Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Perfect Novel Writing System

We've spent the last 7 months talking about the process for writing a novel, from the spark of idea to getting your commas right.

Once upon a time I thought I would eventually find some magic system for writing a book. I'm a girl who loves to organize, and I thought one of these days I would find a method that made my plots work perfectly the first time, my characters fleshed out from page one, and a variety of other ludicrous notions.

But after writing The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series plus 3 other manuscripts I'm hoping will get snapped up one of these days, I've become more comfortable with the idea that there is no perfect novel writing system. I've made peace with the reality that I will always have room to improve.

Sure, I have things that generally work well for me. Like editing the big stuff before focusing on details. But it's impossible to say, I always do my synopsis, then write my first draft from start to finish. Because sometimes I have to make time for character journals. Or edits on other books. So don't waste your time putting together some kind of 1, 2, 3 checklist for novel writing and insist on following it each and every time.

Be open to trying new techniques, and at the end take time to evaluate what worked for you and what didn't.

Last time, on my work-in-progress Playing Kitchen, I tried a Scene Breakdown Spreadsheet. This worked fine for me for, like, 3 chapters. Then the story veered, and while I occasionally glanced at my spreadsheet in hopes of finding guidance for my next scene, I don't think creating an SBS is very time-efficient for me. So I won't do it.

For my current WIP, Lost or Found, I had just read The Story Template by Amy Deardon, and I'm trying a couple new things. Some will work their way into my routine, and others won't.

What about you? Have you discovered something new that works? Something that doesn't?


  1. Okay, sorry about the funky comment stuff going on here recently. We're switching back to the old format. Here are the comments that were eaten in the process that I'm thus far unable to retrieve:

    "Clarebear" said: When I'm writing I've found what works best for me is to not plan too much. If I try to plan everything that my characters do/say, then my dialogue suffers. What works best for me is when I have a few vaugue plot points that answer the questions like "What's the point of the scene?" and "What does the reader need to feel while reading this?" Then I write. If I try to plan every detail, I somehow lose some of the magic. After I write a rough draft of that particular scene, then I plan more. It might not be the most efficient way to do it, but that's what has always worked best for me. :)

    Roseanna said: I don't think I've ever used the same system twice. =) For me, it depends partly on the story and how well fleshed out it is in my mind, what my writing situation/environment is at the time, and how involved the story is. For Jewel of Persia, I needed a half-sheet of paper to outline every scene. For Annapolis, I had a page of notes with "don't forget this" stuff, but little by way of serious plotting. For my current WIP, I've got quite a lot of notes, a fairly detailed synopsis I'm going off of, and some (so far) vague plotting. But part of the fun is discovering what you need for a particular story. Or so I will tell myself. ;-)

    Sananora said: I've never been able to write an outline. I did it once for the first three chapters and it made me not so excited to continue, plus it took forever to get out of my 'outline' writing and back into my normal writing (if that made sense).
    I always feel like the reader more than the writer when I write a book. So, maybe the outline takes some of that away. Anyway, I've survived the first draft of a book with only three chapters or so of outlining.
    Whenever I get an idea of a scene or something I always write it then I usually just have to connect the dots.

  2. A "system" that is working on my WIP is taking my entire story idea and breaking it up into five "acts" or "parts." This worked really well for me when I wanted to jumpstart my plotting process, because all I had to work with were a couple of vague plot points (mostly a beginning and an ending) with a lot of gray area where I didn't know what was to happen in the middle.

    I can safely say that it is working supremely well as I write the first draft (I'm almost through and haven't veered...much). But, as Roseanna pointed out, I may do something differet next time. And I'm okay with that, too. I like learning new ways of writing novels!!

    By the way, thank you for switching back, Stephanie. The other way was great, but...I'm glad to have the easier commenting format back. :)

    Sananora, "I always feel like the reader more than the writer..." ME, TOO! There's certain aspects where the words are just flowing and I'm just the instrument.

    Okay, really long comment coming to an end now.


    The End.

  3. Your "screech" cracked me up, Rachelle. I debated for a LONG time this afternoon about switching back. The other system had a couple benefits, but they were mostly admin ones. Honestly, a big part of switching back was that I missed seeing everyone's faces.

    Maybe this is a weird thing to say (seeing as I'm the one writing most the blog posts here) but it really comforted me to read all these comments verifying I'M NOT THE ONLY ONE WHO ISN'T PLANNING MUCH when it comes to plot. Sometimes I feel like I'm some kind of unevolved writer since I don't outline/storyboard/plot and so forth.

  4. The only thing I really plot out when I'm writing is the chapters. :) Its really helped me become more organized and I can stay on track to where I want to with the story easier.
    The whole plot of the book however, not so much lol. I don't plot out that, I have most of the big stuff locked away in my brain and usually I just brainstorm on things I think would be cool for the story and write it in. :D

  5. Glad I could make you laugh. Honestly, it cracked me up and after I clicked 'post comment,' I thought it probably wasn't that funny. Oh, well, glad I was wrong. :)

    I missed seeing everyone's faces, too. :)

  6. I'm glad you switched back too :) Though, it worked better after I figured it out the first time.

    I don't have a much of a face... :D

  7. Hi everyone!
    What I like to do is to let the story show me what is going to happen next. This sometimes can be hard though.:)

    P.S I like seeing everyones faces again!

  8. I am an outliner. I really have to have an outline in order to finish a book. That's actually the basis of my writing technique. I know a lot of people say outlining is bad, but it keeps me on topic. And, no one ever said I can't play with my plot and characters mid story!

  9. Joe, I think it's so important to find what works for YOU. And if an outline works, then great! Outliners usually have way less rewriting to do.