My first response was, “Well, I just write it.”
But as I started to really think about it, I realized there was a lot more to it. So, for all of you who are curious, here is my process.
Step One: The Idea
First, I get an idea. It may be a little snippet from something someone says or does. It may come from a dream, a plot twist in something I’m reading, or sometimes a song. Sometimes, things just pop into my head, like what if…
Now these ideas aren’t fully developed. Usually, I just have a gist of what I think I’d like the story to be. Like the beginning and the end with maybe a few ideas in the middle. But in the last few years, I have started a file where I write them down. No matter how silly or strange they may seem, I write out everything I can about the story. Then, if I’m having trouble thinking of what to write next, I can go to my file of starts and pull from that.
“Saving Scarlett” was in this file.
Step Two: The Outline
Once I get ready to write, I let the story run wild in my head. I love the “what if” game. Like “what if” the protagonist did this? What if they did that? What if this was really that?
You get the idea.
Then, when I have a clearer picture of the storyline, I will write it out. Not usually in great detail, but enough to give me a sense of where the story’s going. I have notebooks and notebooks of scribblings of scenes and ideas.
Step Three: Character Development
I get pictures of who the characters are. I have a worksheet I’ve used before, but on “Saving Scarlett”, I actually created a board on Pinterest for my story. I liked picking out the characters, the town, the house, the little items that would come into play in the story, then put them all on the board. It helps to keep it all in front of me, to remind me that Blake had blue eyes and that Riley had green. Plus, I can add additional pieces as they come into the story.
But I don’t just use Pinterest and the worksheet. I LOVE to people watch. Pick up on little quirks like the way someone may speak out of the side of their mouth, the bushy eyebrows on an old man that look like two white caterpillars on his forehead, or the way a mother smooths away a strand of hair from her child’s face.
Flesh out your characters. Know them as you would your closest friend. What makes them tick? What makes them angry? What is their goal in the story? And if they don’t have a purpose, get rid of them.
I know this one probably makes you want to say, “Well, duh!” But it’s important.
I write on the computer. I have a spiral I’ll jot notes in or scribble out a quick scene, if I have a few minutes to spare. I even have a tiny composition book I keep in my purse to make notes if they strike me while in line at the grocery store or at lunch or somewhere I don’t have access to my other modes of writing.
But the reason I put this in my steps is because writers, including myself, sometimes get so involved in the technical part of writing, that they never get to this part. They spend years and years developing a story that never gets written. So get your butt in the chair and write.
Step Five: Frustration
I know my first draft is going to suck. Plain and simple.
My second and third draft will probably suck just as much, if not more.
And I’ve even started the story over completely, taking it in a different direction from Step Two, just because I really hated how it was turning out!
But even though I know this going in, I still get frustrated. I still have moments where I want to just chunk my computer out the window, throw my hands in the air, and give up on writing completely.
This is okay. It happens.
Sometimes my characters, no matter how much I plan and map out their character worksheets, will just take on a life of their own. This is a good thing, although it drives me crazy as a writer. But sometimes I’ll write an entire scene and the protagonist will do something I had no idea they were capable of, opening my eyes to who they really are.
That scene may not ever make it into my manuscript, but I (as the writer) will know. I will have that insight to their dark side…or good-hearted side, that my protagonist fights to keep hidden, giving me the opportunity to write a more believable character.
Step Six: Revision
See Step Five.
I wish I could just write a story, type out “The End”, and it be complete, perfect, and ready to go.
But that is not the case.
I have to revise.
Then, I’ll have to do it again.
And, more than likely, over and over again.
A great book to read on this is Stephen King’s “On Writing“.
Deleting content is hard for me, but it’s a necessary evil, giving me the opportunity to strengthen the story, cut the fatty parts that don’t need to be in there, and when I’m done, I have the story, fast-paced without all that gubbly-gook dragging it down. On “Crossroads” I cut about twenty thousand words. Did you hear me? Twenty thousand words that I typed out, revised more than once, than ended up deleting in the end.
It was hard, but it needed to be done.
Step Seven: Completion
This one is the hardest one for me. I can always find a way to revise, reword, restructure my manuscript, keeping it locked away in my computer and away from the eyes of the world until it’s perfect. But the truth is, it will never be perfect. Nothing ever is.
Even now, I look back on my books out there and have a hard time opening them up and reading what I’ve written because all I see is what I wished I could change now.
But I think that’s the case with any writer. There’s always room for improvement. There’s always a better way to say something, describe something. Yet, at some point, you have to let go.
Step Eight: Learn the Craft
This one is really out of order of everything, but there really wasn’t a particular place I could put it since this is a constant, ongoing step and it’s important that it be in here. Learn the craft, read writing books, find blogs about writing (one of my favorite is Nathan Bransford’s), read, read, read, and never stop learning ways to improve your writing.
I read as a writer now and with a highlighter, noting what I like about how a writer worded something, then I go back and try to dissect why. I usually try to read what I like to write: YA in first person, but I’ve read other things, as well. It helps me understand the story and what keeps me turning the page.
So there it is, my process. And I know every writer has their own quirks, their own routine, their own style of writing. But this is mine for the most part.
Do you have a step you’d like to tell me about? Make sure to leave it in the comment section.