet wants her reader to use his outline and figure out how many external scenes and how many internal scenes are on it, and cut/revise to balance it out, long before her reader has even started writing the story. There is an old saying that goes something like “if you need to force it to make it fit, you’re probably doing it wrong.”
This has never been so true as it is here.
Another major shortcoming of this book comes when you begin working on Act II of your first draft. For those of you who do not know, Act II is the middle act of the familiar three act structure commonly used in storytelling. It is where most of your action takes place, and typically accounts for at least fifty percent of the word count of your book. At this point, Ms Domet asks you to do something that I find odd: She has you look at your outline, sort the scenes according to scene type, and then write all the scenes for that type before moving on to the next type.
In other words, she wants you to write all of your action scenes together. She wants you to write all of your dialogue scenes together. She wants you to write all of your introspective scenes together. Etcetera. Etcetera.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Filmmakers do this all the time. If you are making a movie, and every day you spend filming adds to your production costs, and you have three scenes that all take place at the same location, you film those three scenes all in a row. You let the editor put the scenes in order later, during postproduction. I know a thing or two about this process, as I have two film festival awards at home.
But in novel writing, this just seems silly. There is no compelling reason that I can think of to write your novel out of order, other than maybe you got into the zone for action scenes and so you just kept writing action scenes.
But what is the trade-off?
For starters, you lose the flow of your narrative. The novelist needs to be able to feel how his work is progressing, if the pace is too slow and needs to be sped up, or if the pace is too fast and needs to be slowed down. Often, a high-octane, edge-of-your-seat action scene needs to be followed by a slower scene, to allow the reader to catch his breath. Too many slow scenes in a row can make the book get stale. Too many fast scenes can detract from the substance of the story. But how are you supposed to get a feel for the flow of your work if you are writing the scenes out of order?
And what about continuity? In novels, scenes build on the scenes that come before. A later scene is influenced by an earlier scene. Something that has already happened will be brought up again later in the book. There is a natural flow to it. How can you have that if you wrote all the scenes out of order? You could argue that you can add these little nuances in later, but that sounds like extra work. I would just as soon get it right the first time through, and save my revision time for fixing bad writing rather than correcting continuity errors that were introduced by writing my scenes out of order.
I will admit that this is the point in the book in which I became very suspicious of what I had gotten myself into.
Of course, these are just my experiences. Someone else may feel that they benefitted from writing their novel following this schedule.
Let me just say I decided to stop following Ms Domet’s book. I finished reading it for any little insights she might have had for me. For instance, she offers lots of great coaching and solid tips on crafting plot and characters, things that she obviously knows about from her publishing experience. But I stopped using her book as a guideline for writing my novel.
In fact, I threw out almost everything I did when following this book, and started more or less from scratch. My completed urban fantasy novel, titled "Line of Sight: A Jake Presnall Novel" bears little resemblance to what I was working on when I was reading “90 Days to Your Novel.”
And so, my advice to the aspiring novelist out there, is put the story first. The story must come before all else. It must come before artificially and externally imposed restrictions like balancing out external and internal scenes. If you want to read any self-help books on writing, there are great ones out there. But focus on reading the books that walk you through the process of improving the actual substance of your writing. Check out Othello Bach’s “How to Write a Great Story: A Fiction Writer’s Handbook.” Or check out James Scott Bell’s “Plot & Structure: Techniques And Exercises For Crafting A Plot That Grips Readers From Start To Finish.” Another favorite of mine is “Writing the Breakout Novel” by Donald Maass.
The difference between these books and the book that I have just critiqued is simple. Rather than walking you through the novel writing process, they simply attempt to explain to you how to write a story that your reader will love to read. “How to Write a Great Story” gives excellent advice on improving the actual content of your writing, maturing you as a writer. “Plot & Structure” is a fascinating look at why some plots seem to work better than others, and gives practical and insightful tips on how to come up with your own plot ideas. “Writing the Breakout Novel” is written by a literary agent who wants you to know what other literary agents are looking for when they are trying to decide if your novel has the potential to become a “breakout novel.”
Thank you for reading. And good luck to you.
The story-writing process presented in this book is helpful and adaptable to whatever your creative style happens to be--whether you're an anally-retentive outliner, or a forge-ahead-and-figure-it-out-later pant-ser.
I took this along with an online course and read it week by week and didn't have time to do all the exercises exactly. But it was very helpful--more than most of the other novel-in-a-month books I've read. Thank you.
If you've never written a novel before, you might be able to follow it and produce a short draft. But her drafting process is only three weeks of the 90 days, and you are not going to write, say, an epic fantasy in that time, or a complex literary examination of the human heart or a layered mystery. Don't expect to accomplish any of those in three weeks of actual drafting. I think it would have been better to expand the drafting phase and reduce the prep phase, but hey, it's her book, so whatever.
If you are a NaNoWriMo type person, this could fit as providing a structure for the month before your NaNo and the month after. If you want to write formulaic category fiction (like short romances) this might work. If you're looking for specific, useful how-to advice, look beyond this book. (Dwight Swain's Techniques would be a good place to start for everyone but the most literary of literary writers.)
At the same time, the writing is clear, fun, and friendly. Domet has really been there, and it shows!
Top reviews from other countries
This certainly packs an organisational punch with daily tasks and assignments all designed to help you achieve that 90-day deadline. There are also plenty of worked examples to explain the skills discussed. It’s well-presented throughout, and includes a useful contents list (great for highlighting progress), and an index.
The main section of the book lays-out a ninety-day plan that on completion will form the backbone for any new novel. However, the first part deals with outlining options, and there is a section entitled ‘Day 91 and beyond’, and both of these will require an additional investment of time. A few of the topics might also require some further research in order for an absolute beginner to get the most from the text.
Overall, I thought the plus-points of the book are that it offers plenty of worked examples, assignments, and gives a really solid day-by-day work plan. On the downside, I found the author’s writing style was a little too ‘flat’ for me and would have preferred something slightly more upbeat. That said, it does contain an awful lot of sound advice, and I’m happy to acknowledge my dislike of the style in which it is delivered is simply a matter of personal choice.