Sorry for not having posted anything for the last month, guys, but I was hit by this horrible flu that’s going around and was so, so poorly for ages. I’m now back to mostly full health now though and trying to get back on track. Thanks for sticking with me!
The trouble with being poorly is that my whole schedule has gone completely out of the window and I wasn’t really sure what to write about today. I decided in the end to write about my writing process. Not in a, ‘wow, look at me. I’m so clever!’ kind-of-way, but from a, ‘let’s share and learn from each other!’ kind-of-way.
Plotter or Panster?
I’ve just finished plotting a new contemporary romance novel and I’m entering the editing process for a cosy mystery novel. After quite a few attempts at writing novels, and to a certain extent short stories, I’ve now refined my process to something I’m happy with. That’s not to say it isn’t constantly changing as I learn new skills, but I have realised that I’m a plotter. I like to have everything plotted out before I start a first draft and this starts with a notebook and a pen.
It might be a little old fashioned, but I find working on paper easier than the computer for plotting and outlining. I’ll brainstorm characters, settings, the plot and eventually I come up with a basic story and premise. For cosy mysteries I might use a sheet of A3 and create a ‘murder map’ so I can sort out the red herrings, clues and foreshadowing. Then I’ll start putting together a table of plot points, still in the notebook. Once I’m happy with this I transpose it onto a spreadsheet and that’s when I’m ready to start the first draft.
I treat the first draft in a similar fashion to NaNoWriMo in that I try to get as many words down as possible. I transfer to the computer for this because who can write that much anymore? I also find that my brain works faster than my hand can write with a pen but I’m a fairly quick typist and can more often than not keep up.
I don’t try to make the first draft perfect and I don’t spend ages agonising over word choices. I might repeat the same action beat for a character several times but I don’t worry about it. This will get corrected during the editing process.
Using the spreadsheet I work through the plot points and end up with a completed first draft of a complete story. There’s no need to worry about word count at this stage either. Just tell your basic story and you can flesh it out later.
Once the first draft is completed I set it aside for a while. How long will depend on what other projects I’ve got going on, whether the kids are on school holidays and other life commitments. I think it’s useful to have some space from your work to be able to take a more objective view when you come back.
Some people do a first draft and then begin editing that draft, I prefer to think of this first look at it as more of a re-draft. The first draft can often be so crap, or as a nice way of putting it, sketchy, that it doesn’t quite resemble the full story you intended to write. My major floor is that sometimes I am so eager to get through all the plot points while writing the first draft it ends up very thin and needs fleshing out. With mysteries, it means that every conversation is so clearly revealing information, I have to go back and add in other stuff to hide the clues!
By thinking of it as a re-draft I can think of the novel as a structural whole and make sure it works, especially if during the first draft the characters started misbehaving and doing things I hadn’t anticipated!
I spend time thinking about whether the characters are where they should be in each scene. Do the characters develop enough through the novel? Is the action in the right place? By re-drafting I am free to add in and delete scenes as required, write in new characters or change the structure of the book without feeling like I’m failing at writing and that it’s hopeless!
The first edit is still kind of a structural edit but now I know that the structure is okay from the re-draft, it’s more about reading through and fleshing out in more detail than I was able to do in the earlier stages. I use this edit to make sure character arcs work and that each character has a full and deep personality.
This edit focuses on atmosphere and setting. Does each chapter and scene represent the ‘feel’ I’m trying to achieve? Will the reader be able to picture the setting and feel the atmosphere? Here is where I’ll also look at character reactions. This is another big flaw for me. I tend to rely on the same descriptions time and again. In this edit I’ll make sure I’m not repeating myself and take the time to really think about describing my characters and how they are feeling, hopefully coming up with something new. By now, through the previous edits I should feel confident that all key areas of the manuscript have been looked at.
This is a line edit. I literally take each line and ensure it’s written as best it can be. I make sure the dialogue isn’t repetitive and that I have different sentence structures. I make sure consecutive paragraphs don’t begin in the same way and that each line is as a poetic as possible.
I’ll also look at pacing and make sure that in tense scenes I use shorter sentences to build the tension and when I want to slow the pace back down, use longer sentences to calm the reader.
At the end of this edit the work should be the best it can be. If I don’t feel it is I try to identify what it is that’s making me feel that way and go back to the stage that deals with that then start again! Then rinse and repeat until finished!
So, there you have it, my writing process. What’s yours? Please stop by in the comments section and let me know what you do differently or what works for you. I’d love to hear from you!