I've posted several times on how a novel comes together for me, and the last four have followed the same path. Basically I start from the beginning, write to about the halfway point, then I'll write the ending. After that, I usually write scenes and chapters way out past halfway, following specific characters or plot lines, that I will at some point have to come back and fit into the story flow.
And when I do, and it all runs together, it's a book.
It's not really a plotting method. I always have a general plot in the beginning--who wants what, theme, where the protag is going, why she is the way she is, how the story's going to end. I outline a few chapters at a time, still keeping it high-level: Georgiana's locked inside the house, none of the doors work, handles fall off when she tries to open any door. Windows have all gone opaque and bulletproof. Ulysses is waiting on the front porch, flowers in hand, ringing the doorbell. I'm totally making this up, but this is typically what I'll have in terms of detail. As I write, I add page breaks ahead of me with "Chapter - " at the top, and after each I'll drop in a quick line or two about what's going to happen in that chapter, sometimes following with a line like, "Ends with Georgiana using a spoon and fork to eat her way through the wallboard."
Okay, so that's how it normally goes for me.
I just broke 85k with my current book, still on track to complete it next month, but things have started to veer from my normal pattern. This time I have a reader who's been with the story since chapter nine or ten, and she's always wanted the next set of chapters. This has driven me to write in order for far more of the story than I have ever done--or make an effort to fill the early gaps sooner. So, I'm at 85k total, and I also have 70k in contiguous chapters.
Going nicely, too. Really happy with this one.
Other differences this time around. I'm writing in first person, which may have a real affect on my story order. I don't have other POVs to contend with. I've planned this as a series from the start, and that's slightly different from Seaborn, Sea Throne, etc.
Painted this scene from my current book, basically a dryad waking up, the tree goes into bloom, petals everywhere. Not sure if I got there, but I was going for fuzzy, floating, soft-focused crossed with Where the Wild Things Are--because, well, when a dryad wakes, the forest goes wild. And you don't want to interrupt this ritual, either. Trust me.
Digital, wacom, CS, about four hours of work. Click for the full view.
Writing, writing, writing, going to complete my sixth novel in May, and looking back at how I write a novel, the sixth has gone exactly as the prior five have in terms of plotting, world building, how the story comes together. I think I'm going to update this post every time I hit that "gappy" stage in a new novel:
By writing, I'm talking construction, how you go about the writing stage of a novel, the activity that takes place after you've outlined, planned the arc, and your characters are doing stuff, getting hurt, committing crimes, making eye contact, re-forging ancient swords, drinking blood, whatever.
I'm pretty sure all authors have a particular way of getting things done with common ground that we all have to cover to complete books. I'd love to read what others do--So, if you know of other "How to write a novel" posts out there, let me know.
Here's what I do, keeping in mind that this is the general flow:
After the overall story ideas are in place in my head and in my journal, I may write a chunk of the ending first. I like to have something to aim for. If things go as they have the last four books, I will then start at chapter 1 and write the chapters in order until I'm about 2/3 through. That's when things start to go all gappy, inconsistencies will catch up to the characters and demand evening out, holes in the plot yawn open and demand to be filled.
By gappy I mean...picture a landscape full of rocky towers and bluffs, only it's not erosion that accounts for the space, but that the writer hasn't gotten around to filling everything in. Think Monument Valley at the southern edge of Utah and northern Arizona. From the side, the last ten chapters of the story look like this:
Okay, now fill it in.
At this point in the process I will also find it difficult to stay with the chapter order and move into story line order, following a particular character far--sometimes to the end before I can go back and pick up a second story line.
To take this one level lower:
I do outline, but it's rather loose. I need to know where to go, but not necessarily be clear about how to get there, and keep in mind that I usually do a decent amount of thinking, journaling, sketching, painting, and writing scenes, bits of action, before I really dig in to the real writing.
I've posted several times on the need for authors to sketch and paint scenes, characters, etc., but in case you haven't seen those, these are the kinds of things I do for every book. These are character studies--and I use these to get a character's look in my head--mainly so I don't go overboard on description. It works, I'm telling you.
At some point--after the first eight or nine chapters--I will build a complete chapter list, typically with bad descriptive titles like "Monster kills Anthony." This will be shaky for a while, and whole new chapters will spring up in the middle, others will die and fade from the list.
I write mostly in MS Word because of the Document Map feature--even on my Mac. Here's what the Doc Map feature in Word looks like (on the left)--I use it mainly to jump between chapters:
And here's a bit on how the Document Map works.
With the chapters in a list I can jump to any of them and jot down an idea I think belongs there. I update the outline as the writing progresses because things change, things fit together better in a way I didn't see in the beginning. Eventually I'll fold the outline into the chapters, and it all becomes the same document.
Another thing I do to keep the action in a particular unwritten chapter clear is to put the line, "Ends with..." at the end. So in a chapter called, "Monster kills Anthony" I will have something like this:
Ends with Irene standing on the porch holding Anthony's severed head.
(We obviously want to end chapters with something sharp--or at least much heavier than you thought it would be, with eyes bulging from their sockets and drippy. I know, I'm trying to keep the severed head thing going).
To cap it all off, I think taking the time to just close your eyes and think about the story is as important as the actual writing.
I sit down all the time and just make myself write, but I also need to take some time to think. Best time is early in the morning, somewhere around 5 AM. I don't get up at that ungodly and undemonly hour, but I sort of drift around in the story soup, blow up the raft, get on and paddle here and there, trying to see how things are going, circling the areas that are giving me trouble. I figure all writers have a pretty good head for their own words, their own story, and you can play it, rewind it, play it back at half speed, rewind... That's what I do until I get it right.
Okay, now I have to get back to writing.
Here's my latest character study, along with two priors. I'm not very far away from completing the first book in a series, and books 2 and 3 are well into planning, so I don't want to give much away. Okay, just a little: It's near-future SF, but with a lot of fantastical elements. All six of these characters are in the first book--the woman with the vines growing out of her head is the POV character. I will say that I write far more in 3rd person, but these books will all be in first, and each book's POV character is one of the characters in each of these studies. I've had gay and lesbian characters in stories and books (e.g., Seaborn, Sea Throne, "Hammers and Snails"). Next book will be the first novel I'm writing from a gay character's point of view.
I did these in digital, Wacom tablet, CS, fairly normal brush set. Click the images for the full view.
Alice Arzaga in a long white gown. 14th of April, 1990, in Morgan Hill, California. Machado School, a nineteenth-century two-room school house with a bell--yes, we were married in an old school. Beautiful sunny spring day. Lots of family and friends, a few late because we started right on time at 2PM.
19 years later.
I'm a tough person to surprise...
I have a 50-minute x 2 commute into the Boston metro area every day of the week. We live in coastal New Hampshire. I get in my vehicle yesterday morning, start it up, plug in my iPod, and I'm backing out of the driveway when my phone rings. Alice calling. She tells me to turn off the iPod and play the first track on the CD she's secretly put in the player. A love song. It's beautiful. It's not something I'd normally listen to, but I love this so much. I was completely surprised.
I love you, Alice. No surprise there. Here's to another 19!
I'm in heads-down storytelling mode right now, trying to get out at least 1000 words a day in my attempt to complete this book--the first in a series of three (can't say more right now) sometime in May. I'm still doing character studies, mostly quick digital work that I'll post soon.