Helen (heleninwales) wrote,

  • Mood:

*A* way to write a novel

Everyone seems to be doing it, so I may as well have a go too...

There are lots of ways to write a novel. Other, more successful people have been writing about them here.) I've tried a couple of methods myself, mostly variants on Sit Down and Start Writing and See Where It Goes. (Which does work, eventually, and I wrote two completed novels that way (plus other fragments) but it involves a lot of thrashing about and rewrites.) But for Moving a Mountain and also for the WIPs, I've settled on a sort of system:

  • An idea pops into my head, possibly a character or a situation or bit of background or cool image for a scene.

  • Write idea down on scrap of paper.

  • Put scrap of paper into a folder.

  • Go about daily life. Continue working on whatever story is the current WIP.

  • Time passes...

  • Another idea pops into my head.

  • Write idea down on scrap of paper.

  • Put scrap of paper into a folder.

  • Time passes...

  • After doing this for a while, I find I have a pile of scrappy bits of paper. Also I realise that several of the ideas belong together. Move them into the same folder.

  • Time passes...

  • Ideas on scrappy bits of paper accumulate in the folder, though now it's apparent that they are all part of the same novel.

  • Question: Do I have a plot yet?

  • If no, wait a bit longer...

  • If yes and I have a critical mass, ie characters, background (albeit sketchy) and plot, continue to the actual writing stage.

  • Use the mindmapping software to sketch out the overall shape of the plot, using Lars Eighner's plot points.1

  • Use the mindmapping software to note down what is known about characters so far.

  • Plan opening scene.

  • Set up spreadsheet to generate the Browne circular diagram which will be filled in gradually as the novel develops.

  • Write first scene of zeroth draft.

  • Decide first scene is utter crap.

  • Grit teeth and ignore crap. Write on a bit further.

  • Unable to resist any longer, go back and heavily cut and polish opening. Now not quite utter crap. Will do for now.

  • Write more scenes, planning just a few scenes ahead.

  • Continue writing scenes, filling out circular diagram as I go. Just occasionally refer to the mindmap plot diagram, but mostly ignore it as it was the process of producing it that was important (it fixes the shape into my brain), not the diagram itself.

  • When zeroth draft is complete, copy it into another folder called First Draft.

  • Celebrate! I have a complete draft!

  • Begin thoroughly revising first draft, working backwards, one chapter at a time. This is partly because I still am not ready to face sorting out the crappy opening. Also working backwards throws up things that revising forwards doesn't catch, such as characters or plot threads that were introduced at the start and then forgotten about as the story developed.

  • Reach beginning. Wrestle opening scenes into some semblance of goodness.

  • Celebrate! I have a coherent complete draft!

  • Revise the whole thing again, working forwards this time, by getting the computer to read the story aloud to me. This really picks up typos and long confusing sentences.

  • Send the novel to first readers.

  • Final dust and polish, ie sorting out any points raised by the first readers.

  • Celebrate! I have a novel!

  • Start sending queries to agents/publishers.

  • Look at ideas file to see what to start writing next...

At least that's how I would like it to go. But it's all subject to variation. The extreme case being the current WIP, which was first started 30 years ago. I had 65,000 words of the umpteenth attempt written, then it lay abandoned for 3 years while I wrote Moving a Mountain. I'm now hacking the thing to bits because the amnesia idea just didn't work. Which reminds me, I haven't done the mindmap plot structure for A Necessary Evil and I really need to do it to get the shape of the novel in my head.

Meanwhile, I thought I was supposed to be working on a much better idea too, but I seem to have been mugged by the unfinished project...

1 I just discovered, when I found that the link in my Favourites didn't work any more, that Lars Eighner seems to be retiring from the web. This is a darn shame because he had some good novel writing resources up there. Anyway, I have copied below his novel plot done on the lines of a film script diagram, just in case it's of any use to anyone. His complete post to misc.writing is here...

Revised for the novel

    1/6                  2/3                           1/6
  situation   |  conflict conflict conflict        |  chase
 ^the hook  ^Plot point A                        ^Plot point B

Novel Structure Questionnaire

(In the book order, not necessarily the ideal order for
deciding things)

1. What is the hook?

2. What is the situation?

3. What is plot point A? (More than meets the eye)

4. What is the conflict?

5. What is plot point B? (After him men)

6. What is the chase?

7. What is the outcome?


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