I tell you all my secrets but I lie about my past.
Oh, look. It's the how-to-write-a-novel meme.
- borrow plot
- first readers
- borrow plot
- first readers
(Notice how cleverly I kept their different bullet points?)
If you are a hoary old novelista reading this, tag, you're it. (jmeadows, I deputize you to collect them all.) If you are an aspiring young writer scribbling notes, I proffer you the wisdom of the inestimable John Gorka: "What once worked for you will not work for me."
So. Here is how I do it.
- something to write on
- title *
- fallow time
- first readers
- get stuck
- book hate
- type *
On my list, items between * and * may be taken in any order, consectively or concurrently, in sequence or in parallel. In fact, more usually in parallel.
Heh. Kind of a mess, isn't it? And sometimes, I actually start with the conflict or the worldbuilding before I get the characters, but those novels are much, much harder for me to write. As for "type," please assume that often, whatever I am typing may have been scribbled previously on a cocktail napkin in broken sentences, or on the inside of my arm, or what have you.
Okay. Here is how I write a book.
I have a computer or an old envelope or a notebook or a felt-tip pen and my forearm. I use it as God intended.
Somebody walks into my head and introduces himself. Sometimes he comes with a scene or a setting. Often, he just shows up and sets up camp in the green room. (characters)
I take this guy out to lunch. I get to know him. I read up on the things that he's interested in. I interrogate him. I root around in my head and hold casting calls for people who want the same or different things. (more characters)
I figure out what he wants and take it away from him. I let them choose up sides and pick armbands. (conflict) I give the mess a name (title) (my working titles aren't as much fun as Justine's but they often go on to become the actual title. Scardown and Hammered always had those titles. Whiskey & Water was A Glass of Rain, and One-Eyed Jack was Whiskey & Water at first. Worldwired was Wetwired, which was a stupid title. Blood & Iron was Shadowhand for several drafts, and then it was Bridge of Blood & Iron. (Its nickname around the house is still "Bridge," actually. And Liz tells me that the production department has taken to calling Whiskey & Water "War and Peace." Er, yeah, it's almost 700 pages. Sorry guys.)
I write the first ten to fifty pages (type) of the book and walk away. (worldbuilding)
I go work on something else, or play a lot of computer games. (fallow time)
When the story starts bugging me, or the deadline is approaching, I go back to it. (I have stories that have were fallow for two decades. No, I'm not kidding. Yes, B&I is one of them.) I talk to my friends about it or make cryptic comments on livejournal or quiz people about their knowledge on related subjects. (natter) I read whatever I can get through on topics that have something to do with the book. (research) I write things as they come to me (type) and sometimes these are things completely out of sequence. (I joke that I wrote all the sex scenes in The Stratford Man before the rest of the book. This is not entirely true, because I also wrote a bunch of the captivity-and-isolation scenes at the end of The Journeyman Devil around the same time. Especially the bit with the joke about Edward II's ghost. Which of course means nothing to any of you, but check back in 2009, maybe. :-P)
I also make notes for scenes that may or may not occur later in the book. I refer to this, laughably, as "(outlining)." of course, it is not by any means an actual outline, because there is no plot involved. There are a bunch of character bits, setbacks, reversals, setpieces, and (usually) Fraught Moments. (The fifty pages I have of Patience & Fortitude, so far, is all Fraught Moments.)
I send bits to first readers (first readers) and see what they say. I fuss and poke (revise). I write more, some of it connective tissue (type). I keep track of my wordcount in Excel (spreadsheet, which I use for a totally different reason than Justine does. I keep that excel file because if I didn't I would never finish a book. I would succumb to despair somewhere around 40K, feeling like I hadn't made any progress at all. If I have a spreadsheet, I can tell myself "You're an idiot, Bear, you wrote a thousand words every day this week."). If I am losing track of what's going on in the story, I use Word's comment feature to create a handy list (a cheater's outline) of what happens in each scene. Or I create an outline of what *has* happened already, and then a list of things I need to tie up or address. (outline) I send more bits to first readers (first readers). I rearrange and hash things out with people who are by now very sick of hearing me whine (revise, natter). I get stuck (get stuck). I go for long walks. I wash the dishes. I hate myself (self-loathing). I hate the book (book hate). I rewrite and rearrange what I have (revise). I write some more bits (type).
Eventually, I get something that resembles the first third of a novel. In this first third, I have (characters), (worldbuilding), and plot (conflict) which by now, hopefully all support each other and create a framework on which to balance the Dreaded Middle Of The Book. At this point, the characters all have goals, and reasons to like or dislike each other, and I have a list of things that it would be cool to do along the way to the end of the book.
Generally, about now, I write the end of the book (type).
This actually almost always wind up being the actual end of the book. The epilogue or denouement, in other words, rather than the climax. I generally have no idea how I am going to get from (a) to (b), but that's okay. I have characters, and they have reasons to like or dislike each other, and they have goals.
I turn them loose (type).
And then I let them break things (type) until I can't figure out how the hell they are ever going to get out of this book alive. So then I go and talk to a friend, who assures me that the things I thought were gaping plot holes actually work just fine, and that I will in fact finish the book, and no it's not as terrible as I think, and really, I only hate it because I am overexposed, and have you looked at these thematic elements (natter, self-loathing, book hate, first readers)?
Then, I make another list of things I need to do to get to the end of the fucking book (book hate, outline), and I write those scenes and transitions and connections (type, type, type). And then I rewrite the ending I already wrote (revise), fix any egregiously stupid things and send it off to the first readers (first readers) again.
And then I do it again.
howtowriteanovel meme! howtowriteanovel meme! howtowriteanovel meme! howtowriteanovel meme! howtowriteanovel meme!