Last week, I regaled you with the question of outlining a novel and how I’ve progressed through that process. This week, I want to discuss what happens after the outline is in place.
When I first began writing as a teenager, I worked on a fanfic from Star Trek, the original series. I clearly recall that I never got beyond fifteen pages of written material. One of the biggest problems I’ve had to overcome is my constant editing of what’s already on paper.
There were a couple of years I worked with another writer, and her ability to press on got me past the need to rehash every word over and over again, though not completely. (That would be Adrian Phoenix, FYI. Even her ability to forge onward and complete project after project didn’t get her published until just a few years ago.) Still, I never considered myself particularly creative enough to complete (or capable of finishing) a novel-length manuscript.
I set aside writing for the longest time after that. When I returned to my fanfic roots, this time via Xena: Warrior Princess, I did something completely unheard of for me… I put my stories up on the Internet. (My Trek fanfic was for me alone, and though I had a good idea where I’d wanted to go with the story, I had no one kicking me in the butt to get a move on.) I began receiving emails from readers asking for the next installment — that alone gave me the impetus to keep going. How could I stop when people kept demanding the rest of the story? Ack! Talk about pressure!
It was with great satisfaction (and total surprise) that I completed Only One.
Over the years, I’ve found ways to get past my reticence in my effort to please the reading public. (I highly recommend The War of Art by Steven Pressfield for this. Wow! What an eye-opener!) The toughest was to ignore most previously written material. Once the outline is in place, I’ve jotted down what each scene is about and, in some cases, noted specific things I want to get across to the reader. I open the Scrivener project, and start from the beginning – Chapter One, Scene One.
To me, the scene plays out in words and pictures. I can see what’s going on, and am simply taking dictation as the characters go through the motions. When I come to a pause, wondering what comes next, I place myself in the position of the person speaking. I run through their line in my head, and whatever I do at that time, I write as an action for the character. (I.e., when Tatanka Teca thrusts his chest out when announcing his parentage to Anpo in Tiopa Ki Lakota, I was sitting at the keyboard, suddenly straightening in pride.) This helps break up the dialogue, and keeps things fresh for the reader. (And, I’m sure, provides much entertainment for the other denizens of the coffee shop where I do most my writing.)
If I complete Scene One before the end of my writing time, I move on to Scene Two. I do not go back to reread Scene One unless I have to refer to it for something. It’s written, it’s complete. Returning now will distract me from where I’m at now. This continues until I’m done for the day, whereupon I pack up the computer and head home.
The next day, I allow myself to go through previously written scene. This time, I’m seeing it with a fresher eye after a full night’s sleep. I see spelling and punctuation errors, and note where I missed bringing something up in thought, deed, or speech of the characters. The first run through is normally dialogue and action. Now I add thoughts, nuances of description, and emotions to the scene. This serves to appease my inner editor who so loves to go back and reread everything. (I’ve never been able to break the habit, though I’ve learned how to contain it much better.)
I also use this time to get back into the flow of the narrative. Many of my novels are distinctly different from one another in voice. (My Gemini taint — I’ve been raised and surrounded by them my entire life! What’s a poor Taurus to do but adapt?) Tiopa Ki Lakota has a different flavor than Warlord Metal or my fantasy novels, at least to me. I’ve been told it comes across to the readers, as well.
When I’m done with this phase, I’m Done, with a capital D! There are only two reasons to go back to Scene One now. To add foreshadowing for something that pops up later in the manuscript, and to edit it for submission or publication. I can reread a story a hundred times, always finding better ways to word it, or debating the need for a comma, but it’s an unproductive cycle that will never stop unless I stop it!
So I carry on until I’ve completed the novel. Every day, I mark my wordcount in an Excel spreadsheet. (I’ve found that keeping track of the numbers forces me to continue writing, otherwise I’d never pay attention to my progress. Not noting advancement makes it all the more difficult to continue.) When the novel is finished, I send it to a handful of people I’ve grown to trust over the years. They are my ‘first readers’. I take a week vacation while they peruse the manuscript. Soon the emails begin trickling in — either corrected versions of the book, or emails discussing where they had questions, where I wasn’t clear on something, where I need to boost emotions or thoughts or descriptions. We’ll spend the next week flinging emails back and forth, or carrying on discussions over dinner or in chat, clarifying in my mind what needs to be done next.
(Don’t let anyone tell you that writers write in a vacuum. Without the dedicated attention to detail by these people, I’d never get a book published.)
Taking their notes and emails in hand, I start at the beginning once more, this time allowing my editor free reign. I go through each scene, adding their suggestions where appropriate, and making changes I deem necessary to the end. Afterwards I take two or three days off, and reread the manuscript in full, editing line by line.
But I’m not done, yet!
Here’s a tip I picked up from Holly Lisle, an oft published author who has done so much in educating fellow writers. (Check out her lessons on writing! They’re well worth the money.) I go through the novel for the final time backwards, page by page. I make certain that each page has at least one sense — smell, taste, touch, hearing. By going backwards, I’ll see other errors I hadn’t noticed before as I read them out of context. I correct them as I go. Now I’m finished with the novel, and off it goes to the publisher’s submission address.
Time for another vacation, huh?
I’ll wait another couple of days, give myself some much needed time off. But at some point while writing the just completed manuscript, I took breaks from the storyline to outline a different book. Those characters and that plot are calling me. I’ll daydream about them, add more notes to the outline, all during my ‘vacation’, until I can’t stand being away from it anymore.
And so it goes.
If you have any questions or suggestions, please let me know! The comment form below will require a valid email address to ensure you’re a real person. (I don’t collect the addresses or do anything with them, so you won’t be getting future spam from me.) If that’s not to your taste, you can email me — the link is up above on the right.