This is how I write a novel:
- I write out a storyboard, dividing the story up into scenes. The notes that go in here describe things like time of day, year of events, main characters taking part, POV, action, and what this scene does in the context of the story. Other notes are added as time goes by. Other scenes are added too.
- I write the story scene by scene. Sometimes it becomes obvious that scenes are in the wrong place, or don’t move the story on, but if I’m in the middle of writing that scene I finish it before I move on to another. Every scene is spellchecked when it’s typed up, and I correct the grammar.*
- When I’ve finished writing the storyboard scenes I take the whole story and shuffle the scenes so the structure makes a little more sense.
That’s my first draft.
No-one sees it.
It is full of scrappy bits, bad writing, cliches, notes to myself and other tosh.
But it is the first draft of a story, complete with beginning, middle and end, and my characters have travelled through it.
Nobody else will, except me.
And because I’ve had my nose pressed up against the window of the story, so to speak, I take a step back and do some basic tidying up.
- I highlight every word that ends in -ly.
- I highlight every ‘could’ and ‘thought’ and ‘should’ and ‘ought’.
- I highlight other words which, on a full read-through, seem to pop up more often than I’d like. (In The Bead Merchant, that word is “slippers”, BTW).
- I remove or replace all those words which irritate me.
I think of it like an artist adding shadows to an image.
This is where I start the next stage. I fill in the gaps, often writing whole new scenes from scratch or deleting others entirely.
I ask myself a lot of questions.
- Where is the story a bit rubbish?
- Where did I write a scrappy outline because I was pushed for time and had too much story left to write?
- Where did I write in cliches because I couldn’t think of any other way to say the damn thing and I had to get it out of my head and onto paper before I could continue with the bits I wanted to write?
- Which characters are boring? Why? Can they be rescued? Will anyone like them? Is it important or are they there simply to provide information or move the story along?
- Is this event accurate or reasonable? Is it silly?
I polish the draft with these, and then it goes to my first readers. (I’m fortunate to have first readers who have complementary skills – one tells me where my structure is flabby/confusing/unconventional, and the other tells me where my storytelling is poor/disappointing/lacking.)
While I wait for them to give me feedback, I research the next story or read some books or write a few short stories or do some more editing or start writing the next story.
When the feedback arrives, I wince, and agree with most of it, and get on with the rewrite, before repeating the process, until between us we think it’s the best it can be.
Then it’s done.
* Eats, shoots, and leaves, right?