Working on my third contracted book (to be published in December), I suddenly realized “I have a method!”
Since I first got serious about writing for publication, I’ve spent years working on craft and listening to authors describe how they write books.
For some, it is doing a lot of pre-work and outlining and then they can write a 100k book in 30 days (I can’t even imagine it!). For others, it is editing as they go along, so they have a finished product when they get to “the end.”
Well, I discovered I do have a method that works for me. And it only took five years and three books for me to find it! I call my technique layering, and I’m sure it’s not original. I think of the book like a layer-cake.
If you’ve been writing for any length of time, you probably have many of the raw ingredients it takes to write a book (a plot, characters, conflict, setting, etc.). But how do you put them together in a way that it ends up in a salable, completed manuscript?
Here’s what I do:
I think of the cake pan as the FRAMEWORK for the novel. What is the target audience? Is the novel a romance? Women’s fiction? A story of the character finding themselves? A suspense? Who is the targeted publisher? What is the goal word-count?
I also do extensive character work before I officially start writing the novel. I love and continue to use Donald Maass’s WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL WORKBOOK for his character exercises. I recently also discovered Noah Lukeman’s THE PLOT THICKENS, which also has good questions to answer about your characters.
I tend to plot by the classic 3-act structure and so before I start the first draft, I write down where my characters are in the Beginning, the three Disasters, and the Ending. This is all subject to change as I get into writing the novel, but I start with an idea of what these major plot points are.
This is my FIRST DRAFT. I write as fast as I can, as much as I can in each sitting, so that I stay “in character.” This helps me keep the character voices consistent and the book flows better for me. This draft tends toward the “bare bones.” It is usually shorter than the final word count will be (usually about 10k words short). I don’t have all of the characters’ physical movements in at this point, nor do I have all of the setting details in. I focus on dialogue and internal monologue.
And here’s a key thing that helped me turn off my internal editor during this draft. I use brackets.
If I’m writing something and I can’t find the [right][perfect] word (or I can’t choose between two), I bracket it and move on. When I go back through the novel in the second or third draft, I will take time to focus on word choice. I also use brackets for duplicate words (when I know I used the same word one sentence or one paragraph above or below), so I can go back and eliminate or change one of the usages later.
At this point, I do two things. 1) I send it to my critique partners, who will look at the large picture and find any plot holes, and they will also look at the characters and tell me if they are working or not. 2) I print out the manuscript in landscape layout with two columns of text (to look more like an open book). I also shrink the text and print front/back to save paper. Then I really start on my edits.
For this layer, I take a long, hard look at CONFLICT. Check out this post from last year on how I do this.
I make notations directly on the paper manuscript for things I want to change.
I will go back through the paper manuscript again, using a different color pen this time. During this layer, I look at my CHARACTERS. Are they acting in character throughout the book? Does their dialogue fit? Is it sharp and interesting?
During this layer I go back through the paper manuscript yet again, this time examining PHYSICAL MOVEMENTS and SETTING. Use a different color pen again.
Usually, by this time my crit partners have given me lots to think about. I’ll mark some of their comments in the manuscript too, for things I want to change.
I then sit down at the computer with my multicolored, marked-up, dog-eared paper manuscript and make the changes I’ve noted on my Word document. It takes awhile. This is what I call my official SECOND DRAFT, but it may be significantly different from the FIRST DRAFT, because I have (hopefully) upped the conflict, smoothed out any plot holes, and perfected my characters.
This is the last part, the finesse part.
First, I use a program called NoteTab Light (a free program). This program takes the text of my manuscript and counts the instances of each word used. This is an easy way to pick out my “weasel words” for the manuscript (they change for each new manuscript I write!). Then I go into Microsoft Word and highlight all the instances of those weasel words so I can cut some of them out.
I also highlight all the –ly words (although I end up leaving a lot of them in, I want to make sure not to overuse!), as well as “was,” one of my personal favorite passive verbs.
Then when my on-screen manuscript is all colorful, I will do a careful read-through and line-edit away all the brackets and highlights. This is as close to perfect as I will get the manuscript without help from my editor, who always manages to catch more instances of duplicate words or awkward phrasings.
From start to finish, my process takes a couple months for a 75k-word novel. It might not work for everyone, but it does work for me. Hope I’ve given you something to think about when you’re in editing-mode!
By day, Lacy Williams is a stay-at-home mom battling dirty diapers and dog-hair dust-bunnies. By night, she is a novelist whose debut book has been nominated for an RT Book Reviews 2011 Reviewers’ Choice Award. Her current projects include a screenplay and potty-training her little girl.
A GIFT FOR YOU
To celebrate her birthday this month, Lacy is doing a special gift giveaway for her readers. Visit www.megamaybirthdaybash.com for details.
Lacy has also offered to give away two copies (one paperback, one PDF) of her latest release, The Homesteader's Sweetheart. Watch for the winners' announcement in the next Weekend Edition!