April 3, 2013

Ask an author: How do you write a book?

Filed under: ask an author,how I write — Rhiannon Lassiter @ 12:10 pm

Galvis asked:

Working files on my computer

I have begun writing. I finished one 110k word story and am on my second. No matter how much I revise the first one, I do not think it will be published, being my first attempt and all. So now I am on my second and I went about creating the story differently this time, but am still not sure if it is best way. Which is what I am hoping you can help me with.

What do you do before you start writing a book? Do you create all the characters first? Do you write a summary of each chapter/event and follow it to the end? Do you write as you think? What is your process to writing a book once you have a story in your head- or the beginning of one?

The first story I wrote completely in my head- then had to go back and summarize each chapter to create the ending (last 20k words). Now I am 50k words into my second fiction piece and would rather start from scratch if doing it wrong than finishing it.

Rhiannon replies

There’s no one answer to this. When I started writing I just wrote what I was thinking. Sometimes I’d find myself writing things I hadn’t thought of yet. I’d get about half way through a book and then think about plotting so I could work out the final section. As I’ve got more experienced I have experimented with other approaches. Different ones have worked better for different books.

I do generally think of the main characters first. For me the idea tends to come with the main character attached and then the other characters fill in around the edges. For example Hex came with the character of Raven fully formed and then the characters of Wraith and Rachel created her back story. As the actual writing progress began the character of Kez joined them as a guide to the city of London. In Bad Blood the original idea was about a blended family. I thought of the characters of Roley and Catriona, Katherine and John and then realised that there were two K/Cats. I was going to rename one of them and then though “but in a blended family the children might have similar names” and that became a plot point for the book.

Scrivener files of my current work in progress

I try to keep my writing in the same document. My mother used to write different chapters as different documents – maybe still does. But I usually work in a single Microsoft Word doc and save it as a new version after each change or edit (usually with a note to say what has changed). Recently I’ve started working with Scrivener. I like this for checking word counts and reorganising text but I think the versioning is not as flexible as I’d like it to be. (See image on right for an example from my current novel of how the word counts work, click to expand.)

I don’t think it’s a question of doing it ‘wrong’. It’s about what works for you. And, of course, what creates a compelling narrative. I think you do need a sense of the overall shape of your story. What’s the beginning, middle and end? How will the characters travel from where they are (physically and more importantly emotionally) to where they will be? (How will the events of the story change them? Will those changes be positive or negative?) Also, you should know the key events of your plot. What action or event starts the story? (What comes about as the result of the actions of the characters? What will happen if they do nothing? What will happen instead if they act? What if they act differently?)

You can think about this in your head or write notes. A lot of authors write long notes documents asking themselves questions and brainstorming the answers. I do this sometimes. I also talk to friends who also write or enjoy reading to ask them what they think. If you do this, be careful not to spend so long explaining the set up that your audience is bored, stick to the key question. (I was asked recently by a teenager at an event about how to get her character out of a place where she was trapped. I asked a few questions and then suggested that in the trap she finds a hint or clue left by an earlier prisoner.)

I would say don’t write too much in your head. Or get recording software and dictate if you are not going to be near a place where you can write. That’s so the ideas stay fresh to you as you get them on the page. Regurgitating ideas is not as enjoyable as writing down new ones as you think of them. It’s okay to keep a scene in your head until you get to the page but whole chapters sound like too much to me. That’s a personal opinion though. Every author writes differently.

I hope some of this is helpful to you! Good luck with your writing.

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