plotting

What is the Process of Writing a Novel – Part 2 (Tips on Writing Tuesday #3)

Last week I discussed the first six steps in my personal novel writing process.  Today, we finish the discussion…

A 12 Step Novel Writing Process
Part 2: Steps 7-12


7. Plot Draft – Go ahead, it’s okay.  You can actually start writing now:-)

I call my first draft the ‘plot draft’ because it helps me focus on what’s most important at this point, the story…the plot.  You just have to write.  Period.  You cannot go back and edit.

Repeat.

Write and do not edit.  Just get the words on the page. Your plot draft is supposed to stink to high heaven and be full of run on sentences and grammatical mistakes.

The key is just to write…and write…and write!

And when you are done with your plot draft, take time to congratulate yourself.  You have just accomplished something wonderfully hard and worthwhile!

Sidenote:  Remember, now that you have scene outlines and summaries, you don’t have to necessarily write in chronological order.  When you find yourself at a road block with a particular section of the story, you just peruse your scenes and find another part of the story that sounds interesting and keep on writing.  You have already thought it through and planned it out!

8. Personal Revision #1 – After you are done with the plot draft, take a few weeks off.  Don’t even look at the story.

Seriously, put it down!

Come back with fresh eyes and read through the entire story, start to finish.  With this read you are only concerned with story flow and pace.

Does the story as you envisioned it in the outline come across on the page?  Are there parts that need to be cut?  Characters that need to be developed?  Scene changes that don’t make sense?  The ending that sounded so great before on paper not looking so hot?

Make those changes.

9. Personal Revision #2 – Now you can get the red pen out and take care of all that punctuation and grammar that’s been causing you anxiety.  Do the best you can on your way and get your draft as neat and as polished as you can.

10. Peer Revision – The key here is to get more eyeballs on your work that can find things you missed.  The key here is NOT to get praise.

Repeat.

Don’t ask people to read your work when it’s not done (FYI – it’s not done yet) hoping they will give you praise.  Because they might, and that’s the worse thing that could happen to help your story improve.

Find 2 – 3 people in your life that a) like to read and b) you know will tell you the truth.  These people need to be able to read your work and tell you just how much needs to get changed.  Trust me, it’s a good thing.

Take the information you get back from this process and weigh it carefully.  If it is legitimate and helps improve the story, make the changes.  If it doesn’t, well, ignore it.  You have ultimate creative control.

Sidenote: Another very, very positive option is to find a local or online critique group.  This will include other writers that you can not only learn from, but also give back to the writing community.  

11. Personal Revision #3 (Final Manuscript) – One last time, just for good measure, go through and make sure you are happy with story flow, character development and scene structure.  Make line edits as you go, always trying to correct grammar and punctuation as you find it.

Read your synopsis again.  Does the story do what the synopsis says?

If so, you are almost done.

12. Professional Edit – This one has much debate, and rightfully so.  My humble opinion is that a professional edit is worth it.  But…

Only if you find someone that will actually do what you are going to pay them to do.  I know that’s a loaded comment.  The key is you want to find someone who can go through and find all the things that you and your friends and you (again) missed.  At this point you should be focusing on technical editing, not the story.   Find a grammar/punctuation fanatic that will work your manuscript over like it is going to be submitted for the Pulitzer.  If you can find that person, it is worth every cent.

And when I say “professional edit”, I don’t mean your friend who is the school teacher or your neighbor who won the essay contest at the local fair.  Find a reputable, true-blue editor that you don’t know (but that you then can build a working relationship with).  This is easier said than done.  So take time and check references to make sure your expectations match that of the editor.

Assuming you find a great match, whatever grammar or punctuation changes that don’t take away from the voice of your story that they tell you to make…make them.

NOW you are done!

You have a real life manuscript that you can be very proud of.  It will never be perfect.  Every writer has the feeling of wanting to go back and change something.  But if all writing was supposed to be perfect we wouldn’t have anything to read.

You did it.  Congratulations!

If you have written a story, or have thought about writing one but haven’t started, I would love to hear about it.  Leave me a comment below.

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What is the Process of Writing a Novel? Part 1 (Tips on Writing Tuesday #2)

One of my readers asked me last week, “How do you get from having a simple story idea to the completed manuscript?”

I talk to people all the time who have a wonderful book idea.  Unfortunately, they don’t ever see it come to fruition because they don’t know where to start.  The thought of going from a small ten word sentence to 150-300 page book is daunting…for all of us.

Almost three novels and hundreds of thousands of words later, this is the twelve step process I have become most comfortable with to get from point A to point B.  It will not work for all, but I believe within the list are tried and true principles that will work for most.  Over time, you will be able to adapt the list to fit your needs.

So you have a great idea for a story, now what?

A 12 Step Novel Writing Process
Part 1: Steps 1-6


1. Basic Story Arc – You don’t have to have it all down overnight.  Start small.  Who is the main character?  What is their goal?  What stands in their way?  How will they overcome and prevail (or not)?

2. Brainstorm – Now that our idea is more than a passing thought, we need to flesh it out even more.  What is the setting?  Who are other characters?  What makes them tick?  What is the conflict?  What genre?  Lots of notes and ideas will run together.

3. Scene Outline – This is where it gets hard.  A scene outline is a simple, step by step walk through of your story.  A one to two sentence description of each scene…that’s it.  So important, but easier said than done.

I look at this step much like story boarding for a movie.  A director is not going to start shooting a film until they know exactly what is happening, frame by frame.  As a writer, it benefits you to do the same.

I cannot stress this enough – your story is made up of scenes, a book is made up of chapters.

Write in scenes!  

A scene is a vital part of your story where characters interact.  Chapters are simply logistics you can figure out later as you put the book together.

4. Character Profiles – I used this step for the first time with Maiden, and I will never write another book without it.  How can you write a story about characters who have thoughts, feelings and dreams if you don’t have a very firm grasp on who they are, what they want, and how they get it?

Answer…you can’t.

I open up a word document with a page for each character and list traits, background, goals, and even a picture of who I would cast in that role if it were a movie.  For example, my current novel has a main character named John.  He is an honorable but flawed military captain I see as a cross between Captain Mal from Firefly and Arturius (Clive Owen) in the newest King Arthur movie.

5. Scene Summary – With a scene outline and a good grasp on character, now it’s time to expand.  A scene summary takes your one or two sentences and turns them into three or four paragraphs.  You are putting meat onto the bones and your characters and their story are coming alive.

By the end of the scene summary you know exactly what your story is about and all the major plot points.  You know when and how your characters interact with each other, when the bad guy gets in the way and when the good guy prevails, the climax and the ending.

It’s all right there.  All you are really missing is the dialogue to bring everything to life.  But before you start actually writing (and all this time you thought you were writing) you need to make a…

6. Synopsis – I would recommend a 1-page synopsis, but no more than 2-pages.  After outlining, profiling your characters, and creating scene summaries, you should be able to create a 1-2 page synopsis.

A synopsis is vital!  It’s the back of the book blurb that wets the appetite and paints a vivid picture.  It is your blueprint moving forward to pull out when times get tough and you can’t remember why you started writing in the first place.

Click here for Part 2 and steps 7-12.

If you have written a story, or have thought about writing one but haven’t started, I would love to hear about it.  Leave me a comment below.