Thursday, September 28, 2006

My Ever-Changing Method

Another question I get asked with some frequency is my method for writing a book. This one is actually quite tricky to answer, because I don't have just one. It varies, seemingly from book to book. But in case anybody's just itching to know, here are the basics and the method I'm using right now, which may very well change for the next book.

I don't outline. I have not the patience, and I need to get to the dialogue, as that's how I really learn about my characters. I don't do character sketches, or charts or spreadsheets.

I think of a character, usually the hero, and a time, usually medieval. And then the sort of woman who's going to disrupt his plans and mess with his head. I imagine one or two scenes. Then I write a synopsis -- bascially, tell the story in the present tense. For the first draft of this, I don't worry about length or language (I'll use modern slang if it suits the purpose) and I don't worry about "musts" and "shoulds" or any other "rules" other than the basic -- the story has to be about the developing relationship between the hero and heroine, and they have to end up together. I just let 'er rip and see what happens.

Then, as always, I edit, because this will usually be a very long synopsis. I do more research, if necessary. I figure out what the hero and heroine look like, especially if that's going to affect the story. If I think the slang still works, I'll leave it. If I've come up with a really good line of dialogue, I'll leave it. The important thing with a synopsis, besides relaying the key details of the story, is to be exciting and have some energy, zip, "jazz." So I edit enough to make it shorter and more to the point, but I stop before I've edited all the life out of it.

The final version of this synopsis is what I use to sell that book. If I sell the book (whooo hooo!), and my editor has any questions or reservations, I pay a lot of attention to them and will incorporate the suggestions and/or keep in mind her questions as I write the book.

Then I start writing the book. And here is where my method really changes from book to book. I generally try to write the first draft from start to finish, and then revise for at least two more complete drafts, but sometimes, like with the current book, that doesn't happen. With this one, I got half the first draft done, realized there was something key that needed to be changed and so decided I had to go back and revise the first half before continuing. Just when I finished that and was preparing to carry on with the first draft, The Week O' Great Drama and Stress (ie last week) hit. Along with proofreading for my February book. So rather than continue with the first draft in the morning and proofreading in the afternoon and evening, as is my preference, I just did the proofreading.

I thought when that was done, and things settled down, I'd be able to go back to the first draft and carry on.

Alas, noooo. I'd been too long away from the manuscript by then. This would be the best argument I can think of the "Write Every Day Or Be Damned" school of writing. You lose your momentum if you stop.

So right now, I'm going through the first half again, making more changes (never met a page I didn't want to fix!), and then I'll start the new chapters.

Am I beating myself upside the head because I can't just pick up where I left off? No. The first half will benefit from this "extra" work -- I'll have a firmer foundation, if you will -- and the second half will be the better for it, too.

And I've still got time before I have to panic about the deadline.


Nancy said...


Sorry to hear about your week of drama and stress. Hope it worked out okay in the end...

I really enjoyed your post on how you write and will try a similar model. I have a question about your method -- do you have a critique group? If you do, at what point do you submit?

Many thanks,


Margaret Moore said...

No, I don't have a critique group or partner or whatever folks mean by a "beta reader". I'm really not good with the taking of advice, and I found it messed with my own vision of my story. Too many cooks, and all that. Maybe I'd do better if I did, but I know myself, and it's just better for me to work alone until it goes to my editor. I hated group work in school, too. *G*

Nancy said...

Thanks Margaret.