Novel Stages

 Posted by at 15:50  Add comments
Sep 022011

I’ve written a great deal about writing my novel and my future aspirations, but it seemed like it might be a good idea for me to write down exactly what stages I see as being part of this long process. A great deal of my thinking on this has changed over the last couple of years, so it’s not necessarily representative of the process that the current novel took, but rather what I plan to do in the future.

  1. Idea(s). For the current novel, this started as “take a bunch of fantasy character tropes and invert them.
  2. Key character concepts (protagonist, antagonist, primary supporting characters, etc.). Flowing naturally from the idea, this involved cooking up the character tropes I wanted to play with/invert. The normally barbarous character became a well-spoken diplomat. The normally high-minded, aloof nature character became the industrial, rambunctious character. So on and so forth.
  3. Core story pitch. This is the cliche (but useful) “When (something) happens, (protagonist) (reacts). However, will (protagonist) succeed when (antagonist) (provides opposition)?” It helps focus the key contention of the story.1
  4. Outline story arc. This can take a couple of forms. In general, it should just be figuring out story beats and progression from start to middle to end. In the case of the current novel, the “outline” was the first draft. I didn’t know where the story would go when I put these characters together, and it took actually writing a short novel to figure it out. The second draft has really been me going back and writing the story again, revising it based on where I ended up.
  5. Write first draft. This is the draft that happens in a mad dash. Get something down, as fast as possible, without any attention to quality. Get the story written. Adjust the outline as needed, but get it done.
  6. Let it sit. I very much agree with Stephen King when he advises letting a newly completed manuscript lie fallow for at least a month.
  7. Review the draft and identify points requiring research. Some authors come up with their idea, research it, then write their story. I don’t think that approach works for me. I’d rather write the story and then adjust it based on research. This includes distances and timetables, which is something I’ve been trying to make sense of for the current novel.
  8. Write draft two. This is a more polished draft, incorporating all the things learned and rethought thus far. This is where the current novel is now.
  9. Alpha readers! The novel being in a form I’m no longer ashamed of, it’s time to show it to a trusted few to gather the harshest criticism possible. With luck, it will also include some praise, but the main objective is to look at all of the flaws that I can’t see because of how close I am to it.
  10. Alpha revision. Take all of the feedback and fix the damn thing. This isn’t quite as thorough a re-write as the second draft, but it’s not small, either.
  11. Beta readers! Roll the novel back out to people for review. Same as the previous “give to readers” step.
  12. Beta revision. Same as alpha revision, though hopefully with fewer changes. This iteration is also the one that involves line editing, polishing individual sentences and paragraphs until they have maximum impact and quality.
  13. Publish. The uncharted waters…Right now, my plan is to put things up on the Kindle store and see what happens. There remains a part of me that wants to try to get a print publisher, too (and an agent…), but this is the current plan.

So there you are. That’s my personal process when it comes to writing a novel. Probably subject to future revision.

  1. Nicked this idea from Jim Butcher. []

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