When Lindsay and I came up with the theme for our story, we knew we had something special. However as we began writing, we quickly realized that the story took on a life of it’s own and the details in the plot were not what we originally had in mind at all. The way we had first envisioned events of our story taking place, suddenly didn’t fit in with a character’s personality, or the layout of the home town where all the action takes place.
What helped us to stay focused was several things. The first thing was being confident in our theme. You don’t want to get halfway through a book and then decide to change the theme. I’m not saying it can’t or shouldn’t be done, but in doing so you basically scrap your book and start over. We wanted to be certain about the story we were going to write before we began. At the same time, we made a decision on who’s point of view (POV) the story would be told from. We chose to write our story in first person.
As we all learned in elementary school, every story has three parts: the introduction, body, and conclusion. Taking that a step further, every novel has a protagonist (the main character the story is centered on), a conflict (man against man, society, nature, self, or a combination of those), and the resolution of the conflict. These points are what we had to consider when developing the main idea or theme of our story. Before we ever wrote a single word of our book, we spent hours upon hours of brainstorming our ideas and jotting down notes. As we began to see on paper the bones of our story starting to form, it truly triggered the creative side of our brains to almost effortlessly add muscle and flesh.
Some writers, known as pantsers, prefer to write by the seat of their pants and let their story develop that way, leading them wherever it goes. This is probably a great method for experienced writers, but for us it seemed less stressful our first time around to have a good solid plan in place. We gathered and organized all of our notes and compiled them into a rough outline. In the beginning our outline was not a point-by-point layout of every scene in our book, but it was enough to serve as a guide for us to begin writing by. We knew that at some point our protagonist would find himself lost in a cavern because it played an important role in our story, so we included that in our outline, not having any idea yet how he would get there. Once we were well into the writing phase of our novel, we would find ourselves adding more details to our outline. Sometimes we would add comments for chapters that we’d already written that would need to be changed based on the direction our story was going, and other times we would add notes for future chapters so as not to forget sub-plots that were developing that could potentially leave holes in the story.
The last thing we did before we began writing was come up with a list of characters that would be included. This involved deciding on character names (and you thought naming your children was difficult!), relationships, personality, physical features, their background, occupation, role in the story, and so forth. We are using Scrivener, a word processing software created for writers of novels and screenplays. I really love this software. Scrivener’s basic novel template includes blank character sheets that really helped us map out who our characters were. In the beginning I referred back to these sheets often when I would get confused as to which character always carries the crossbow, or who the jokester is. Of course we found ourselves adding a character here and there as our story grew, but coming up with the core group of characters before we began writing was extremely helpful to us.
Once we had all these tools in place, we began the writing phase. Yay! We are now about 3/4 of the way through our first draft and I am really pleased so far with how well everything is coming together. We are trying to get this last 1/4 of our book written as quickly as possible. We look at this first draft like making clay. We are putting all the ingredients together that will help create our end product. Once the first draft, the clay, is ready, then we will start the fun part…forming, molding, and tweaking it into something polished and ready for others to enjoy. It has been a fun and exciting project from the very beginning and we are anxious to see it completed and to feel that sense of pride and accomplishment.
I would love to hear from other writers to find out how you prepare for writing your books. Are you a planner or a pantser? Do you blast through the first draft and edit later, or do you continuously go back and edit your work each day before you begin any new writing? I’m always looking for tips and ideas of processes that work well for others.