Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Care and Feeding of a Novel

Believe it or not, there is more to writing a book than dumping words into a Word document and consuming huge amounts of chocolate LOL

In this post, I want to share a bit of my process with you. Bear in mind this is also supplemented with doing laundry, housework, grocery shopping, cooking, dishes and the continued raising of the husband LOL

Spend some time with your characters beforehand. Really get to know them. What makes them tick? What do they like, dislike? Do they have a past, a quirk, a pet peeve, etc.

Spend some time imagining your setting. What’s unique about the area? If you’ve actually been there, where’s your favorite place and why? Can you include a scene with that place in the book?

What are some interesting conflicts you can set up for your h/h? Why will this make them sweat? How will this bring them together to conquer it?

Then comes the naming of the characters. They can’t sound too dorky or babyish. And for me, the outlining will begin here. Let’s say I want the book to be 80K. Then I figure out how long I want the approximate chapter length to be then break down the outline according to chapters.

Remember each chapter needs to have a beginning, a middle and an end like a small capsule of the bigger story.

Now it’s time to begin actual writing. But here’s the catch. Not all books behave the same way. Why? Because any good writer will put their heart and soul into the book which means you might agonize for hours over how to word a paragraph or passage. Choosing words carefully is a big part of what sets a good writer apart from the mediocre. Study authors you respect. See the difference between their work and yours.

If you have a pre-set daily word count that’s great, but it’s also fine if you don’t make it. Heck, it’s fine if you don’t get anywhere near it every day. Really good books take time—lots of it. The more time and energy you spend on actually writing (and caring) about your plot and characters, the stronger it will be.

Book writing isn’t a race. It’s not even a marathon. It is an act of self-sacrificing love and commitment between you and that story. If you race through it like a house on fire, your novel will be transparent and one-faceted. Now, come on, you hate reading books like that so why would you want to cheat yourself and write one?

After a time (months preferably) that I spend writing the book, once the first draft is finished, I set it aside. For a week or more. Then I come back and the editing begins. I make several, several passes over the book at this point. There is something to be changed at every pass, enhancing the book, clearing up passages, eliminating filler words. Trimming down, adding touches, etc.

Once that’s accomplished (usually takes anywhere from 2 to 4 weeks depending) it goes out to beta readers. These folks are invaluable to me because they look at the book with fresh eyes and have no vesting interest in the story at that point. My betas are brutally honest and they’ll probably never know how much I appreciate them.

As feedback comes in, I’ll edit the book again, taking their suggestions into consideration. Then finally I can pronounce a book is in the proper shape to submit it.

So you see, raising a book from an infant idea to a full-fledged young adult is hard, hard work. It won’t even become an adult until a tough-as-nails editor gets it and molds it into the final product.

What a lot of writers are missing out on right now is the proper care and feeding of their novels. Left alone with very little supervision, these books will run wild, exhibit bad behavior and generally cause annoyance everywhere they go. Your goal as the “parents” of these books is to make sure you end up with a product that you’d be proud to take out into public to show to your friends and readers.

This can only be accomplished with large amounts of dedication, application of everything you’ve learned and copious amounts of time.

Happy writing!


Dawn Chartier said...

How true this is, Sandi. And I just wanted to say this is the first time I came to your blog and it's fantastic. Great job ladies.

Dawn Chartier
Not An Angel, Out Now!

Sandra Sookoo said...

Thanks Dawn! I appreciate that :-)

Dakota Trace said...

A very enjoyable post. It seems like you have a very regimented process that works for you when it comes to writing. I wish I could say I'm just as organized but I'm not.

Most of my stories are plot driven and then I fine tune the characters as I work. So the characters are a work in progress during the writing of my rough draft. In other words I get to know them as I write the story.

I do quite a bit of research while I'm writing my novel, which also slows down my progress. If I were smart I'd do it before hand but I'm never quite sure where my plot and characters are going to take me.

I am a notorious micro-editor. Since like most busy Moms I get interrupted several times a day during the writing process, so I'm always going back to re-read what I've previously written. So I catch mistakes, reword areas that just don't flow and generally added minor details I've forgotten to add. (I'm a dialogue addict...I love writing it so much I forget to add descriptive passages to flesh it out on a regular basis.)

In other areas I'm quite similar to you. I do have Beta Readers which read my stuff after I complete my first draft. I do have at least one to two hard edits of my work before I submit and it usually takes me about three to four months for a full length novel to be ready for submission.

Thanks for a peek inside of your creative process. I'm sure there will be plenty of people who will take away some very important tips.


Annie Nicholas said...

We have similar routines, Sandi. By the time I sit down to write the story is already plotted out if not on paper then my head.

Charli Mac said...

Don't forget the copious amounts of alcohol!

barribryan said...

Words of wisdom and very well said.
I enjoyed reading this.

Barri Bryan.

Donna B said...

I like the "watching it grow up" idea. So true - like any product even - from idea, to infancy, (thank goodness they mostly skip teenage rebellion, like some good children), to adulthood and being someone (thing) you might like.

Very nice blog!

gardensoftheheart said...

First time to the blog as well and I am happy to see a black background that (finally) works! I like the idea about the Care and Feeding of the Novel. Yesterday I heard the term, "Beast of the Book", and, since it was a paranormal twist, that works too. Like a stubborn horse sometimes it just won't go where we plot it. What happens when that tug of war happens in your well-thought out plan? Maybe it's just me, but whenever I plot too much that little faerie in me wants to mess with the rules.

Caroline Clemmons said...

Great post! Probably I could write without chocolate or Dr Pepper, but I just can't take the chance. LOL

Sandra Sookoo said...

Thanks for stopping by everyone! :-) I'm glad you enjoyed the post!

Vegetarian Cannibal said...

What an awesome post! I'm in the process of drafting a novel. I'm so nervous about it because I've never written a novel that I want to submit anywhere. The whole process is soooooo much different than writing a short story! But I liked your advice, especially what you said about chapters.

I never thought about it that way! A chapter has to have a beginning middle and end like a short story would, I guess. That makes the process so much more...doable! So thanks! :D I'm going to try breaking up chapter lengths and see how that works.