Aug 29, 2012

How To Write A Novel Part 3: The Planning Stage

Know Your Numbers
At this point, you know what sort of a novel you want to write, right? So you should have a good idea of the genre and category (MG, YA, Adult, etc.) There are certain rules to the size and shape of things in the writing world. 50,000-words is fine for a middle grade novel, but it’s not even close to an Adult novel’s requirements, and 250,000-words is just too long for anything (unless you happen to be George R.R. Martin or J. K. Rowling – which you’re not. Not yet, anyway.)

As a general rule there is a number and then there’s a range. For most adult novels the number is 100,000-words, while the range is 90-110k. Basically, you have a 20,000-word leeway around the number. So, plan accordingly. (Epic Fantasy will have a higher number as you have to worry about epic world building, but it’s still likely to be in the 110,000 range)

Outlines can be done in a myriad of ways… We all remember them from high school no doubt. I myself have had outlines that were two or three words for each chapter/scene, and then I’ve had outlines that were really in depth. (I’ve even used a previous draft as an outline on occasion.)

But, the point is, as a plotter, you’ll need a road map. So, Outlining is the best way to do that.  

Sorry about the bluzziness. Here's an example of what a less in depth one looks like. 2-3 words per chapter (if you ignore the bottom) just to get my bearings and know the general direction I want to take.

Most of the time, for a first draft, I have a set w/c goal I want to reach – but I’m a serial adder, so my goal is always really low – and I usually I have a series of plot points I know I want to address, so I build from there.

My first outlines are pretty vague, and as the novel progresses, I re-outline several times (this is usually the point at which the outlines get really detailed). Sometimes they’re a few words for each chapter… sometimes they look like this:
(Each chapter has been color coded, and thoroughly outlined in this case – This is a complete re-write draft. Note: that is four pages of an unfinished outline that is already seven pages long)

 Character Development
I love writing up character sheets. Any of my day-to-day betas can confirm that with you. I’ve actually gone from step one (the idea) straight into character development with my outline and come up for air 14,000-word later (though, when that happens, you have to go fill in a huge number of holes).

A lot of writers use what is called a world bible – some start this after the book is written, I do it in spreadsheet form and start as soon as possible. Having this information on hand keeps you from writing Sally with blue eyes on page 3, brown eyes on page 42, and heterochromia on page 135… unless of course she has color changing eyes, then, by all means, have at it.
Here are some examples of what mine look like in-process.

 And of course, there was this one from a few weeks ago...

Start Chapter Maps
You don’t need to get a degree in cartography for this sort of map making. This is a step above your general outline.
When rehersing a play, scenes need to be blocked before they’re performed. You need to know where you’re going, when you have to be there, and when you need to leave. Chapter maps are very similar to that. It’s blocking out the scene, so you don’t end up standing in the middle of the stage, staring at the audience dumbfounded, when you should be backstage for a costume change. (or your characters should be, anyway)
I hand write my chapter maps. It’s a different kind of flow from typing, and whle it takes longer and is much messier, I find it easier that way to keep from falling into my default “writing” mode.

Chapter maps can be anywhere from a few sentences to a few pages long, depending on how much detail you want to put into them. Mine are usually a half page, to three quarters of a page long.

They’re not huge, but they’re much more detailed than my outlines are in the beginning (wih the exception of the colorful re-write up top – I’ll be interested to see how long the chapter maps are for that one!)

Until next week, happy writing!

Aug 15, 2012

How to Write a Novel Part 2: The Initial Burst

As a plotter, it might sound a little strange to start the writing portion of a novel before you get to the real meat and potatoes of the planning. But I’ve found that that initial burst of idea, needs to be capitalized on, so at this point I write.

I may only end up with a handful of disjointed paragraphs that are pulled from all over the story, or I might end up with 10,000-words from the front end.

This is the stuff that gets piecemealed together, or pulled apart and reworked more often than not, but it’s a really good way to get things out and thought about… because the next step requires that you know what general direction you want to take the story in.

Sometimes this initial burst comes months, before I end up starting the actual first draft – and that’s usually because I don’t have time for it. A plot bunny bounds into my head and I’ll take a day or so off from what I’m working on to make sure I get what needs to be gotten down on paper and then I go back to what I need to get done at that point. But the initial burst of momentum is something I have to have if the book is ever going to make it’s way around to priority #1.

< Part 1: The Idea

Aug 8, 2012

How To Write A Novel Part 1: The Idea

***This is how I go about writing a novel, it’s probably different for other people and if you do it differently, feel free to tell me how in the comments. This works for me. Something else might work better for you.***

This might seem like a no-brainer, but in order to write a novel, you need some idea of what you plan to write.

I know, I know, you’re rolling your eyes at me right now, but it’s true. And here’s why:

Plot requires conflict > Conflict requires thought > thought requires thinking.

In today’s publishing industry, writing a hundred thousand words isn’t enough. You have to have a coherent story and you have to make it brilliant.

So, why waste time writing out languid lines of prose describing the verdant hues of a forest…. when you don’t have a plot. First things first: you have to see the plot for the trees. (Sometimes, I write things down like that and I think, what are you on??? Anyway, that’s why we have editing! But that’s for another post)

But is an idea enough?
The answer to that is somewhat convoluted. Short answer: Sometimes? Long answer: You may have to build off of it, but if your high concept idea leads to a sprouting of ideas, then sure.
Let’s take a rather simple idea: A secret school for wizards
(Hint: unless you bring something amazingly unique to the table with this one, don’t try to use it. J.K. did it first, and she did it better.)

In and of itself, that idea, does not a book make. There’s no conflict there, but it’s a start. And you build from there.

So, here are some questions you should ask yourself at the start.

First: What do you want to write? (This could be as simple as genre, setting or it might even be the beginnings of a plot)

Second: What is the problem your main character is going to face? (This is your Conflict: Someone is trying to kill him/The amulet has gone missing/Tony Hunk asked her best friend to the prom and that backstabbing b said yes even though she knew the MC has had a crush on him for EVAH)

Third: How are they going to fix it? (This is your resolution, you don’t need to get super in depth with this, and by the time you get to it, it might change drastically, but before you start, you should have a goal in mind. Your plot, or your characters might lead you in a different direction, but focus requires and endpoint)

Fourth: What other things are going to stand in their way? (These are your plot points: The killer takes out the one person who believed him/The MC winds up polishing silverware when he should be looking for the amulet/Your nerdy best friend helps you pull a prank on your best friend that goes terribly wrong!)

Those four questions aren’t going to write the novel for you, but they’re a starting point.

See you next week for Part 2!