Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Process of Writing a Novel

Pat said...
What is your process for writing a novel?

Thanks for your question, Pat. I thought it would make a good post. I've been asked this many times and must say that the process evolves. I begin with a journal of the book where I write notes and ideas. I've begun tabulating the journals into categories: characters, storyline, symbols etc. I begin the journal for a book as I am writing the pages for the one before it. Luckily, by the time I have completed a novel, I am ready to begin writing the pages for the next. It has been a good flow for me.

While I am writing the pages, I have diagrams and notes taped all around the work space so as I work on the computer, I look around to make sure I am where I need to be with character development, storyline, symbolism etc. It can be messy in my office at times, but the system works for me! When I feel I am ready to "let it go," I give it to at least three editors for feedback. I have found that the opinions of multiple editors give me a broad range of suggestions. I choose the editors knowing that each will probably get something different out of the experience, and have suggestions based on their expertise or perspectives.
I say "let it go," because finishing a book can be an extremely emotional experience for many reasons. I always need to be sure I have done justice to the characters and to the ideas of the story. I also need to be ready to receive the feedback, which can be an emotional process. But also, I need to be ready to come out of the womb of creation that I have been gestating in for so many months (years.) Emerging from the creation of a novel is like giving birth to yourself. You go through the process as the parent and the child. What a miracle and a blessing. Molly Brogan

11 comments:

Les said...

Hi, I came across you in Stumble Upon.

My blog is at lchatwin.wordpress.com and I am an aspiring writer/student/pastor/dad/husband/salesman/pilgrim.

Good to meet you.

Molly Brogan said...

Thanks for chiming in! Molly

Jack Payne said...

Appears to be a well thought out, workable system. I was always a strict follower of an outline as guideline through my whole career of non-fiction book construction. So, on my only novel I merely followed through on this approach, letting the story itself dictate character development.

Tiffany said...

Molly, this is a great subject, and fits with my favorite-ever writing theme about finding what works for you individually. When I write a novel, I simply start with a scene and start writing. The scene could come from anywhere in the book, although my life is easiest when the scene that comes to mind is the opening scene, and then I can just write straight through.

In my ideal world, I have enough uninterrupted time to write 3,000-5,000 words at a sitting, but that rarely happens. My most recent novel was written almost exclusively during my commute, which meant 50 minutes in the morning and 50 minutes in the evening--that allowed me to write about 1,000 words in each direction. Whenever possible, I try not to stop writing in the middle of a chapter. When I finish a chapter and stop writing, if I can clearly see what comes next I write the first paragraph or so of the next one so that I'll be able to pick up where I left off when I come back.

Depending on how much time passes between writing sessions, I may back up and read the last chapter or two before I start writing again. But I don't outline, don't make notes, and definitely don't know what comes next until it comes pouring out of my fingertips.

Once I'm done writing something, I'm over it. Entirely over, to the point that it's very hard for me to maintain enough interest to shop it around. The moment the last line is on the page, my mind is on the next project.

Brigid said...

I still haven't found a way that works consistently. I usually try to make a synopsis of what I generally want to have happen in more or less the right order and then try to figure things out from there. It's kinda haphazard and I get stuck a lot, but none of the other techniques in books and such ever worked for me.

Jim Murdoch said...

I'm working on my fifth novel at the moment. Each one has been a different experience but the basic process has always been the same, get the basic story on paper – that is the biggest chore and it can take a while – then comes the important bit and that the editing and I spend far more time on that than I ever spend on getting the story out of my head. Some writers write tens of thousands or words and then trim. I write as little as I can get away with, as little as 20,000 words and then I start grafting on details. It has proven very effective.

I've also learned not to be afraid to put aside a novel and do something else. I shelved my third novel for a whole two years, wrote a pile of short stories, and then returned with a completely different perspective on the work, which is exactly what it needed. I'm not pooh-poohing the question but it doesn't really matter what other people do, the important thing is learning what works for you. Unfortunately it can take a while to learn that. When I hit that bout of writer's block on that third novel I though I was done and that the first two had been nothing more than flukes. I've also discovered that a novel is something I will have to live with for as much as five years; I'm not sure if I'd have ever put pen to paper if I'd known that at the start.

I work primarily on the PC and I save religiously and backup faithfully. Word can save a backup every time you save the file and I regularly save archive files onto another machine. Periodically I'll print out a hardcopy and begin reading from the beginning until I hit an uneven patch, then I start editing from there on and repeat until I can read from page one till the end; once that flow exists then I'm done, I'll check for typos and punctuation mistakes and move on. Oh, and I never show it to anyone till I'm finished. Now that's fine with a wee poem but sitting on something for several years can take a bit of doing.

wamblings said...

My mind doesn't organize itself into outlines. I have a rough idea where my story is going, where I expect it to end up, but I could be surprised in the end. I simply write the scenes as they come to me and hopefully in the end there will be a full novel. I do maintain a "character's" sheet with names, ages, pertinent information, charting changes as they grow through the story. I'm a Gemini so perhaps it is no surprise I am working on two completely different novel's at the same time. One is coming forth in linear fashion, chapter by chapter, the other is appearing as scenes which I'll have to arrange at some point into their proper placement in the story. Writing is such an adventure.

Benjamin Fennell said...

My process is pretty scattered overall. I tend to liken it to putting together a puzzle. I get some ideas down, see if they interlock with any of the other ideas I've had and haven't used yet that could lead to an interesting story, then gradually build up an outer frame of sorts for the story - how it starts, the main idea of where it's going to go, even if I don't have a concrete ending just yet, and some of the main characters. Then I start to fill it in and flesh everything out from there, starting with the characters and their specific roles, how much I'll develop them or won't, and ultimately, as I finish fleshing it all out, I fully detail each of the arcs of the story, as my writing style tends to focus more on multiple story arcs leading up to a conclusion, as opposed to focusing entirely on a single centralized story the entire time - though ultimately, I try to make sure there's some degree of meaningful resolution to the core of the story, even if it leads to a more open ending. Sometimes, the core doesn't necessarily unveil itself until later on, either.

My first novel I'm working on finishing up now hints at the main chord I'm trying to strike with the protagonist's storyline throughout, but it doesn't begin to fully reveal itself until a little over halfway through the book, the protagonist's interactions with the rest of the cast and their development taking center stage until then. But the way I've plotted it out, with all that I've written, I'm hoping that the reveal and resolution I have will be satisfying for readers. I'll see what my test readers think when they get to it, anyway. But overall, while I work with my own personal outline system of sorts, and tend to write in a mixture of separate pieces that I gradually click together and entirely improvised linear narrative movement, it's all pretty scattered. (Basically, I write chunks of the story that belong in one part or another some of the time, and then others, I sit down and focus on getting through each chapter in a more linear fashion, incorporating the previous chunks I'd written, polishing and revising to ensure they're integrated naturally.) As a result, though, I do tend to end up with extra and leftover pieces that won't be in the final work. I have at least a couple handfuls of scenes I wrote at various points while working on the story that I just felt didn't work with what it became, in the end, so I cut them out. I've also written multiple versions of some of the climactic final scenes before settling on which version I felt accomplished what I was going for best and felt most natural for the characters - essentially, an effort to carry the neurotic edge of the narrative, while working casually and hopefully somewhat subtly in the emotional resonance I'm going for with the critical scene I'm thinking of at the moment, as opposed to melodrama, which I felt just made previous versions of this scene feel hard to get through.

Yikes, this turned into a long, rambling post. Hopefully it wasn't too worthless, anyway, haha. Once I start talking about my writing process, it's obviously a wee bit tough for me to stop myself.

Gorric said...

I'm a very fluid writer, I usually get the rough written as concise as I can based on what ever research I’ve done, and then sculpt it into a coherent manuscript later, with the different proof reading techniques I use, along with any outside help I can get. I find that I am able to stay on message when I making changes in the flow of my text and I really enjoy the feeling of chipping away at the rough edges to make my writing shine. However, I am just a newbie writer, self-taut, and have only been at it for about a year, I rely heavily on other peoples input, to help steer me in the right direction.

Adam Kamerer said...

I don't really have a process. I come up with some basic themes, then I start writing. It ends up for something of a rambling novel, but I usually go back afterwards and edit and tweak things. to make it more coherent and fix any plot holes or flow problems I've inadvertently left in. I do a lot of worldbuilding on the outside of the novel, though; sometimes making characters or places that I know exist in the novel's world, but may never actually show up in the story itself.

Orna Ross said...

Generally writing a book is a seven stage process -- preparation, planning, germination, drafting, deepening, editing, completion.