Sunday, 31 August 2014

10 Stages for Writing Your Novel

There are so many things that are involved in the process of writing a novel, sometimes it can seem overwhelming. But when you break down the tasks, it becomes more manageable. This doesn't mean that there is less work, only that you can think of it as a checklist--once one task is complete, you start another, and you can take pride in feeling good that you've accomplished something towards your goal. In other words, you stop feeling like there's too much to be accomplished for any one task to make a difference, and more like you're coming closer t the finish line.


Image Courtesy of Khunaspinx, FreeDigitalPhotos.net
 
Everything has to start somewhere, though for every person it's different, and the journey taken to reach "The End" is never the same. This is the general list that I followed over the past year leading up to the debut publication of my first novel, Fate's Exchange.
 
1. THE IDEA:
 Do you walk by a place that gives you an idea? Perhaps you brainstormed about a topic you're already interested in or someone dared you to try write about something you know nothing about. However you came across this new idea, figure out where you'll be able to take it with what you already know, and then outline what you need to do or learn to bring more depth to the project. This can be a sentence or full-blown binder filled with information, plots (in my case, sticky notes), character/location sketches, flashcards, etc. I always try to write a short and long pitch (a.k.a. "The Blurb") at this point, which is a sentence and summary, and helps maintain a "voice" because you know exactly what direction you're aiming to reach the end. It is the point in which a topic interests you, and you then research everything available, which is essential if you want to present a story that doesn't sound amateurish. Even if you are making something up, or using a topic you've heard about in order to elaborate on it with a whole new take, learn all you can about the subject you've chosen so that readers will believe what you have to say.

For example, in the beginning of Fate's Return, Alyssa is in a fight. Now, this wouldn't be so hard if it were an attack like she endured at the beginning of Fate's Exchange, but she is actually boxing. Could I say she ducked and punched, and then took a shot to the jaw? Sure, and I did . . . in the draft. But when it comes time to fine-tune that scene, and the goal is to make readers believe it, I had to research specific moves and the techniques boxers utilize. Is she an out-boxer? Does she know how to bounce-step properly? Who knew that there was head movement skills??

Not only will research make your readers believe your story, it will help immerse them into the tale that you've woven. Don't skimp. It will show.

2. THE FIRST DRAFT:
 However you do it - a "pantser" or "plotter", longhand, on the computer, into a voice recorder, etc. - don't stop until you've reached "The End". At this stage, nobody is ever perfect, and one of the best sayings I have heard since getting involved in the writing community is that if you ask an author, their novel is never done. There will always be room for improvement.

Want to stay organized? Try a writing program.

3. THE TITLE:
 Series and novels both need this. Be unique and creative. Always check for similar books/series before launching any announcement, promotion, or marketing strategy. Know your categories: Amazon gives you two.

4. THE READ:
 Read through your draft, making changes and corrections. I try to keep three other documents handy at this point: a list for tags i.e. words that describe the book, not including its title (already searchable), minimum of ten (can whittle it down later); a timeline, which is accessible in programs like YWriter (free), Scrivener, and Storyist, or easily prepared - I have used a notebook to record chapter summeries with a timeline running down the side of each page, and then transferred to a bristle board on my wall (remember those history projects? Yeah . . . I'm talking very similar here!) where I can see at a glance; and character/location sketches so that your character doesn't have brown eyes in chapter one and blue eyes in chapter twelve unless it's something you've meant to change. Mistakes like this are embarrassing, but easy to avoid.

5. SEND IT AWAY:Send your draft to a reader/editor (beta's or hired), or even post to a critique site like Authonomy or Wattpad, though you'll need a cover capable of grabbing the eye to be successful with this, as well as becoming active on the forums.

6. MAKE CHANGES:
 At this point, you've probably already begun your next big masterpiece and are back at Step 1; however, when you receive your draft back with comments or big red notations, take the time to read it through, making the obvious changes where necessary.

7. LET IT SIMMER:
 Set the story aside a while--a week or a month. Continue writing your next project (I find writing a book from another series rather than a sequel helps me separate from the novel and its characters/plot more), and then go back through steps 4, 5, and 6 with a fresh perspective.

8. THE COVER:
 Find a graphic designer (Elance is good) or, if you decide to tackle the job yourself, make sure you understand copyright, research other novels in the genre you're in to see what works and what doesn't, and make it unique--it is the first thing readers see (yes, they DO JUDGE!). If you use a hired service, choose someone willing to work with you, and make sure your art profile is as detailed and accurate as possible. Can't afford one? Aren't good with design? Then keep it simple. Check out Amanda Hocking's list of self-published titles before traditional publishers realized how wrong they were to reject her query letters. My Blood Approves is a great example.

9. WEB PRESENCE:
 Okay, so many authors, most noticeably first-time writers, are terrified of this. I was. But it's easier than writing a book! Simply put, don't wait. I always thought I would have to wait until I was published to put myself out there, but that isn't true. Start early, get known, determine your brand, and use it. Promote yourself. Don't have anything to add yet? Start a blog! Write reviews, create a website--Weebly is great for starting something and upgrading once you know you're here to stay. Because, let's face it, some people "want" to write, but never follow through, and for others, it's like a virus without a cure--we can't not do it. Don't forget social media--it provides unlimited exposure, not to mention the resources you'll find, which are I.N.V.A.L.U.A.B.L.E!
Note: Don't start by signing up for all the social media sites that you can find, but choose a few and focus your attention. You will notice better results and more time leftover to do what prompted you to put yourself out there in the first place - write!

10. GET READY:
 Now that you've finished your first draft, had it read, revised, and let it simmer, go over Steps 4-6 again. Start formatting, finalizing your manuscript, and prepare to launch, whether it's queries you're aiming for or self-publishing.

This list is by no means exhaustive. Writing is a complex subject to cover, involving years of practice and learning. It is also a very unique topic i.e. no two writers are ever the same. Keep in mind that this is a broad outline of an overall process, and that each of the above-mentioned steps can be broken down into multiple categories of their own.

Do you have something to add? Let me know!
Sasha Leigh