One cool thing about writers is that no two have the same exact writing process. I’m going to share mine with you and would love to hear about how you get the words on paper in the right order.
I am fascinated with the way stories and characters evolve for me. It is a totally organic thing–always changing, growing in directions I didn’t expect.
So. Here’s the scoop on how I write:
Step One: The idea
The germ always comes from somewhere in my universe, obviously. My first novel (which I am currently reworking) was sparked from my love of kick-ass girls like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Hermione Granger, or Katniss Everdeen. I knew I wanted a girl who had special powers and fought hard to right the wrongs of the world.
The second part of the idea came from my husband, who is 100% Greek American. He loves all things Greek history, mythology, art, archaeology. I love it all too, it’s one of the reasons we started talking in the first place. So I started thinking about maybe a lesser goddess who might have some interesting adventures, and that’s when I hit upon the muses. Don’t think I’ve missed that irony. Writing about the muses has truly been an inspriational experience.
Step Two: The literary vomiting
So now I have an idea and I have a vague notion of where I want the story to end. Next comes the fun part. I write out the story in one long, continuous vomit of words. I do not go back and edit stuff I’ve written. I get it all out in one shot. I do make notes as I go along of things I want to change (details, usually, or reordering of events). But I do not stop until the story has a beginning a middle and an end. Usually there is a ton of stuff that is extraneous, but that is the way I work out the story.
Step Three: The Puzzle
Now I have the rough outine of the story. So I go back to all the notes I made as I was writing the first draft and start re-arranging things. Events, details, name changes, all happen now. I’ve cut out entire characters and added new ones that served the story better. This is where the story gets hammered into shape and starts to look like something that might resemble a novel someday. My husband (who will always be my first reader and first line editor) and I go through it together. I read it out loud and he stops me or I stop myself when something doesn’t sound right, or we forgot a detail, or the plot has a hole. I am truly dedicated to giving my readers the most authentic and complete story I can. I want everything to make sense, I want all loose ends addressed. I need to know the background story of events that might have taken place or will take place so the story will flow and my readers won’t be cheated by sloppy plotting.
In fact, I’d like to take a little aside to tell you a story about a story. It was Christmas Day a few years ago and my husband and I were sitting on our lanai (that’s fancy Florida talk for patio) and going over a particularly gruesome scene where a certain evil person dies horribly. Our neighbors were on their lanai as well (although we couldn’t see them, we heard them talking. We were discussing arterial spray and just how much blood there would be with a slit throat. As we discussed this we became louder and louder until we realized all conversation next door had stopped. Uh, Merry Christmas?
Step Four: More Cowbell
Yes, that cowbell. This is when we read through again and think about what needs to be punched up (a little or a lot) and I make a list of all things to be addressed. I really do call it my Cowbell list. Someday I want a whiteboard with an actual cowbell suspended above it. (Nerds have odd dreams.) In the past my cowbell list has included the following items: a character’s accent, mother’s addiction more evident, that blasted cane, and the black heist wig. You get the idea. Or maybe you don’t but you really want to read that book now. I know I want you to.
Step Five: Make it Shiny
After there is no more cowbell to be had, we read it again. Aloud. I must say that this process requires massive amounts of coffee. We go through the manuscript page by page, line by line, word by word and ask: is this necessary? Does it propel the story forward? Is there a better word that could be used here? By the time we’re finished a magpie would pluck it in his beak and plunk it in his nest.
Step Six: Go on to the Next Story
Did the story stop? Not with me usually. I tend to prefer telling a tale with a larger story arc above it. I believe in character development beyond what can happen in the confines of 300 pages. Plus my brain never stops working. It’s constantly plotting, developing, and creating new worlds. It’s the best high you can imagine, creating something out of nothing.
So there you have it. What’s your process? How does it differ from mine? I’d be interested to hear from other writers. We often tend to be very isolated and finding community amongst word artists is a beautiful thing.
Talk to me, people.