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The Book Writing Process
Thanks First and Then Meat and Potatoes
I was stuck for ideas the other day, so I turned to my friend Lizzy for help. She came through and this is the result.
In case you don’t know me, let me tell you that I am a big believer in writers helping writers. I mean, why wouldn’t we want to help another writer? Writers are the only ones who understand what we go through. We share commonalities with writers that we do not share with family or close friends, and we should be using each other as a resource.
So thank you, Lizzy!
I am by no means a prolific novel-writer. I have written two to date: The 12/59 Shuttle from Yesterday to Today, and Resurrecting Tobias. I am currently working on my third, entitled Shadows Kill. So what I am about to tell you comes from limited experience, but at least there is some experience to back it up.
I have many writer friends who have not written a book yet. They want to, but something is holding them back. Call that something fear. Call it procrastination. Call it a lack of confidence.
That is why I am writing this article. I thought I would take you through the process I have experienced to date with this latest novel. Maybe you’ll find something that you can relate to. Maybe you’ll hear the magic words that will get you over the hump and start you on the path you were meant to follow.
Shall we begin?
Let’s Begin with a Disclaimer
I’m only writing this section because I’ve always wanted to write a disclaimer. J
Seriously, the disclaimer is this: this is not a case of my way or the highway. I can only tell you what works for me. It seems that every writer has their own process when writing a book, and that is as it should be. You, the writer, are the one who has to be satisfied with the end results. You, the writer, are where the buck stops at the end of your writing day, so follow that voice inside of you and do it your way.
The following information is simply my way. If it gives you some ideas that you had not thought of in the past, then great. Take what you need and leave the rest for someone else.
The Birth of a Novel
Trying to explain creativity is like trying to catch a mermaid. It would be wonderful if you could, but don’t bet the bank on it happening.
My first novel started out as a dare from my wife. She asked me if I thought I could write a book as weird as those books written by Tom Robbins. The 12/59 Shuttle was born.
The second novel came about from a casual statement by my wife. She said something to the effect that it was a shame I couldn’t write a novel using many of my “social consciousness” articles. I said why not, and Resurrecting Tobias was the end result.
My latest novel came from a desire to write a mystery, my favorite genre, but I wanted the characters to be tragically flawed human beings. I wanted psychological conflict walking hand-in-hand with the story conflict. “Shadows Kill” is all about psychological turmoil, and the fine line between good and evil.
This should be on any book-writers bookshelf
Let the Characters Do the Walking
I am a huge believer in allowing the main characters to tell the story. The greatest thing I can do, when writing a novel, is to get the hell out of the way and let the characters do their own thing. I have to have complete faith in them. That is why I sat down and wrote a profile of each character in this latest novel. There are five main characters, and I had to know as much as possible about each of them, so this part of the process took quite a bit of time.
These are also complicated characters, and they will be going through quite a bit of emotional and psychological stress for three-hundred pages, so it was important that I know how they will handle stressful situations. Once I became comfortable with them, it was time to see what they would do in the plot.
Learn from the pros
I begin each book with a general idea. In this case, I knew who my main protagonist would be, so I wrote an introduction that reflected him and his beliefs. I also knew how the story was going to end.
From those humble beginnings, I took a detour from the recommended process of book writing. Most “experts” will tell you to sit down and write an outline of the story, and include in that outline the main “sparks” that will fuel the plot as it goes along. I do not do that. I know where the story starts, and I know how it will end, but the middle forms as I write. To be more accurate, the story forms as the characters tell it.
I know that I need a spark every twenty-thousand words or so. For a novel of 100,000 words, then, I’ll need four or five sparks, or important events, that will keep the plot flowing. I decide what those sparks are as the story unfolds.
Again, not every writer does this, and I respect that. All I can do is follow my own creative process.
First Draft and Then Serious Draft
Again, this stage is not how all writers write. I sit down with the first draft and tell the basic story. There is no fluff to it. There are no fillers. There is no editing. Picture the bare framework of the story and you’ll have a mental picture of my first draft.
After that is completed, I go back and write more detailed character and scene descriptions.
I do this so that I don’t upset the flow of the story by getting bogged down in minute details. I think flow is crucial in a novel, so I let it flow freely on the first write, and then I trudge through the muck and mire in the second draft.
On the second draft, I keep in mind that my words must paint a picture for my readers. They must be able to see every scene in their mind. Details are very important at this stage. What was the character wearing? What was the weather like? What section of town are they in and what does that town look like? What were their thoughts as they faced obstacles? All of these are necessary if the reader is to fully understand and appreciate the story.
I’m Finished…now What?
Well no, you aren’t finished at all.
After the second draft is done, the editing begins, and I will usually edit three or four times. First I read the entire novel out loud so I can hear what the words sound like. I can do this alone or read it with a trusted friend or loved one.
Next I turn it over to friends who are willing to read and give me their thoughts. They are my sample audience, so I need feedback.
After I have feedback, I decide if changes are necessary, and I go back in and make those changes.
Finally, I have someone who actually knows how to professionally edit a book, take on the task of making my novel as perfect as it can be.
And then, hopefully, I am done after I make the recommended changes.
One quick note on editing: when it is all said and done, it is your name on the book cover. You will have to decide whether to make recommended changes or not. You are the only one who knows if the changes will harm or help your book. Editors assist…they do not dictate.
And That’s All There Is to It
I’m being facetious of course. This is tough work. It takes me about six months to write one novel, and then the editing stage takes another two months if all goes well. Is that normal? I have no idea. It’s normal for me but may not be normal for you.
I need to say one more thing and then I’ll let you go.
I want you to enjoy this process, and when you are done, be proud of the finished product. There are few people on this planet who can write a full-length book, so give yourself a pat on the back for a job well-done.
Now quite procrastinating and get to work!
2014 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)
“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”