Writing Process

As I’ve seen how oth­er peo­ple work, I’ve decid­ed that it’s time to share my process, from ini­tial idea to a fin­ished sto­ry.

Initial idea

The first step is the most ran­dom one, and the end result may or may not have any­thing in com­mon with the plant­ed seed. It can be based on a char­ac­ter (what if a woman ‘woke up’ dead, insis­tant on find­ing her killer), on a myth (I love the leg­ends of the Scot­tish war­riors!), on a sit­u­a­tion (a killer is after the main char­ac­ter!), or even a reac­tion (I hate how the huge major­i­ty of sex­u­al­ly sub­mis­sive men in pop cul­ture are writ­ten as freaks, and that the ‘ini­ti­a­tion into BDSM’ is to a large extent a more-or-less emo­tion­less man coerc­ing a sex­u­al­ly inex­pe­ri­enced woman into sub­mis­sion).

After I have that ini­tial idea, I dis­cuss it. At first with my part­ner, just prod­ding it to see if it’s work­able. The first idea I men­tioned above I dis­card­ed, because it need­ed to be writ­ten in 1st per­son (a Noir sto­ry). The sec­ond is my cur­rent work-in-progress (WIP), the third is anoth­er book in the series that my WIP is in, and the fourth I start­ed but dis­card­ed because I want to wait until I’ve fin­ished some of my oth­er sto­ries.

Framework for the plot

Once I have enough to work on it at all–character ideas, at least one of the big things that’ll happen–I sit down and start with a very loose out­line. With this arti­cle as a base, I fig­ure out the broad strokes of where things are lead­ing.

This doesn’t work for every­one, I know that. One rea­son it does for me is that most of the plot points are sep­a­rate from the char­ac­ters: they’re ini­ti­at­ed by an exter­nal agent.

By broad strokes I mean some­thing like this:

  • Hook: (To be fig­ured out)
  • Incit­ing event: Her par­ents (before sto­ry starts)
  • Key event: She meets her new flirt object
  • 1st plot point: The first threat­en­ing let­ter is sent
  • Reac­tion: Denial that there’s some­thing wrong/pretending it’s a prank
  • Mid­point: She finds out that it isn’t her ex who’s send­ing them
  • Action: Suspicion/fear about her new beau being behind it, gath­er­ing evi­dence
  • 3rd plot point: She realis­es that the per­son who sent the let­ters is the same per­son that killed her par­ents
  • Cli­max: They go after the killer and win

As you can see, that’s not real­ly stat­ing much, but it gives a few impor­tant places I need to get to while writ­ing.

Character stories

One way that I explore what will hap­pen (espe­cial­ly if there’s sev­er­al point of views) is to sit down with the char­ac­ters and let them tell me (aka, free-writ­ing as one par­tic­u­lar char­ac­ter (minor or major) in 1st per­son past tense). This gives me some­thing to go on, gen­er­al­ly gets my cre­ative juices flow­ing and–most importantly–gives me a feel for their voic­es.

How long these sto­ries are depends on the part the char­ac­ter plays. They often explain back­sto­ry as well, and why they (re)acted the way they did, so for a major char­ac­ter between 2–4 pages. For a minor char­ac­ter, gen­er­al­ly 1–2 pages.

By giv­ing the minor char­ac­ter a voice as well, it helps me char­ac­ter­ize them in bet­ter ways. To get to know them as well, which gives them more life.

First draft time!

With the out­line in mind, I start work­ing on writ­ing, scene by scene. Scene by scene, rather than chap­ter by chap­ter? Yes. I don’t orga­nize into chap­ters until very late in the draft, maybe even not until the sec­ond draft. A change in point of view is always a change in scene, so’s a seri­ous change in locale or time.

I write this with the knowl­edge that I always skip scenes that should’ve been there, not because I don’t want to write them, but because I’m so much ‘in the zone’ that I don’t con­sid­er that the read­ers won’t be.

Re-working the outline

With a fin­ished first draft in hand, I use the above site on struc­tur­ing to check if the out­line is still true. If not, I’ll adjust it.

In my lat­est WIP I found myself jug­gling three major sto­ry­lines and two minor, so I out­lined each sto­ry­line by itself, match­ing the points up to the ear­li­est in time (1st plot­point), lat­est in time (cli­max) and low­est point, with the mid­point still undecided–probably a com­bi­na­tion of them.

This is also the time for me to map out the char­ac­ter arcs. K.M. Wei­land has a real­ly good series on how to write good char­ac­ter arcs. How­ev­er, as she has quite a few posts on quite a few top­ics, I repro­duced links to her char­ac­ter arc posts, as well as the ques­tions you’re rec­om­mend­ed to pose to your­self about your character’s arc.

In the exam­ple of the above men­tioned WIP, one of the major sto­ry­lines is a char­ac­ter arc, as the char­ac­ter is recov­er­ing from trau­ma. The two minor tie into the oth­er point of view char­ac­ters’ arcs, empow­er­ing them.

2nd draft

Keep­ing the out­line in mind, I go through the scenes and read things as if I hadn’t seen them before. That’s when I’ll note huge chunks that are miss­ing (such as char­ac­ter devel­op­ment, rela­tion­ship devel­op­ment, or the lack of men­tion­ing of the gun in Act I). I’ll add emp­ty scenes (or even full chap­ters) in my Scriven­er out­line, with a note on what I need to go through.

If I see scenes that are not use­ful at all, I’ll move the text to a spe­cif­ic ‘dump fold­er’ out­side the draft, to not remove any­thing writ­ten. That actu­al­ly end­ed up very use­ful dur­ing NaNoW­riMo, as I start­ed a scene, decid­ed it wasn’t use­ful, and then moved on. Lat­er, that begin­ning of a scene came very much in handy.

Subsequent drafts

I have already cov­ered my self-edit­ing process, though that arti­cle will need to be revised in the view of this cur­rent one, as they cov­er the same ter­ri­to­ry in places. I will do that at a lat­er point!

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