Friday, May 27, 2011

So it occurs to me that I haven’t been writing much about how to write lately, which given that that is supposed to be the entire focus of the blog, I feel I have let all roughly 5 people who read this blog down. Actually the number is probably a lot lower than five, seriously, my counter should be in negative numbers.

Anyway, for today I’d like to offer up a highly-condensed version of my novel-writing process. I have gone into detail in the past and will go into greater detail in the future, but for now let’s get a simplified set of directions out there for those what want ‘em.

Step 1: Brain Dump
Let’s say you’ve got a concept, what is it? Maybe it’s just a sentence; maybe you have a vast, rambling stream of ideas. Take it out of your head, dump it on paper. Maybe it’s an idea for a whole series, maybe just a short story. Take it out and dump it on the page. Remember you aren’t showing this to anyone and you aren’t being graded on it. You’re just putting the thing in your head on the paper so you can see it all in front of you.

Step 2: Outline!
This is the part where every highschool kid I’ve ever talked to groans inwardly and frowns at me. It’s not like outlining a chapter in your biography book, all you are doing is expanding your concept, laying it out in chronological order, and filling in any holes.

And not all holes, either. By no stretch of the imagination should you feel compelled to have the ENTIRE story laid out at this point. This just a basic chronological description of what you want to write so far. A roadmap, so you won’t get lost later on.

Step 3: Write.
Don’t feel compelled to go in order, but at some point you do need to write. This is where the outlines comes in especially handy. I tend to lay everything into word documents and combine them as I go, sort of rolling the story together. I’ll have an idea, make a new document, write out the scene, and then when it links up with another scene I combine them together. This builds slowly with the documents growing in length as more and more are stitched together.

You can feel free to revise your outline as you go, or outline new sections. It can really helpt to establish a timeline. In one particular section of a novel I’m currently working on, I used the position of the sun to establish an exact timescale for a series of events. Starting with just about to set and ending sometime after full sundown. Because I did not take the time to outline beforehand, I ended up having to go back and revise it several times. Avoid this pitfall with a guide!

Step 3: Write Some More.
As your sections grow and you combine them into increasingly larger documents, eventually you can take your outline(if its still relevant) and plug the different pieces in. What I typically do is bold the entire outline and then delete the parts I have written, substituting them with the actual story. This allows me to produce a rough master file. The holes are easy to find because they’re in bold, and I have a very clear set of objectives to complete.

Step 4: Revise.
Once you have finished filling in all gaps with Writer’s Spackle(patent-pending), you’ve finished your rough draft. I know, it was a lot of hard work. Guess what? You’re not even halfway done.

Depending on your sensibilities, you may want to take a break from the project. I typically like to let any new manuscript settle for at least a week before I go back to it. Much of this is simply that I don’t like reading the same book over and over and over again without a break, and if I just wrote it then I’ve basically read it.

Revising is not, as many people believe, taking things out. Often times in writing it is putting additional things in. correcting plot holes, tying up loose ends, what have you. You might also take the time to correct any spelling mistakes or fix whatever poorly chosen names or words you might have used(as I often do).

Step 5: Repeat Step 4.
Remember when I said you were less than halfway done when you finished the rough draft? Revising is a lengthy process that can potentially take years. I spent 3 years writing Author of the Gust and two more revising it. I read it 10 times, not counting the time I wrote it. Most of you have not read a single book 10 times, some of you haven’t read 10 books.

This is not to say 10 is the magic number. Author was the very first novel I ever finished, it took 10 rounds of revising to go from “oh, god! Did I actually write that?!” to a book people actually wanted to read. Hey, maybe if I revise this blog about 10 more times, people will want to read it, too? What’da’ya say?

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