Notes from the field

English: A wolf nurses her pups outside their den.
Image via Wikipedia

Last week, I announced that I had hired a writing coach.  A fellow blogger and writer, Kristin MacFarland, asked what exactly does a writing coach do for a writer?

I tried to explain in a comment, but I think the following Google Chat conversation helps to illustrate what a writing coach does.  Keep in mind, this is an excerpt from the middle of a session with my writing coach after she had read my outline for a new novel.  We were discussing what my next steps should be in developing the outline into a draft.

Note: edited to protect the typos.

me: Excellent! So, I’ll take each of my major plot points, and then think of scenes that support and expand on each, no?
coach: Yes, but don’t try to force it.
me: Okay.
coach: Be as loose as you like, or as tight, but don’t worry about details. The details will come as you begin seeing how they all fit together. I like to use my whiteboard or index cards, that way I can move things around.
me: You mean the details of how they get from point a to point b?
coach: Yes, points a to b can be worked out later.
me: Physically, like on a map, I mean, not in plot or story…
coach: Yes, that, too.
me: Oh, okay. I’m confused. All three? But if it makes sense now…and I move things around, will it not make sense after that?
coach: Let me think of an example…Red Riding Hood. Big scenes would be:
Red packs supplies for sick and starving grandma
Red meets wolf in the woods
Wolf eats grandma
Red meets wolf in grandma clothes
Hunter kills wolf
There’s a scene list.
me: Okay
coach: So you ask yourself, okay, why does Red have to be the one to take goodies to grandma?
A scene where her mom breaks her leg
A scene showing Red taking care of village strays (she has a big heart)
A scene with Red arguing with bullies (showing she’s brave)
See how that works? Instead of forcing a plot from a to z, you ask, how can I show this makes sense.
me: Yes…but…okay, so all my supporting scenes flow naturally from the big plot points, but doesn’t necessarily have to be all in order? Or doesn’t have to fit in the narrative? Oh, just read that last bit (in bold). That sunk it home. I’ve forced my stories along a narrative. But I just need to explain the narrative.
coach: Exactly.
me: Why didn’t anyone tell me that before?!


Keep in mind, we are just talking about creating an initial scene list.  Fleshing out those scenes, I’m sure, will be part of another session.  Also, during our chat, this all seemed like a revelation to me.  It still does, but reading it out of context, I can see how you may not think that.  It’s like, duh, of course you have to explain why they are doing what they are doing.  Don’t you know that already?

One of the advantages of having a writing coach is that their instruction is tailored specifically for you.  My coach (feels so weird to write that) has read my outline.  She’s read samples of my writing.  She knows my weaknesses, and what I’m missing.  Armed with that information, she was able to get me to a point of understanding I hadn’t had before.

Until later, write some sense. 😉


6 thoughts on “Notes from the field

    1. Thanks, Emmie. It’s funny because I thought I was making sense, but when someone points it out to you that you are not…and then shows you exactly how you are not making sense…it is very illuminating. 🙂

  1. So helpful, thank you! I understand the pressure to keep the plot moving along but often forget that action alone isn’t enough – it has to evoke some sort of reaction with the reader, ideally a deeper understanding of the characters involved (or not involved, come to think of it). This example with Red Riding Hood is such a great reminder of how to do it! Thank you again!

    1. I’m glad you find it helpful. When I first thought to put it up, I figured I’d make myself out as a fool (which, of course, I am, but that’s besides the point, the point is…), but then I figured if it helped me, it might help others. 🙂

  2. Yes, thanks for sharing this! How interesting.

    The New Yorker had a fascinating article awhile back about people in various professions hiring coaches — the example in the magazine was a surgeon. Part of what the article discussed is that the professional can get so close to his work, so invested, that it’s hard to step back and see the work piece by piece. A coach can take you back to basics or show you big picture items as needed. And it sounds like your coach is going to do just that! Good luck to you!

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