by Patty Jansen
Great. Another how-to post. The internet is full of them. Judging by the popularity of books like Novel-writing for Dummies and 12 Things Not To Include in Your Novel’s First Chapter, people seem to love being told what to do. As if writing a book is a paint-by-numbers thing that guarantees success once you’ve ticked all the boxes.
Let me describe my novel-writing process.
Stage 1: I write random crap into a file. Anything goes. It doesn’t have to follow the previous scene. I can be a rewrite of the previous scene. As soon as I hit a block, I press control-enter and start a new page. I set myself an arbitrary goal, usually 1000 words a day that I must add to the novel. Usually, I write a lot more than that, but I find that higher limits actually discourage production.
Stage 2: I sort out all these scenes and half-scenes into storyline order. This would be the stage at which I’d write a synopsis, if I needed one. I may end up having several goes and versions of the storyline, but in the end, I’ll have a file that has the scenes more or less in order, albeit sometimes written in the wrong POV character or in the wrong setting.
Stage 3: polish, polish, polish.
It’s chaotic, and in the middle I may not see the wood for the trees. Now, what is so unusual about this method?
Nothing. It’s chaotic. I has a let’s-throw-wet-spaghetti-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks element about it. It’s not particularly efficient, but it’s mine. It cannot be found in any how-to books, but it is how my process has developed in the course of writing many novels, and it works. I’m a pantser at heart, and rigid outlines written prior to the storytelling bore to death. I also recognise that at some stage, you need to bring structure into a novel, and adhere to it, or the novel will forever meander between directions you could possibly take with it. Say after me: there are a thousand different things I could still do with my novel, but does that mean I have to do them?
So what do you need to know about the novel-writing process?
You need a period of creativity. Whether this is before or after you start writing doesn’t matter.
You need to set the story structure in stone at some stage. You can do this before, during or after writing the first draft. It doesn’t matter when you do it, as long as it happens.
You need to go through the entire novel so that each scene follows the previous and all character actions happen because of something that’s in the book, not because of something that’s in your outline. This is something you can only do when you have novel-words to work with.
You need to polish it. And fine-tune, and polish some more.
Whatever order you perform all these tasks, and whether you use cards, character sheets and software doesn’t matter. Do whatever works for you. Find your own way to write.
Patty Jansen lives in Sydney, Australia, where she spends most of her time writing Science Fiction and Fantasy. She publishes in both traditional and indie venues. Her story This Peaceful State of War placed first in the second quarter of the Writers of the Future contest and was published in their 27th anthology. Her story Survival in Shades of Orange will be published in Analog Science Fiction and Fact.
Her novels (available at ebook venues) include Watcher’s Web (soft SF), The Far Horizon (middle grade SF), Charlotte’s Army (military SF) and books 1 and 2 of the Icefire Trilogy Fire & Ice (http://www.amazon.com/dp/B005TF1B9K) and Dust & Rain (post-apocalyptic steampunk fantasy).
Patty is a member of SFWA, and the cooperative that makes up Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, and she has also written non-fiction.
Patty is on Twitter (@pattyjansen), Facebook, LinkedIn, goodreads, LibraryThing, google+ and blogs at: http://pattyjansen.com/