The Process: How I Write A Novel (Part 4)

Alright! Its been two months since my last Process post, and a lot has happened since then. I finished the first draft of the novel, and I meant to write an update about that, but got too excited to start polishing and forgot. So I’ll do a short recap, then explain my recent progress.

Finishing the first draft went well. Sometimes I stall out trying to decide how to wrap up a book, but in this case, everything fell into place. Which was a relief! There were also a few events in the final pages I wasn’t expecting, more “external spontaneous story generation.

Endings in a book series can be tricky for a number of reasons. You can’t end on too big a cliff hanger or you’ll frustrate the readers. But you also want to make it clear the story isn’t over. I’ve gotten some feedback from a couple people that Breakers ended a bit abruptly, so with Harbingers and this latest book, I’ve tried to make them more “complete.” That’s not to say they standalone, but they aren’t meant to. I think I’ve found a good balance.

I completed the first draft about a month ago and went directly into editing. Some advice says lock your manuscript up for as long as you can before starting on subsequent drafts. This might work well if you don’t have a schedule (I try to release a book a year), or if you aren’t working on a series. I tried this on Breakers, and honestly, it just made it take longer to complete and I created a lot of plot holes (because I forgot the plot) that I had to go back and fix.

Instead, by jumping right in, I can focus on consistency and continuity. Plus I don’t forget large parts of the story. Besides, by the time I’ve spent a month and a half writing the first draft, I’ve forgotten enough of the beginning to have it feel “fresh.”

For second drafting, I use a program called Slickwrite to do a general, paragraph-by-paragraph check, followed by having text-to-speech read it to me. Hearing it helps me find misspellings and other errors my mind tends to gloss over. I then make changes line by line. Usually, these are mundane: I put “he” or “she” too many times in a row, started too many sentences with “the,” or I have duplicate words or statements. Sometimes I add more detail or tweak dialog to make it feel more natural. Finally, I run everything back through Slickwrite again to make sure I haven’t introduced new errors.

The manuscript was 102,000 words at the end of the first draft, and using the above process, I was able to finish the second draft in 4 weeks, which is pretty typical for me. Thankfully, I didn’t run into any heinous plot holes or large sections of rewrites. The second draft ended up at around 98,600 words, meaning I trimmed out 3,400 words. This is normal, and a good sign. First drafts are never perfect, and getting rid of some fat and fluff is always expected.

With the second draft finished, I’m done with the book for a few weeks. It’s now in the hands of my editor (who also happens to by my wife), who will give it a thorough, merciless read-through. When she gets it back to me, I’ll start on the third draft, which is a slightly different process than the second.

In the meanwhile, I’ll be working on the dedication, summary blurbs, and covers (paperback and eBook), as well as a few other projects unrelated to the Dawn Saga. It’s a good time to let my brain relax and get ready for more hard work.

Process Step 4: Go through your manuscript carefully, have a computer mispronounce your character names, and delete huge chunks of something that you spent a lot of time creating. 🙂

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