On the one hand, that book you’ve always wanted to read is about to be available. On the other hand, you have to write it. On the one hand, what you need to write that book, the perfect process, exists. On the other hand, it’s inside of you and you have to extract it.
It’s funny how we accept the first scenario so readily, but not the second. We read blog post after blog post and book after book looking for that universal method for planning/writing our novel.
It doesn’t exist, not in whole.
The elements to create it? Those do exist, and when you’ve found all of them and tested them you’ll have created the writing process that works for you.
Of course, as we grow and evolve so will our process. Too, each book, each set of writing circumstances are different. That means we’ll always be tweaking that self-created method.
In the beginning, like everyone else, I sought that one system where I’d input my data and out would pop instructions on how to write my novel. In a twist to this story, though, investigating all those methods revealed all the elements that came to be mine.
Whether you’re planning, writing, or editing a novel the process is a creative one. YOU are the key. You don’t plan at all? That’s a decision based on your preferences. Congratulations, you just took a necessary step.
The elements that go into processes are too many for a full list. Personality. Life and writing experiences. Present circumstances. Genre. Hardware (computer? by hand?). Software. On and on it goes…
The best system is the system that works for you for the novel you’re writing at the moment. Period.
But, but, but…
It’s the system that has organically formed from reading and experimentation, and the one that, quite frankly, you find comfortable.
I’m always open to ideas, but I find that, over time, my methods change less and less. Some writers don’t plan at all, which I’ve never embraced. Some plan for months, perhaps a year or more. Again, research requirements vary, as does the worldbuilding.
There are those who like spreadsheets. Others love their index cards, real and virtual. Still others use mind maps or hand written notes. Borrow, borrow, borrow. Steal an element from here and another from there. Shuffle, mix, and meld.
All that said, there is probably someone reading this who’s wondering what I do. In the interest of helping someone develop their own methods I’ll share what I do, including the qualifiers that apply going in.
First of all, my novels take place in a fantasy world, which means worldbuilding. The world, Ontyre, and its rules of magic, has existed for a couple of decades so I don’t require extensive development there. The same is true of the country, Pannulus, where this novel is taking place. Too, this novel, The Case of the Deadly Stroll, is a quasi-sequel.
On the other hand, the location, Duskspell, is new. I’ve shifted from a novel that takes place in either a cottage or a small city to one almost exclusively in a huge city. My protagonist has switched from an outsider to someone thrust into the middle of upper class society. In short, this novel has required more research in order for me to get started. Thus, I began sooner (September).
Okay, my methods…
Some have compared what I do to the Snowflake Method, and there’s truth in that, but where that system begins with a sentence and builds and builds, I begin with a mass of chaos. That means far flung and crashing ideas that’ve become countless notes on my computer, on paper, and anywhere else I can write them.
From that standpoint, it begins much like the formation of a planet.
At the core of what I do is narratives. All my little notes are, in their way, tiny narratives. From those I burst forth in multiple directions at once.
- There’s research (this time around it was about Art Deco, cameras, crime scene photography, and so on).
- There’s worldbuilding (Duskspell climate, society, and even its tallest buildings). Some files on worldbuilding are copied from project to project. For instance, Witches and Witchcraft came from my Riparia novels, Pneumas Scepter… came from Zepha’s novel, and Draskrith came from my short stories.
- There’s character creation (a few existed from Pneuma Key).
- There are maps (I already have one for the country of Pannulus so I drew one for the city of Duskspell by hand).
- There’s also backstory (listed by age here).
In a nod to structure, as soon as possible I formulate a basic plot from my chaos and create a chapter listing (it can change later, that’s okay). In 2020, that step is done.
At this point there’s a new explosion as my narratives happen.
There are narratives for certain characters. There are also narratives for topics of particular importance. One for this novel was about potions, their manufacture, uses, regulation, how they figure into crime, and how addiction is treated. Of primary importance is the narrative that becomes my initial plot summary based loosely on the chapter listing and all my other materials.
The summary (as can any step) often exposes overlooked research or worldbuilding, or needed/unneeded characters. For instance, new glossary terms might be developed (yesterday it was aura spark). The summary can also expose problems with the plot or character actions/motivations.
How long is the summary? They’ve tended to grow over the years as I’ve increasingly embraced the narrative process. I’d say 5-7K is a typical range.
What’s great at this point is that I know I have a story. That’s a huge confidence boost. For Deadly Stroll, that step will be finished today (Wednesday).
At that point the process heats up considerably as I launch into the creation of the narrative outline, one for each fourth of the novel (it’s file is created on the left). This is where the story so comes alive that I’m beside myself with anticipation to begin formal drafting.
It’s vital that I describe the narrative outline finished product or people will get the wrong idea. It’s structured, but within that structure it’s messy.
It’s full of narrative, but it’s also full of whatever strikes me as I go along. That means there might be bullet points or small chunks of dialogue that I don’t want to forget even though I typically alter them anyway. Again, like with the summary, they’ve tended to grow. I think my brain is becoming trained. These days, 15-20K is typical.
Still not done.
That monster sized narrative outline (in total) is often then deconstructed into a shorter one with key elements that serves as my quick reference guide. Ironically, after all this work, I don’t tend to refer to a lot of this all that often. It’s imprinted on my brain.
Too, depending on the novel, I sometimes make short lists for reasons particular to that novel. For Pneuma Key it was events by the day because it was vital that the novel finish by a particular date. The Riparia series has its own special requirements because of its epic nature and, sometimes, far-flung characters.
A lot of work? Quite frankly, it doesn’t feel like it because, at each step, my excitement is heightened. By the time I reach the narrative outline I’m writing a lot of words per day. During NaNoWriMo that translates into +4K per day.
You may be also wondering about all these narratives and lists, that the whole of it feels clunky and burdensome. Long ago they would have been, but no longer. The difference is the ease with which I can reference them in Scrivener.
In fact, a lot of the reason for my methods are a product of the ease of using Scrivener. Need to know xyz? I can leap to it and back in seconds. Better yet, I can have it my fingertips as a floating reference panel. As a writer, I’m built for speed, a true devotee of Ray Bradbury in that regard.
Contained in my Scrivener project are all my references like lists, narratives, topic papers, maps, and so on. There’s no opening-and-closing required. That means, not just speed, but flexibility.
In the end, with all I’ve just described, flexibility is the key. I’m always free to go off script in my storytelling. I don’t typically do so substantially, but it’s happened (I’m looking at you, Kasaria), but it’s been several years. That’s what honing my methods has done for me.
When that happens, I can update my resources in swift order (I rarely delete, but instead change the font to strikethrough). Too, because of my planning, I’ve never had to abandon entire chapters. Instead, my changes are typically subtle in nature. For instance, someone’s arc progressing faster than expected (I’m looking at you again, Kasaria).
So, yeah, NaNo approaches. Jump in. See what happens with the system of your choice, or no system. This is where the learning begins, about you as a writer, your writing and your processes.