The Stages of Writing a Novel… For Me

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No jokes, no bad puns or exaggerations. This is the basic process of writing a novel for me.

  1. Basic Concept. I’ve got too many of these. Really. There are around three dozen novels I want to write at the moment. Actually, probably closer to twice that, but three-ish dozen where I’ve got a basic, solid concept in mind, and probably a couple of hundred words in a file somewhere describing what I want, including probably a sentence to describe each POV character.
  2. Rough Plot. Start with the beginning and the end and figure out a rough sequence of events, possibly even at the chapter level.
  3. An expansion of the Rough Plot to the scene level, more or less, with a hundred or so words of description of each significant scene and a couple of sentences to summarize shorter bursts of action or activity.
  4. 1st The brain dump, getting the story out of my skull. This is raw, filled with issues and problems and inconsistences. I’ll come back for those later. My 1st draft is often very bare bones, not a lot of description beyond the immediate action. That comes later.
  5. Put the first draft away for long enough that the story isn’t fresh in my mind. Write something else, or more than one something, to help that process along. Could be months.
  6. Revision Notes. With fresh eyes, read the story, making a note of every single problem, issue, continuity error, or anything else that bugs me.
  7. 2nd The fix what’s broken draft. All of those notes from the last step get addressed here. Every single one of them. Plus whatever else jumps out. This usually adds length to the story, on average about 8% on the novels I’ve gotten to this stage, even though there’s often stuff that gets cut out, too. This is also where I clean up a lot of dictation errors if it’s something I wrote while commuting.
  8. 3rd The make it pretty draft. This is all about word choices and making sure every scene, paragraph, and sentence says what I want it to. The story usually gets longer here, too. More dictation cleaning, probably, but this is also where a lot of the description I didn’t put in when doing the initial draft appears.
  9. Final Draft. I usually call this the “read it aloud” draft, because that’s the primary focus here, reading it aloud to see if I’ve missed anything. Hearing the words sometimes catches things my eyes just gloss over. If my tongue trips, it probably doesn’t work and I need to fix something, even if it’s just a single word.

And remember how I said my initial draft is usually pretty bare bones? The distance between the last sentence of the first draft and allowing other human eyes to see the story is, based on a sample of 4, roughly 20-25% of the original length. Sixty thousand words probably becomes 72-75. 80 might break 100. That said, a novel I’m going to take from 3rd to final sometimes soon may be a whole lot less than that; Scattered on the Wind has had less than 10% growth between 1st and 3rd drafts, and I don’t think it’s going to add much in the final.

Going through all this for this post, I discovered I’m even farther behind where I wanted to be at this point in the year than I thought. I have eight different novels somewhere between the rough plot and third draft, never mind the dozens of others I’d like to write.

Probably, I should get to work.

Be well, everyone.

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