How I develop a novel is always evolving and often adapts to circumstances. I say it evolves because as time has gone on there’ve been practices I’ve added and discarded. Some, I’ve continued to use novel after novel. Other times, I adapt depending on a particular novel’s needs.
Here’s the difference.
An example of evolution would be the narrative outline where I spew ideas while also keeping one eye on story structure. I’ve been using the concept of the narrative outline for several years now. Is it the same as the discovery draft for someone who doesn’t plan? Not really, because there’s much that comes before it.
In my development world, there’s first brainstorming, which I’m doing now for my Talma Loyal novel. After that, there’s the narrative outline before the discovery draft. There’s also a lot of stuff that can happen between those steps. For instance, there can be an initial narrative outline of a few thousand words and then an enhanced version of anywhere from 12-20K. It depends on need.
Likewise, there are times when any one step can take on added importance because of the requirements of the particular novel. Each story is as different as snowflakes.
Ah, now we’ve waded into the adaptation explanation. For this example I’ll use what I’m currently using, which is backstory scenes. These aren’t new to me, but how I’m using them at the moment is different because of (you guessed it!) need.
In the past, I’ve written a handful of short scenes of, maybe, several hundred words. It aids getting a sense of a character. Sometimes they were so brief they’d pop up in the narrative outline.
One time they took on a life of their own and became a novel.
This time around, I’ve produced a strange hybrid. It’s glimpses of Talma Loyal’s life at the ages of 12, 16, 21, twice at 28, and then 29. In total, at the moment, they amount to over 30K words. That’s novella length, though they don’t amount to a true novella because they lack critical elements.
The reasons I took this approach were multiple. Talma is unlike any character I’ve written before. The most important of all my reasons, though, was her addiction. I wanted to witness the critical moments when wrong decisions steered her down an unnecessary path. Too, how better to empathize with her than to witness the horrific price she paid (I literally lost sleep). After, I yearned to share her first steps towards rebuilding her life.
Unlike the backstory that turned into Exhuming Truths, the vast majority of her past wasn’t sufficiently notable to explore. Instead, I was after her thoughts that created the self-lies and rationalizations that culminated at a gruesome end.
There’ve been additional benefits. I’ve met characters from the past, a handful of whom will appear in the novel with varying levels of importance. I’ve learned unexpected details about the past and expressions she uses. More worldbuilding was triggered. I’ve already discovered new characters needed and others I could combine into one or eliminate altogether.
An unexpected benefit to learning more about her past is that it’s further enhancing Protecting the Pneuma Key, the novel she first appears in.
I’m not such a planner that I’ll follow the same set steps on my way to developing a novel. I’ve tried it. It doesn’t fit my personality. Inflexibility becomes work. That isn’t to say I fail to have a lot of prep done before drafting. I do. It’s the how I produce it that matters.
I also can’t save all this for a discovery draft. I’ve tried that, too. It was an equally horrific nightmare. I’m a fast drafter and don’t want to be breaking for small details I know will influence the story’s path going forward. Stopping to brainstorm names and other details becomes frustrating.
I am, like most people, a hybrid, my hybrid way of doing things one of millions. I have enough worked out going into the draft so I can move fast and not end up with a collection of scenes that’s a structureless blob.
In short, I’m a narrative person. As much as I can plan that way the better. It’s how I explore the characters, locations, magic/technology, and plot. It’s also how I generate ideas.
Thus, my huge idea generation file and all the backstory scenes.
Yet, for all that, my drafting process will still be dynamic and exciting. The reason is seeds. At each step I mentioned above I not only harvest idea seeds, but I also plant more at the same time.
Think of it this way. I harvest an idea, which is Talma’s addiction. At that moment I plant the seeds that will become her recovery, mission for redemption, where she’ll go, who’ll she’ll encounter, and who from her past will be involved. The process repeats.
Think about it. Ever notice how many seeds one tree can drop?
That’s why my stories become richer with each step in the narrative process. It happens again when I draft, and then again when I edit. Editing, for me, is a dynamic undertaking. I’m always harvesting and planting more seeds.
This is an idea I derived from Ray Bradbury. He said to never hold back ideas, to let them pour out because you’ll always generate more. It’s true. Too, I think the more you generate the better you become at generating them. At least, that’s been true for me.
Even better, sometimes I harvest a seed that’ll be used later elsewhere. That’s how Talma Loyal came to exist in the first place.