On Writing a Novel : Planning and Research, a Prologue

Writing Rambles


This post will begin my three-part examination of writing a novel. I have written two manuscripts in the last two and half years, which makes me neither an authority nor a novice on the subject. However, writing and revising a manuscript is something I have done with a degree of success. If success in measured by the manuscripts being readable, agents responding to my query and pages, or my CPs not cringing when I send pages.

Since this is my blog, I choose to believe it is.

The first part of my examination will hit on Drafting — the horrible, rough, manic, shit-storm that makes beautiful novels possible.

The second part will cover the blood-bath that is Revision, which will steal your joy, and rob your faith, and create something actually worth reading.

The third part will delve into handling critique, revising on feedback, polishing and spit shining. In other words, getting that baby ready to query.

To have a novel you can pitch to agents you must have revised and polished it. To revise you must have a finished draft, and to that end you must also have some idea of what you are writing the book about, who is narrating, and so on.

Before we get to the three stages of writing a novel, we will spend some time in the land of pre-writing.


Planning and Research

Everyone handles this stage a little differently. I can tell you what I do, and you can tell me it is wrong, and we will somehow both be accurate. As a non-plotter, my planning does not include a written outline. I spend a lot of time listening to the narrative voice in my head. Asking questions. Trying to understand who this person is and why her story is worthy of telling.

This sounds mythical and unknowable, but what it really means is I cannot sit down to write until I have heard and defined the characters voice in my head.

Write Tip #1: Voice is the hardest thing to revise. If you do not have a distinct narrative voice, you will struggle with more in revision. Make sure you are listening to your protagonist from the beginning.

Once I am jiving with my MC, the plot begins to take shape in my mind. I am of the school of thought that “plotting” means knowing the large movements in the story in a vague and changeable way. You should know the big plot points, and you should have an idea of the goals, the stakes, and so on, but so much of writing (for me) is about the chase. If I know everything ahead of time, I loose that since of wonder at uncovering the true story.

Write Tip #2: You can always go back and add in, but you must keep moving forward in order to ever know what needs to be fixed.

Research is a funny thing, and can be done in a myriad of ways. My friend Lindsay Cummings took self-defense classes and handgun courses and walked around with a knife in her boot to better understand her protagonist Meadow. For my first manuscript, I researched as I drafted, which I do not recommend. But I was just learning, and my protagonist, she wasn’t too sure what was actually going on in her world.

For my second manuscript, Of Blood and Promises, I wrote 5,000 words and then I decided I should maybe have some things defined about this world — which has its foundations in Polynesian culture — before I went any further.

Write Tip #3: Research is essential. You can never write a book without some level of knowledge or inspiration backing you. Don’t think you have to know everything about your world up front, but know enough that you aren’t the blind leading the blind.

Once you have a grasp on your world, and you know what Trichotillomania (if you are writing a book with a protagonist that suffers from hair pulling disorder, like a friend of mine is), or when the fall of the Roman Empire occurred (if you’re writing an MC with an interest in world history), it’s time to bite the bullet and start drafting.

Write Tip #4: The blinking cursor in the blank Word doc is villain to your confidence. Just start typing. Be willing to put aside your research, to trash your outline, to start in the wrong place and write sentences that will make you cringe in shame. We all start somewhere. And it’s always slogging through shit at first.

Next up : Drafting until it’s Drafted

My Writing Process

Writing Rambles

CoverFinalSM-LoveAndCupcakesI was tagged to do the My Writing Process Blog Tour by my ridiculously talented, embarrassingly prolific, fabulous fangirl friend and critique partner Susan Crispell. Susan writes quirky, romantic magical realism and paranormal for both YA and Adult readers. She has a knack for writing friendships you want to replicate and boys you want to jump in the back of a car with —erm, marry. Her debut novel, Love & Cupcakes from Swoon Romance is about a woman who bakes desires into food but can’t get her own romantic life in order.

I am thrilled to be a part of this tour and hope you guys enjoy learning about the writing process from some super cool writers, add some new books to your TBR lists, and gain some knowledge along the way.

1) What am I working on?

My current work-in-progress is a yet-to-be-titled-though-I-have-some-ideas YA fantasy set  in the Islands, a shimmery, ancient world on the brink of early industrialization. The main characters are sixteen-year-olds Aliyah and Aiken, best friends bound by the law to live as brother and sister, forced into circumstances beyond their control by their families, and secretly, desperately in love with each other.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

My stories are high fantasy based in worlds not usually explored within that genre. I tend to stay away from stories with easy answers, instead I write big and bold. I meet my characters at the moment their life is about to change, and then they tell me how that makes them feel. While I write about life-altering, global conflict in the worlds I’ve created, the heart of my stories comes from the human experience within that conflict.

3) Why do I write what I do?

Because I am a glutton for punishment. No, really? For me to pursue something, I have to feel like I’m in a chase. Either literally, like in my first novel Redhunt, where the main character was being hunted through her dangerous, brutal world with a boy trained to protect her, or in this novel, where the ticking time bomb of change could go off at any moment. I am curious about how people react when they are given no way out. But, really more than anything — and I think this cuts to the core of why I write YA — I am still figuring out who I am, even at twenty-nine, and so I write about that journey, that question, that quest for identity.

4) How does your writing process work?

Hmph. It works for me, I’ll say that. I read this Stephen King quote once— it was in On Writing, but I can’t find the direct quote now so I am paraphrasing — that stories are “found objects” that must be excavated with care, like archaeological finds. And I think that is a beautiful way to relate to your writing.

When I approach a story, I approach it first through the characters. I do what I call “method writing”, much like an actor would, where I see the world through the characters eyes, examining every part as they would. There is time later to add in details necessary for more intricate world building.

I also do not plot. Ever. I usually have a vaguest of vague sense of where I am going and why, but details are no where in that scheme. I write on feeling. I will keep notes of thoughts or things to elaborate, come back to, use later, and when I get to the end I will usually write out little scene synopses to make sure I don’t forget anything. More than that and I start to rebel.

Up Next Week are two super talented writers that also happen to be awesome people: Sara Biren and Adrianne Russell.

Sara is repped by Steven Chudney of The Chudney Agency and she writes YA contemporary that is character-driven, heartbreaking, but hopeful.

Adrianne lives in the Midwest but retains claim to her southern roots. She also writes YA contemporary that is edgy, snarky and fearless.

Thank you for reading, and don’t forget to check out their posts next week for more insights into the writer’s cluttered mind.