First Draft: Tent-Pole Writing

I mentioned the “tent-pole” method as a form of outlining, but I think it can also be used as a way to more effectively write your story. This isn’t something I’ve fully tried, more of a theory, but I’ve heard that people do approach their writing this way, and if you’re having trouble getting into a story, this could be very useful.

The basic idea is that you focus on writing the parts of the story that excite you the most first. This might be a collection of scenes, a specific battle sequence, some dialogue exchanges, or maybe the big reveal of the story. The idea is the hone in on the aspect, or aspects, of the story that really got you excited about writing it and then to get those down on paper before you really do anything else.

Once you have these parts down, you can use them to inform the rest of your story.

For example, if you know how some of your main characters interact from writing out these scenes, you can now start to flesh out your characters, and these scenes that you really enjoy can serve as a litmus test for future scenes and character interactions. When your characters interact in other parts of the story, does it have the same feel or is it consistent with the way they act in the scenes you really enjoy?

You can also outline the plot based on these scenes. Once you know how the scene where your two protagonists meet goes, you can then think backwards and figure out how they got there. If you have several scenes written, you can start creating the pieces that link them all together. Writing these scenes out can also give you ideas about what might come in between, as you discover how your characters and world operate.

This method is especially useful if you don’t know how you want to begin your story, but you do have ideas for things that happen in the middle or towards the end.

Of course, you don’t have to (and really shouldn’t) slavishly attach yourself to the scenes you write first. Even though they are the ones that have you excited about the story, it doesn’t mean that they’re perfect. You may find as you fill out the rest of the story around them that you need to edit them or that a character you really liked doesn’t quite fit in the story. Sometimes you must “kill your darlings” as they say.

But, as a way of getting into a story and staying inspired by it, I think this can go a long way. Rather than feeling like you have to grind through parts of a story to get to the fun parts, you get to put the fun parts down first and then use them to inform how the rest of the story unfolds. In a lot of ways, I think this can be a more organic form of writing and one that I may try with future projects.

Do you think this method would work for you? Have you used it before? Thanks for reading, and let me know your thoughts in the comments!


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