All this back and forth with the publisher got me thinking about how I write. Get the groans out of the way, I know there is already a ton of “how to write” material out there. Some even called “The best writing process for . . .” This isn’t meant to be anything like that. If it helps someone, great. If not, at least it will offer a little more insight into how I approach writing.
Building the skeleton
This is all about get the ideas out in the open, whether that be on paper or on the screen. Doesn’t matter how ridiculous they sound or even if they fit the overall story, they need to be put down before they are forgotten. Writing out of order is even acceptable. It has to make some sense, but at the same time, chapter one doesn’t have to lead to chapter two. Chapters actually shouldn’t even be a consideration at this point. It’s all about following the thread of an idea until its end.
Putting meat on the bones
Now the ideas are in place, it’s time to flesh them out and organize them. Descriptions and details are needed, but so are feelings and senses. Stating that someone is sad is one way to convey sadness, but that’s more of a tell. What you need to do is show your readers what’s going on and your characters reacting based on their five senses of touch, taste, sight, smell, and hearing as well as the sensations they are feeling throughout their body.
This phase may take two or three passes to complete and that’s okay. The first round might be just jotting down this character did this, said this and felt this like they were some sort of robot. In subsequent walk throughs, more and more layers need to be added until the robot becomes a living, breathing entity having the experience. Of course, this entity could be a robot, but the trick is to take the one dimensional words that describe them and transform them into a three-dimensional object in the reader’s mind.
Patching up holes and fixing wounds
How does the story flow? Do the pieces fit together in a comprehensible way? Does the reader go from point A to point B to point C and make the transition between those points cleanly? Or do they somehow end up in left field with no idea of how they got there? An author knows their characters and plot lines better than the reader, which makes it easy for them to assume that everything they’ve said is self-explanatory or the reader will be able to guess their intentions.
That’s assuming a lot! And, as the old saying goes, “assuming makes an ass out of you and me.” Presumption, aren’t any better in this case, because it still means that the author thinks that the reader is working with more knowledge than they have.
Reading is taking words in a story and imaging the characters, worlds, and adventures created by them. Thing is, the reader needs a little help. They have to have a solid foundation to build upon and a road map to guide them along the way. Both, like the story, has to be crafted with care and the right balance of information and inspiration. The goal here is get rid of the obvious, illogical, and unbelievable and add the facts, considerations, and explanations. The subtraction and addition needs to be done in moderation so that the book doesn’t become so bloated and over-complicated that it confuses the reader or so dumbed down it bores them.
Trimming the fat
This phase requires a formatted manuscript and thinking with both the logical and creative side of the brain at once. An emotional connection has to be maintained with the story to keep the established voice, while at the same time, the writer has to be objective and look at the value of every word, sentence, paragraph, and page. No more creation can happen here, only horse trading where words and phrases are exchanged out or even deleted because they are filler, cliche, or cause the bad one word line and three line chapter endings. Sometimes whole chunks even disappear or have to be rearranged so that the story stays on point, keeps moving forward, and doesn’t wander off into “interesting, but . . . ” territory.
The microscopic review
Writing is as much about structure as it is emotional impact. A book could be perfect in every other way, but if the characters or story fails to connect with a reader, it still needs to some serious help. That’s why this stage is as important as it is difficult. The author has to become the reader. They have to play dumb and forget that they have piratically memorized the manuscript from so much intense work in the previous stages. They have to approach it like they are browsing a bookstore, whether online or in person, and this particular title catches their eye. Ask the simple questions of what makes the book work and what fails miserably and go from there. If by the end of the reading, the book still feels as natural and real as it did in the beginning, then congratulations, it’s done. If not, then figure out the issues and correct them.
Striving for perfection, but aiming for satisfaction
This overall ideal affects the whole writing process. Perfection isn’t something any human can achieve no matter how hard they try. If we could, we’d either be gods or this world would be a boring place. Also, the level of perfectness that can be introduced varies with the stage of writing / editing an author is at with their manuscript. First draft, it’s acceptable to throw out ninety percent of what is written and start again while with the last edit before publication, there has to be a justifiable reason for making even the slightest change.
Satisfaction is the tempered end to the quest for perfection. The story makes sense, the characters are believable, the plot holes filled, and the inconsistencies straightened out, but there’s still a typo or two. That doesn’t mean rushing back to beginning of the manuscript screaming that nothing’s done and everything has to be gone over yet again. If that happened with every typo, the manuscript would never turn into a book because it would be caught in an endless cycle of editing. It’s better to ask two simple questions and consider their answers very carefully before hitting the panic button. What is the context of the typo and will most people notice it? If a shrug ensures, then it’s probably okay and can be forgotten or handled in the next revision after the book has sold a few copies. If not, look at the type, study it, and figure out the least amount of change that will fix it.
No matter if all of the above things, or only a part of them, are done, pacing is important. There needs to a deliberate pause for reflection and stewing in between each of them. Most good wines are allowed to develop over time, writing is the same way. Rushing, even to meet a deadline, can only do one thing, cause mistakes and failures. By taking a moment to breathe and consider, impact and value can be measured.