The majority of this summer has been spent in front of a computer — if not programming, then writing. While I’m steadily working on a visual novel game, I’m also preparing for my next book release, Firebrand and participating in Camp NaNoWriMo. It’s been a busy summer year so far, and it only promises to stay that way.
Today, I thought I’d share a little insight on my writing process. All the literary types have them and each one is different. I will be basing my process on my Camp NaNoWriMo projects, which are my most current projects thus far.
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1. The idea
No matter what project you undertake, everything starts here. No idea is too big or too small. I began brainstorming ideas on paper and typing little notes in Microsoft Wordpad. Some of my ideas come from dreams, past and present experiences. My July novel is an assassin story of the high-fantasy genre. I felt inclined to write a type of story I don’t see much of. Moreover, I’m a sucker for stealthy-types.
2. The story
Once I’ve figured out the idea I want to go with, I turn it into a story with a beginning, middle and end. This is where I plan out the world/setting, plot, twists and everything else that goes into storybuilding. When I’m done, I have a pretty rough outline of where I want to take the story. Of course, 99% of the time, the outline ends up taking another direction once I start writing it. Thankfully, it’s been for the better.
I use Scrivener to help with my initial storybuilding. I mainly just use the corkboard feature for this. I’m a visual learner and this definitely helps me with my planning.
3. The characters
The idea for the main character of my assassin story came from my Ranger/Elementalist character I used to play in Guild Wars years ago. Strangely, the character I played was female, but I already had a backstory with her. Her name was Arissa and she had an elder brother named Gavin. It’s strange how the character I didn’t think would be the one I would write a book about ends up being it. Arissa is still a main character in the story, but her role is pretty minor, compared to Gavin.
I list all the possible characters in the story along with their roles and relations. I also write how that particular character influences the world and the flow of the story. I usually start with the antagonist, first, since I’ve found it to be the most difficult for me to do. Ironically, I love antagonists. I always root for them in any story. My problem is making a good, believable antagonist while avoiding cliches and other pitfalls that come with it. I have to ask myself, “What is their drive or motivation to do what they do?” “What is it they hope to achieve or gain from doing it?” “Why are they doing it?” These are simple questions, but can sometimes be very hard to answer.
In my story, I wanted to introduce political corruption. The story itself has a ‘Robin Hood’ kind of feel to it. It’s a different twist than what I did for Firebrand and The Necromancer’s Apprentice and will require me to do some extra research on things like medieval politics once I start the re-writing phase.
As before, I use Scrivener to outline all the characters. I even find some stock pictures online to help me further visualize the characters. One of my favorite places to find some great fantasy character portraits is the Neverwinter Vault.
4. Writing the story
Here’s where the actual writing begins. I start the first day of the NaNoWriMo event and write to my heart’s content until I reach my goal. I usually make a target wordcount of 3,000 words a day so I always stay on track. At this point of the process, I’m not worried about doing research or anything. I save that for the revision and re-write. For now, I’m writing my entire 50,000-word rough draft of the novel I just planned out.
5. Revision and rewrite
This is, perhaps, the phase I dread. It’s very tedious going back and revising what you’ve written, taking chunks out only to re-write entire chapters in its place. It’s like writing a new novel all over again; but it’s a step that has to be done. During this phase, I also spend time researching specific topics (like the medieval political system) and re-writing parts of my story to make it relevant to the material. This is, perhaps the longest phase of them all.
Once I’ve revised what I’ve written, I go back and read the entire story from start to finish. First, I read it from a new reader’s point of view. I try to see what the reader sees and ask the questions the reader might question while reading this. I also check for typos and minor things. After the read-through, I go back to make necessary changes (step 5). As you might notice, step 5 and 6 may be repeated indefinitely.
One of the tests I put my story through is The Hero’s Journey. I highly suggest using this to test out on your story. It has definitely helped me in determining what areas are lacking or needs to be fleshed out further. If my story passes all of those points in the Hero’s Journey, then I know I’m on the right track. If I run into a block, then I know what I need to fix. This is a really helpful method to use when revising your story.
7. Beta readers
Once I’m satisfied with what I’ve read, I pass the manuscript along for others to read and edit to their heart’s content. This can be another long phase because it may require step 5 and 6 to be repeated again once others have spotted errors in the manuscript. Beta readers and editors are an essential part of the writing process at this point. Once the manuscript is absolutely ready (that means final checks, etc.), I get it ready for print.
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And that’s pretty much my process from start to finish. Not too bad, eh? Of course, everyone’s process varies depending on their style of writing. As long as your process produces effective results, then you should stick with it for any writing project you undertake. After all, if it’s not broken, why try to fix it?