I’ve seen writers propose the 5-draft novel writing process. Others talk about how many drafts they’ve been through before the book goes to their agent/editor. What draft am I on? I never know because I revise as I go. Some writers will tell you this is wrong, but I’m not alone in my process. Jared Reck says, “I write a few scenes by hand, then go back and type and revise, then back to hand-writing — the first finished draft of A Short History of the Girl Next Door was pretty polished; it just took me four years to get to that point.”
Revising During the Writing Process – How it Works for Me
When I get ready to write a new scene or chapter after a break in writing, I read the previous one or ones. This gets me back into the story, and yes, I will make changes and additions. Typos, misspellings, or wrong words annoy me, so if I notice any, those are fixed. (I write on a computer.) Then I move forward with the story. My break could be stopping for lunch, quitting for the day and coming back the next, the weekend off, or even longer depending on what else is going on in my life.
After I’ve made some progress on a novel (more than a couple chapters), I create a novel timeline or story ladder that is unique for each novel. You can read about that process here. This helps me have a quick overview of the story anytime I need one.
I also begin to share a chapter at a time with my critique group. This reading aloud helps me spot more typos or awkward phrasings. My critique partners are good at pointing out where I need more, have confusing areas, etc. Of course, this causes more revisions. Sometimes what they say means I create a whole new scene. If that new scene requires changes elsewhere, I’ll do that during this time, too.
Then I move forward with the story again, repeating these processes until I reach the end.
Meanwhile, I am always learning. I learn by attending workshops, conferences, retreats and other writing events, by reading blogs, newsletters, and articles, and by reading novels in and out of my genre. These often make me think about my story and I go back with new insights which most likely mean I need to add to my story. (I have a tendency to underwrite.)
I also learn from what my critique partners are working on. It may be what they are doing well. Or it may be something not working that I or someone else notices which makes me wonder if I’m doing the same thing.
Revisions Once the Story Is Complete
After some time away, I try to read the whole novel quickly with the purpose of thinking about the big picture of the story. I make notes on the major problem areas to work on. I also note bumps (where I stopped reading, felt something wasn’t quite right, etc.) When I’ve read the whole manuscript through, I attack the areas I’ve noted. When done, I wait a few days and reread the revisions to see if they are working.
I may ask myself questions. Sometimes, I ask my critique group the same questions about my story. E.g. Is the ending satisfying? Was the problem solved too easily? Did this scene feel realistic? Are the beginning and ending as strong?
I have several stages in polishing. Some add to the text, such as making sure I’m using sensory details in scenes (post here). Others take words away, which includes tightening, cutting overused words, getting rid of passive verbs, etc. (my post here). But whether adding or subtracting, these methods are meant to make the writing itself stronger.
I also revise after feedback from agents I’m querying.
In the End
Is my method the best? Probably not. But it works for me. Writing a novel is not a one-size-fits-all process, so please don’t let anyone try to convince you it is.
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Image by ijmaki from Pixabay
Often, we can’t remember where we read that great article/post/quote and it can be frustrating trying to find it. Even if we’re sure what site it was on, site search boxes don’t always work well. Here are some helps:
Use your browser’s search box to find an article or post.
Let’s say I remember a piece about not having time to write. I think the title had something like “so little time” in it and I think it is on the Institute for Writer’s site: In the search box on my browser, I type what I’m looking for followed by site: and the site url. So for my example, it would look like this: so little time site:instituteforwriters.com. The third entry pops up with “Time to Write” and when I read the blurb, it’s exactly what I’m looking for. (I was using Firefox and searching with Google. I got the same result with Safari.)
But what if I didn’t remember where I saw it? I’d still use the browser search box, but I might try different search combinations. Typing in finding time to write gave me lots of good resources, but it was mostly about writing for adults. Although that applies I know it was on a children’s writing site. So, this time I try finding time to write children’s literature and I find lots of sites related to kidlit. I still did not find the exact piece I’d seen before. Even if I remembered the exact title, unless it is very unique, it’s not likely I’ll find it by a straight browser search.
However, what if I know I only read info on a couple sites? Then I can add a capital OR in between sites, like this: so little time site:instituteforwriters.com OR site:site2. I didn’t find this very effective as my second site didn’t show on the first or second page and I usually don’t look farther than that.
Let’s try again with something else. I read a great blog post on theme and subplots. Fortunately, I saved the url by emailing it to myself because I knew I’d need to reread it several times. But if I hadn’t, let’s see what I get by putting theme subplots in a browser. (Note I left out the meaningless and.) Nothing looked like what I wanted until the bottom of the page where I found a post with similar content. Win!
whats-a-b-story-and-why-that-love-triangle-doesnt-cut-it When I used more of what was in the original title: theme subplots supporting characters, the post was the third entry down.
So obviously it works best if you know where you saw it and/or know the exact title.
Searching for quotes using your browser.
If I read this quote “Conflict is the engine that drives plot forward. You should be creating tension on the page at all times, no matter what else is going on.” by Mary Kole and only remember part of it, I search for that part. Searching for conflict is the engine, the quote I’m looking for doesn’t come up on the page. If I put it in quotes, I get more writing related ones, but still not the right one. If I add her name, however, the first entry is correct whether I use quotes or not. Here’s the article that quote came from: “Writing Tension Instead of Teasing.”
What about searching Facebook?
Searching your feed is difficult. But what if you think the discussion you’re looking for was in a specific group. That’s doable. Go to your group on Facebook (you must be logged in to see private groups). On the left there’s a “search this group” box. (Note: this is not the search box at the top of your screen!) I find “search this group” works well. If you’re not sure which group a discussion was in, try another group. Obviously, if you belong to a lot of groups this could get tedious.
I hope my examples help you.
But note to self: if I really want to remember something, copy details into a file and put it where I’ll find it!
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Image by Prawny on Pixabay
Not long ago I read several blog posts about the value of a style sheet, although I’d call it a master character chart. It’s a place to put details about every single character in your novel so you’ll be consistent. It’s probably easy to remember that your main character’s name is spelled Maisie, not Maisy, but what about other characters? The more minor they are the harder it gets. Was that Zak or Zack or Zach? This chart is a helpful place to consolidate that info even if you make individual worksheets for your characters.
What should you include in a style sheet? It depends on your novel and on you. But suggestions include character name (and any nicknames), physical characteristics that you don’t want to accidentally change mid-novel, perhaps where they live and what kind of place it is, parents’ names and a few details, who the characters’ friends are, etc. For a kid in Middle School or High School, their class schedule might be useful. I could see having a style sheet for places in the novel as well. There are probably a myriad of other uses–especially for fantasy or historical writers.
Some style sheets include WHEN those details appeared in the novel. That would be too complicated for me. However, I do use a story ladder which may include those details. (See post here.)
How should your character chart or style sheet be arranged?
It’s a very personal decision. For me, I want to be able to see the details at a glance. I like using a Word table. An Excel spreadsheet would work as well. Evernote has a template you could use. Or you may be more a pen and paper person. This character map is aimed at students reading a book, but it could be helpful for writers too.
Perhaps what this author does would be helpful–she created a page with images and limited text. (Read more here.) Cut out images out of magazines and physically glue and paste, or copy images off of a free photo site, such as pixabay. I may try this with my next novel.
If you’ve used style sheets, and have tips, I’d love to hear them.
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My friend Debra has been working hard on uncluttering her house. Some items she’s sold; others she’s given away. She recycled and tossed. She spent all day Saturday on papers. Now Debra’s finding herself enjoying a room that had previously been a catch all. This inspired me to take a look at my office. I haven’t been writing in there for several reasons, but the one most appropriate for this post is the clutter. It makes me feel guilty when I look at it. Which doesn’t promote creativity. And even though I hate not finding things I want, I’ve procrastinated from attacking the mess because it was overwhelming.
So, I started with one thing. I organized a small drawer. Items were recycled, trashed, donated, and kept. I can find things in that drawer. What a concept!
Next, I cleared junk off of a ledge and was able to dust it. Achoo!
Then, I worked on a stack of papers on one side on my desk. Just one stack. I filed, I recycled, I tossed. I found my buried coaster. It is such a good feeling to actually have a place to set a cup of tea.
That task led to another. Some of those to file items got put on top of the story box where they belonged, because there was no room in the box. Sigh. We were also doing our taxes and realized we’d been holding on to papers that we didn’t need to, or ones that should have been discarded several years ago. Cue the shredder. Both made me aware that my story file boxes could be purged.
Here’s what I got rid of starting with anything older than ten years:
– Manila folders of stories that have never sold.
– Physical rejection forms/letters.
– Printed cover/query letters.
– Printed copies of stories/articles – electronic versions are all on my computer.
– My submission records for those rejected stories so I could find to whom I’d submitted.
– Manila folders and contents for stories/articles I’d sold.
– A few encouraging notes.
What I gained:
– Plenty of room in my story file boxes for my filing.
– Reminder of pieces I might want to resubmit.
– Encouragement from personal rejections.
– And nothing is stacked on those boxes!
Because I was spending time in my office, I was once again using my desktop computer–I’ve been using my laptop 99.9% of the time. That meant I discovered the desktop computer was acting oddly. Virus scanning didn’t do much. My husband unhooked it from power and cables, opened it up and found it also was choked with dust. A good vacuuming and we both are breathing better.
There’s more uncluttering to go. That stack on the left side of my desk. Other drawers. Conference folders shoved into a cubby. Cards I have trouble throwing away. But each time I see what I’ve accomplished, it’s easier to think about tackling other areas.
Someday I might even thin out my bookshelves. 😉
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“Hi, my name is…”
I just went through a student assignment where most character names ended in the E sound. Some were spelled with a Y; others with IE. Not only does it get confusing with the same endings, but Gracie, Vicky, Lorie, Murphy, Bobby are also the same number of syllables. At least they started with different letters.
Varying your character names will help your reader keep track of who’s who.
But don’t just think about beginnings and endings, or number of syllables.
Think about different cultures and ethnicities.
Look at this fact: “The proportion of non-Hispanic white children in the U.S. has declined from 61 percent of all children in 2000 to 51 percent in 2016.” More from the same source here.
What about where you live? Or where you are setting your story? Who are the people there? When my daughter’s family moved to southern Georgia, my white grandchildren were the minority among a sea of black children. Where we raised our girls there was a significant Asian population. We spent a year in a town in New Jersey that had a large Jewish population. Where we live now there many people from the former Soviet Union and eastern Europe.
I’m not suggesting you appropriate anyone’s culture, but surely in your main character’s classroom or among his/her friends, not everyone will look/be just like your character.
Don’t forget religious influences.
Names may be inspired by parents’ faith or customs. Biblical names are often popular in our country. Although the US has often been called a Christian nation, that has changed too. Read some of the statistics here from 2016. And again it varies state by state. As the above link states: “No state is less religiously diverse than Mississippi.”
Popular culture can contribute to unusual names.
This site has 100 unusual or surprising baby names of 2018. Some come from TV; while others are from history; and others are names of fruit. Those children may be off to school in four or five years.
Here’s a fun resource: popular baby names by birth year.
Place names are popular.
I’ve met both boy and girl Londons. There’s Paris and Brooklyn. Austin and Hudson. Here’s a list of over 100 place names.
Consider the meaning of names.
This can be helpful in creating character traits or the ironic opposite. My name means graceful lily. I’ve never felt particularly graceful or flowerlike, but I learned the meaning when I was a kid. Your child/teen main character probably knows the meaning of his/her name, too.
Scifi and fantasy often have made-up names.
And some authors seem to go overboard into making them hard to pronounce. Sometimes names just have unique spellings. Here’s an article about fantasy name generators. Science fiction writers don’t have to feel left out–here’s one for scifi character names.
Names that almost weren’t.
Some names become household words. For fun and inspiration look at these twelve who almost were something less.
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