Musing on Method

Photo by Emma Frith-Suttey

This week I’ve been thinking about process. I’m about to start a read through of my WIP. In January I began a new novel. The idea has been bouncing around my head for around a year, during which time I’ve worked on the editing and promotion of my debut, BloodMining, and polishing novel #2 which is out on submission. I hope to attract an agent *fingers crossed*.

Two days ago I tipped the 30k mark with the WIP and it is at this point that I usually read through the narrative to make sure that things are on some kind of track, hanging together, to identify character traits that I haven’t noted on my character profile sheets and so on. I won’t do any serious editing, though if I notice that a character changes age or eye colour I will of course correct, likewise hideous spelling or grammatical errors.

This is my third novel, so though I do not claim to be an expert a system of sorts is emerging, and although, when asked, I describe myself as a pantser, I have realised that there is planning, of a kind, in my method. My method goes like this:

1. An idea rumbles. A theme, characters develop, start to talk to me, a location emerges. This can take anything from a few months to a few years. I read around the subject, cut out images that appeal or inspire, buy a dedicated notebook and begin to fill it.

2. Before I write anything I have an idea of the story arc. This doesn’t mean that I necessarily know the ending (I didn’t with my other two books and I don’t with this one), but I have a sense of the journey the character (s) will make.

3. I choose a working title. Even if I know it’s rubbish; it often is. I use the theme or a motif as a starting point to generate this.

4. Profile sheets are started for the leading characters. These will be altered and added to as the work progresses. I like to be surprised by my characters; they often oblige.

5. I decide on a structure and point of view. Again, open to change. With BloodMining I wrote 20,000 words in first person before realising that this was all wrong, and switched to close third. With novel #2 I knew it would be first person immediately; but at the end of the first draft I knew that I had to give another character a larger voice. So the narrative unfolds through alternative first person accounts, one past tense, one present.

6. I jot down scene ideas and their purpose.

7. I write. Fast and loose. No serious editing. I silence my inner critic (a garrulous little bastard most of the time). I aim for 1,000 words day, at least five times a week. Sometimes, I manage more, sometimes less. I’ve young children and another job…

8. Periodically I write brief summaries of each chapter/scene. The pertinent points only.

9. When I’m approximately one third of the way through, I read what I’ve got. See above. Note more scene ideas.

10. I write the rest.

11. I print out the MS. I just don’t see stuff on screen.

12. I scribble all over it.

13. I draw up a detailed outline. Shuffle scenes around. Remove/add scenes

14. I rewrite.

15. Repeat 14. Many times.

For me, the hardest part is silencing that little bastard. And it gets tough around the 60k mark. One of the most exciting things is when characters leap up and say, ‘Hey! What about me? I’m important too.’ I thought my current WIP was going to be about friendship and rivalry and community. These elements are there, but it’s turning into a love story… and that’s something I never thought I’d write. Early days, however, so things might change again. And that’s one of the joys.

Now, back to it.


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