I wrote five new novel manuscripts in the twelve months between November 2018 and November 2019. That’s probably not as dramatic an accomplishment as it sounds, since I have been retired from my day job for some time. Now, I have time to devote to writing, photography, and other interests.
Still, I am happy with the work, as I’ve developed quite a process for myself. I have standardized templates for plotting the books, and so, by the time I start, I know what I am going to write and how it will be organized. I find that’s critical in order to avoid penning a shitty first draft that, frankly, requires a great deal of work to repair.
Given my stories are all character-centric, I spend more time on understanding the characters than I do any other single point. If I don’t know who the story is about, I’m not certain how I would describe their world or, god forbid, narrate using their own words, as in the case of first-person narrative. Sometimes, the character detail emerges after the first chapter, when I have a taste for the Main Character’s (MC) style. I am a visual beast, so I almost always have sketches or photos of characters before I begin.
The story background is simple here, no more than a few paragraphs for a typical 90,000 word novel. However, for more epic tales or involved plot outlines, I have expanded this section substantially, including details such as outlines for all major characters, major obstacles to be overcome and their proposed solutions, and even location details for stories where world building is a key dynamic. All of this is important, but varies from book to book.
The critical part of the outline, though, is the last section labeled “Main Plot.” The plot outline is a bulleted list comprising no more than one paragraph per bullet (number) in sequential order. Each paragraph is a chapter in the book. Thus, given I know approximately how long a chapter is, I have a pretty accurate guess as to the book’s length before I begin. Some chapters’ outline paragraphs are as long as a half-page, where I know specific plot points or dialog, but some are no more than a few sentences. Importantly, holding my outline to a paragraph per chapter keeps the book’s pace moving and ensures that I only have one thing going on at a time. Readers can jump back and forth, but they can’t do two things at once.
It took me a while to get to this outline, and I used variations before I stumbled across it. I suppose the effectiveness of any process is 1) results and 2) repeatability. I’ll have to await feedback from my primary and beta readers on the results, but repeatability is proven. Each of the first four manuscripts I wrote was finished in 6-8 weeks, with the fifth book having been completed in a mere 17 days. The long books, to my surprise, took no longer to write than the short ones. The main variance seemed to depend upon how complete the plot outline was when I started, and how tight my writing was, frankly. I wrote WIP number 2 at the slowest pace, but that was deceptive, as I rewrote each chapter after I finished it. Essentially, it was two drafts at once, and required far less editing than the others after completion.
I haven’t decided about publishing these–whether or how–but I am being encouraged to do so by my primary reader. For now, they are written in a pen name so as to differentiate them from the 10 books I’ve already published. But more about those to come. For now, I’m heavily into Science Fantasy editing mode.
These books are quite a ride. I hope you get to take one soon. Cheers.