The Process: How I Write A Novel (Part 1)

Writing a novel is simultaneously one of the most simple and most complex things I’ve ever done in my life. If you look around on the Internet, you’ll get lots of different opinions on how to go about doing it. Most revolve around the maxim, “Write every day.” Solid advice. The only way to write a 100,000 word book is to write one word, then string an additional 99,999 right after it. Splitting it up and being consistent makes this possible.

Another piece of wisdom from the Internet: “You’ll learn so much by writing your first book.” This I’ve also found true. Some people say your first book will be garbage, but I don’t think that is guaranteed.

I’m not an expert when it comes to writing, nor do I claim to be, but I have learned a lot through my own experiences. So, I’ve decided to start this new series of blog posts to give you an idea of how I write a novel. It will be as real time, from beginning to end, and will document the entire process. As I move through different phases, I’ll give you some insight to what’s going on and where I’m at. It’s not meant to be a how-to, but it may serve that function somewhat.

Let us begin! I just started work on the third book of the Dawn Saga, code named “DotD“. For me, that usually involves several days of outlining, but maybe not in the way you expect.

When I started writing Breakers of the Dawn (the first book of the series), I had no clue what I was doing. It was my first full length manuscript, so I did what the advice says: “Create an outline.” Outlines are plans, and I like plans. Initially, however, I outlined the wrong thing and did it the wrong way. I got too involved in details and scenes and missed what I actually needed: A primary conflict with a climatic resolution. I did a much better job with my character profiles, thankfully, which I attribute to playing a fair amount of Dungeons and Dragons.

Another mistake I made was to not finish my outline, mostly because I got too excited and just wanted to start writing. So, flawed outline in hand, I began typing my first draft. Soon, my characters deviated from the outline and were way off doing their own things and making choices I hadn’t anticipated. Almost all of my planning was now obsolete. Good thing I didn’t spend too much effort finishing it! By the time I finished my manuscript for Breakers, I felt like I had lucked into having a complete plot. This was because I didn’t understand what I was doing, yet still managed to have the elements the story needed. Editing was a lot of work, and it took a ton of time to fix the mistakes brought about by my poor forethought. When I read the rough draft, I could actually see my writing improve as the story progressed. This was great from a personal standpoint, but not so good when it came to how much I had to fix.

So the advice was right:I did learn a lot from writing my first book. Now, before I type a single word into a manuscript, I take my time with the outline, making sure I perform this critical step properly. This means writing down key plot points, conflicts, and character arcs. I don’t write specific scenes or tell the characters what to do ahead of time. I’ve learned from my mistakes.

Ever since I released Harbingers of the Dawn in January, I’ve been trying to decide what the big “thing” will be in the third book. I spent last week developing ideas for the climax, paring them down and deciding what fit best. With that complete, I moved on to adding key details and plot points. Now that I’m done, I have a couple pages of notes that are far more potent and detailed than my Breakers’ outline, but still give me creative flexibility as I write.

Step one of the process: Find the big conflict, then guess what the characters will do with it as well as how they get there.

(Continue the series with Part 2.)

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