Authors differ in how they approach writing a novel. Some outline the story first and write detailed character sketches. Others, like me, make up everything while they write. Some edit as they write. Others write the story without editing, then go back and edit it later. Some do a little of both.
With regard to these choices, there is no single correct method. So as you read my method, don’t get the idea that I am saying this is the only proper way or the best way. This is what works for me.
I begin with a story idea, a premise. For Raising Dragons, I had a dream about a boy who could breathe fire. My son and I pondered how that could happen. We decided that the boy’s father was once a dragon, transformed into a human in the time of King Arthur. I then sat down and began writing (I use Microsoft Word) about that boy’s normal way of life, not knowing how the story would develop.
For Reapers, I began with a teenager who could reap souls in a dystopian world. I knew nothing else about him or his environment. I just started writing about his daily life and got to know him and his world as I progressed.
The First Draft
While I am writing during this first stage, I have another document open in which I write notes about ideas that come to mind that I don’t want to address immediately. This allows me to keep the story going without much interruption.
For example, while writing Reapers I discovered that Phoenix (the main character) had a valve embedded in his sternum that provided energy for his soul-carrying cloak. I jotted a note in the other document that I needed to go back and mention this valve as early as possible. Foreshadowing such an important tool is essential, but I didn’t want to halt my story progress. I could add it later.
When I finish the story, I read through the notes document and apply each note to the story. Depending on the number of notes and how much they affect the story, that process can take from a day to a week to accomplish.
The Editing Process
Once that process is finished, I usually have a bare-bones story. The tale’s events are complete, but I usually lack scenery details, character descriptions, dialogue beats, and other items that make the prose beautiful. I start at the beginning and edit the entire story, adding those details, correcting typos, and coming up with new ideas to enhance the story.
When I finish that step, I have a complete first draft, which I give to my wife for her first editing pass. She uses Microsoft Word’s track-changes option to make suggested changes, and she inserts comments to ask questions and point out potential problems. You might not have a spouse who is as adept at editing as she is, in which case you would have to find another editor. Some writers trade editing favors with a writing friend they trust.
My wife sends the edited version back to me, and I choose to accept or reject her suggestions (I accept 99% of them). Her comments often give me reason to alter significant parts of the story. In that case, I use Microsoft Word’s compare documents feature to compare my new document with the one she edited. The software highlights the changes, which allows her to quickly find and edit the altered portions.
Once again she sends the edited document back to me, and I comb through the new edits. If I make more significant changes, then we go through the back-and-forth process again until the only edits are typos or other minor issues.
More Editing Steps
At that point, I have a polished manuscript. If I have a contract with a publisher, I am ready to send the manuscript in for the publisher to edit. When the publisher sends the manuscript back to me with ideas and suggested edits, I go through the same back-and-forth process with their editor that I did with my wife.
When that process is complete, or if I don’t have a contract with a publisher, my wife reads the entire manuscript to me out loud. This allows me to perceive the story in a different way. I am able to imagine the tale more vividly, tossing away concern about the next keystrokes. Often I notice issues related to character inventory such as, “She was carrying a lantern. What happened to it?” I also hear words that are repeated too closely together. This can be a long, tedious process, but I find it to be essential.
I then make the necessary changes and send what I consider my final draft to the publisher. The publisher typesets the manuscript to create a publish-ready file and sends me what we call a galley version of the novel. The publisher and I proofread the galley to check for mistakes in typesetting as well as anything we might have missed in previous editing passes. At this point, we hope that all changes are minor. Since typesetting is time consuming, we don’t want to alter the document so much that the typesetting has to be done again.
The Finished Product
What’s next? A celebration. The novel is finished. We wait for the book to come out.
It usually takes me about two months to write a first draft of a novel, and I usually spend about two months in the editing process, which means that half of a novel’s gestation period is taken up by editing.
There you have my writing process. If you have any questions or comments, please post them.
Categories: Writing Tips