What is your process for writing? Plot, then write? Edit as you go or not until you've reached the end of the story? Figure out your characters first? Something else?
Questions like this week’s #openbook blog hop prompt usually excite me. Asking a writer about their process gives them a chance to relfect on how they get a story from idea to book, allowing them to analyze the different steps they may take to hone their plots and chracters into a narrative they want to share with readers.
I’ve published 8 novels and novellas and contributed to multiple-author anthologies, including short stories and novels. It’s been my experience that each story requires a unique writing process, wherein I use specific tools (I’ll write a post with the software I use another time) and methods to organize my thoughts about inspiration, plot, characters and editing.
Depending on what I write, I may implement particular organizing components and create a framework from which I can flesh out the story. More complex stories require more organization, while shorter reads may not, and I get to write straight through. Whether a longer novel or shorter work, I have a few basic things I do regularly to keep all of my writing ducks in a row.
In a recent post, I shared with readers how I use plotting to lay the foundations for a book:
For me, it is essential to hammer out a story’s central themes and what will happen from beginning to end.
Next, I ask myself how I will introduce readers to the story and characters and what is its final resolutions.
Finally, I try to think about ways to give readers a plot that will is thought-provoking, with realistic conflicts and triumphs to which they can relate.
A story may often begin with inspiration from one character that wants their story told. In my recent release, The Ex-Wife, for example, the main character Zaynab tells the reader her side of what happened between her and her ex-husband Mansur, the reason she left him, and how important it was to her to restore her relationship with her son. So I used the character’s motivations and needs to create a plot outline that includes what she wants to share with readers and reach her happily-ever-after with a new love.
I may also outline a chapter, setting the purpose of the chapter and what happens in the beginning, middle, and end. When doing this, I allow myself to think creatively about accomplishing each point in the chapter.
Once I have a plot outline, I then expand on the story, always keeping in mind the role each character will play in moving the plot forward and how they will do so, based on “who” they are individually and when interacting with each other.
I write character-driven books. Telling their stories is often my primary motivation to write. I draw on the main character(s)’ distinctive situation. I’ve written characters in my romances that struggle with mood disorders, mental illness, and infertility. The main character Xander in The Ex-wife, is a new Muslim convert who endures ostracism and judgment in his new community.
I like to layer real-life challenges with the characters’ quest for love and happiness. After all, isn’t that we all go through in our lives? We don’t get to find someone and attach to them without any regard for outside influences like work, school, family, and inner issues like the fear of being hurt again or surviving violence and abuse. Those things contribute to who we are and how we love, and I do the same thing with my characters.
Authors who center on characters may discover that writing them evokes a range of emotions. I get excited, irritated, joyful, and downcast. It’s part of my process, which helps me give them depth.
Editing can be the most exasperating part of getting a book into readers’ hands. I tend to focus on the plot and characters, leaving editing as a separate process. For me, editing can clog my creative juices. So, I just write, changing things to align with the plot or nuanced characterization.
After I finish writing all a story’s chapters, I focus on content editing each before completing line and copy edits and compiling the book for my editor. I deliver as clean a copy as possible, knowing my editor will still catch developmental, line, and copy issues despite my best efforts to make the text as pristine as possible.
Many authors will prepare a book for release after self-editing. Editors can be pricey, and there may still be issues after paying a hefty bill. However, a professional editor can be worth their weight in royalties, giving authors an extra pair of eyes to assess their story and execution. As a content editor, I help polish their plot points, pacing, character development, and tension.
Although I am a professional editor, I know I can’t fully edit my stories. They need the skills of another editor to strengthen the story, respect my artistic vision, and tighten its overall presentation to readers.
Inspiration, plotting, characterization, and editing remain the foundation of my writing process. I may adjust how I implement them, but I can not do without them!
Let’s keep those keyboards clicking!
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I’m envious of everyone who can plan a novel out and see the project in its entirety. I just have to wait and see what happens when the pictures play in my mind.
It’s hard to edit your own books. You know what you meant to say, and that’s what your mind sees, even if it isn’t what is on the page in front of you!
I’ve tried working to something similar to your plan, but it just doesn’t work for me. The ending may change several times, and the plot may go off in another direction. It all depends on what I feel like on the day.