This is a post which I imagine will evolve as my writing process evolves. I’m going to try to describe the writing process I went through to arrive at Coeurmorph 1 (CM1) – the book what inspired me to start this blog don’t-cha-know!
I have no idea who said it, or if it’s just from my head, but I have arrived at the conclusion from somewhere that unless you understand how and why you do something, you can’t hope to change or improve on it. So this is my attempt to analyse how I write, and to therefore (hopefully) improve the process by getting a little more systematic about it. Or if I can’t arrive at systematic, then to be at least sympathetic of myself when I go into a particular writing huddle, because I’ll know that “this is what I need to do to write”.
So, how I start…
Iteration 0: Creation.
Interestingly, I can’t seem to whip up anything when I’m staring at a black computer screen. It appears that I almost always have to write the ideas for a story down long hand, with an actual pen and paper. I prefer those four-colour pens to write with because they’re nice and fat, and so easy to grip for long periods (and I can end up writing for hours when I get going) and I tend to write in an A5 spiral notebook.
Generally what I would call the draft 0 of my story arrives in the notebook in present tense summary format – ie, he did this and then she did that and then a volcano explodes. This is sporadically interspersed with a kind of script writing version of scenes, in dialogue, which is all but tag-less. Person 1: Hay you! Person 2: Who me? All of which gets typed into a computer. This is generally the state of any of my stories at the end of a NaNoWriMo.
Iteration 1: Making it English.
Next, I take all that gobbledy-gook and expand it into past tense, third-person, actual English scenes with dialogue punctuated appropriately and action beats. “Do you come here often?” She flicked her hair over her shoulder. Everything I’ve so-far written (six 50k plus NaNo-novels) has ended up in third-person past. Large chunks might still be in summary format, but they get re-tensed to the past, turned into semi-English, and then highlighted in bright red to remind me to fix them later. These chunks also usually get expanded in this run through, as new ideas or refined ideas of what a scene should contain pop into my head.
Iteration 2: Adding Description.
Description for me feels like pulling teeth. I keep having to remind myself to do it. Describe the environment, describe the climate, describe the people, describe the setting, describe the food – see, hear, sense, smell, touch and taste! But in enough detail so the reader can understand what’s going on without overloading them with too much detail – it sure is a fine line! Oh and through SHOWING not TELLING. Gah! I like not. So on this pass, I end up with mostly readable scenes that usually make sense… at least internally. The story itself… well, that was another matter entirely.
Anyway, this was the stage I got CM1 to in about June 2010. At that time, it really was all I could do. Come around July 2012, and I’d learnt a lot more, so decided to try to take this story and make it publishable… and discovered that it was quite a lot worse than I remembered it.
So on to…
Iteration 3: Fixing The Plot.
Well, for CM1 this was where I actually addressed the plot. Believe me, I’ll be moving this up to be Iteration 1 in the next book. The whole ‘to outline or not to outline’ is a post for another day, but essentially I had two-thirds of a story, which had some great ideas in it, and some really nice plot twists, but no real direction, and no real substantial Act II climax or anything thereafter. I had an ending! But couldn’t get there.
So I spent a good six months reverse engineering an outline of the story, so I could see it on only a few pieces of paper and get a sense of what was going on, and then started mucking around with many various versions of how it could work. I was still stuck on the bit between the 50% and the 75% mark until the 21st of this month, so a year after I first started working on it. But the bits I did work out before gave me some direction, so it was on to…
Iteration 4: The editing.
This sort of went on simultaneously with iteration 3, but in the process of starting to fix this story, I learnt a hell of a lot about how to edit properly. A year ago, I joined the Online Writing Workshop (OWW), and through the invaluable process of critiquing and receiving critiques, I learnt how to polish description, reduce wordiness, tag properly (that’s another post for another day – who’d a thought that tags were difficult?), make sure my cart didn’t get before my horse (repeat after me: Motivating Stimulus leads to Character Reaction), come up with a list of homonyms’ I confuse (a LOT), punctuate dialogue properly and a shed load besides.
But still, there was something missing. Everyone on OWW was telling me they had no idea where the story was going. So I did some research on structure – and this was a real head-desk moment for me – I discovered I hadn’t actually provided my character with a concrete GOAL for this story. Sheesh!! The MC was wandering around doing stuff, with a vague idea of redeeming herself, but no actual plan to achieve this. I knew what she wanted to do, but I didn’t have that set out on the paper. So next came…
Iteration 5: Enriching the story.
I went back and identified what the 10% goal should be (the thing that the inciting incident makes her want to do – in CM1 it’s to look after a new arrival at the death camp), and then her 25% goal (the end of Act 1 turning point that sends her in a different direction – in CM1 this is to escape the camp). And then I could finally see where the plot was really lacking. So I set about strengthening the story. Adding foreshadowing and links backwards and forwards, making sure all the Chekhov’s guns went off, polishing the character interactions to make them arc, finding all the arcs and making sure they were all attended to…And that’s where I’m up to (and what I’m currently doing) now.
Fingers crossed this will be the last iteration!
As you might have inferred, not all parts of the draft arrive at the same iteration at the same time. I have parts of my current MS that are still (yes, still! Only two left now, but still!!!) at Iteration 0, whereas others are past 5 now.
However, essentially, that is my process. I will be undoubtedly be making many revisions to it, but now that I have it down in English, I can describe it and plot it and edit it and strengthen it… 🙂