Writing a Novel
These days there are several types of book authors out there: those who are with traditional publishers; those who are with hybrids (a mix of traditional and indie); and indie or self-published authors. I am an indie author. Also, I have a publishing company but for the most part it publishes my own work.
Being an indie author is more complicated than sitting down, writing a story, and throwing it onto a site like Amazon or Lulu. What all that means is I must do all the work, and all the work is something I have had to learn from the ground up.
Here’s what the process looks like for me.
I get an idea. I do some research. No, I don’t just do “some” research, I do a great deal of research on the main subject of the story as well as myriad details. The “historical” part is crucial and essential, no matter how much it threatens to drive me mad. For instance (and this is a small instance), Carson simply cannot say to Eli, “Dude, what’s up?” That language would not match the 1860s era. Instead, Carson, ever the formal man, might say, “Elijah, old chap, how are you faring this fine day?”
I also find that post-basic research, I will stop every five minutes – or at least it seems that way – to look something up and confirm I’m being accurate regarding setting, manners, or whatever. The joys of historical fiction! Thank God for the internet, that’s all I’m saying.
The next thing for me to do is write down plot ideas, but I don’t do detailed plotting until the characters have had a chance to interact with each other and play with the ideas I think might work. Sometimes this interaction leads to secondary plot ideas, and those sometimes get torn out and used as short stories or novellas. Once I’m in the middle of the story, though, the plot has begun to untangle itself. That is where I found myself with The Good Community.
The past few days, I have spent some time untangling it. I had written around 100 pages of plot lines, secondary plots, and scenes in which the characters are interacting. I also had inserted material and characters that had been deleted from Seeing the Elephant to see how they would work in the new book. Then I started cleaning the manuscript up. The first thing out was the material that became a novella of its own, The Great Central Fair.
Once that was done, I found that stuff was all over the manuscript in an alarmingly disorganized fashion, so I created another document in which I listed chapter titles and wrote a few lines about the scenes included in each chapter. (See the photo at the top of the blog.) I also inserted the dates on which scenes occur and chapter’s page numbers so I would know how long each chapter was (I generally like them to be between 15-20 pages long). This activity gave and is giving me a sense of control over the creative process.
After looking the plotting document over, I began to move elements around in it, also doing the same thing in the manuscript, so both documents matched. Once I was satisfied that things were where they should be, I added notes on the plotting document and on the manuscript about material that I wanted to insert and highlighted them in yellow, because I WILL forget to notice them if I don’t highlight them.
That’s the stage at which I currently am with regard to The Good Community. And now for something shocking. I don’t even know how the story will end yet! But that’s okay because it’s all part of the process. For me, writing is an ongoing journey of planting, weeding, letting the characters have their say and their way, and then repeating and repeating until the timer goes off in my head that tells me the story is done.
Not surprisingly, creating a novel often feels chaotic to me, but that is okay. I think there should be a fair amount of chaos in the process. Chaos brings with it inspiration. Later control (such as the recent plotting document) will harness that inspiration and make the story intelligible and logical.
At least, that’s how I see it.
Until tomorrow, gentle people.
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Janet Stafford, Squeaking Pips Founder