Thursday, December 18, 2014

20 Steps to Writing a Novel

There are books written on this subject – I read one. It helped me immensely! If you want answers now, though, I aim to give you a brief overview of the process of writing a novel.

This is how I do it. Feel free to find your own groove but this is great place to start.

1. The idea. You mull this around for a while after writing it down just in case you forget. Let it simmer. Think of your main characters, think of the setting, think of the plot arc and the twists you could put in. Once that simmers in your brain meat for a while and you think it’s still a great idea, get your characters written.

2. The characters. Write the names and descriptions/attributes of each character down as you decide on them. Believe me, it helps. I usually do this in a notebook the old fashioned way.

3. The outline. You may think you don’t need an outline. You’re wrong. Everyone needs some form of outline. It can just be scribbled on the back of a napkin with lines connecting single words as long as it means something to you. I just run through the scenarios I've already hashed out in my mind and put it in a Word doc in a somewhat chapter by chapter form. Anything from a sentence to a paragraph, just so I can keep on track. You can always change the outline. I almost always do.

4. The calendar. Make a calendar in excel. This is optional but I find it very helpful. I just figure out when my story begins and for every day that passes in the story I make a brief note on the appropriate day. This keeps my timelines accurate as I write without having to go back later and fix things.

5. The first draft. Just take a glance at your outline, find where you begin and start writing. I highlight the bits of the outline that have been written already to keep me on track. It’s best to block out the world and write in solitude. As Stephen King said in On Writing: a Memoir of the Craft: “Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.”

6. The draft tracker. I keep a notebook, the same one I use for character profiles, with a page for keeping track of the developing book. I write the draft number at the top, chapter 1 on the first line, and what page it begins next to it. I do this for every chapter. When I go and do my second draft I put the same info in a column next to it so I can compare. I like to keep track of total word counts of the final drafts too. It keeps me organized. If you don’t want to do this, you don’t have to.

7. The resistance. Resist the urge to go back and edit the chapters you've already written. They will suck, guaranteed. Just follow the outline, making changes where appropriate, and plug away.

8. The 100 page flashback. At about 100 pages into your first draft, or at a similar point where it seems logical, go ahead and start at the beginning and loosely edit your first draft. This isn’t another draft; it’s just where you’re hashing out errors in the overall story or things that don’t work. You’re also becoming acquainted with your story as a whole. It’s during this point that you will probably change your outline.

9. The first finish. After going through the first 100 pages, continue to write your first draft as you were before. At 200 pages you could edit the last 100 but I usually don’t.

10. The break. Take a break. Two weeks should do it. Do anything but work on this story. Start something new if you must. Reconnect with your family and friends because they probably feel neglected.

11. The second draft. Save the finished first draft as a second draft so you have 2 separate documents. Begin editing the second draft. In this round you want to just try and read the story as a whole from start to finish without rewriting. It’s best if you print out the first draft and just make notes with a pen or pencil in the margins as you go. When your notes are finished, make the necessary changes.

12. The break, take 2. Take another break. Two weeks or more. Don’t rush it. Do consider your work during this time and try to find ways to entice and surprise your readers.

13. The third draft. Save as a new draft. The focus here is on polishing. You want to take it line by line, paragraph by paragraph, chapter by chapter. Does it work? Make sure your dialogue creates tension and/or imparts information other characters need to know. Cut what isn't relevant. Make sure you leave your reader desperate for more at the end of every chapter. If you’re bored reading it, your reader will be too! The third draft focuses on plot arc, believability, continuity, tension, dialogue, and character development. I do this one totally in Word, making notes in my notebook if I need to.

14. The break, take 3. A month. You are very familiar with every aspect of your story now. Take a month off. Don’t even think about it anymore. You want as much distance between your work and the 4th draft as you can possibly get. It matters.

15. The forth draft. Save this as a new draft. I do this revision all in Word too, but this time I read it out loud to myself. You’ll be very surprised what you’ll catch when you do this. You could print it out if you want. It’s up to you. Scrutinize everything. Scour it for errors. Tighten up loose ends and cut stuff that doesn't fit.

16. The beta read. Send your finished 4th draft to at least 2 different beta readers. Wait.

17. The application. Consider the changes the beta readers suggest. Apply their suggestions if appropriate. Really consider what they say before rejecting what you don’t like. Save it as the final draft.

18. The editor/critique. Send that final draft to an editor. Wait.

19. The final application. Apply changes. Save.

20. The final finish. You’re done! It’s only at this point that you would query agents or begin the self-publishing process. Congrats! You've written a novel!

In the following days and weeks I will take each one of these and expand on them. You’ll see the process first-hand through a lame short-story I’m going to make up on the fly. For now I’m going to think of what I’ll write about and let that stew in my brain meat.

Until then, happy writing! Be sure to subscribe to follow the steps in more detail.

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