Monday, November 23, 2009

Process Story RE: The Process of Writing a Novel

Last Wednesday, Kalayna posted about her writing process (crossposted here and here) and as a writer with the opposite type of process, I thought I'd expand on it.

(Turnabout is fair play!)

Kalayna has a very detailed pre-writing and writing process. I have no pre-writing process and a completely scatterbrained, I'm-sure-there-is-a-method-to-the-madness-in-here-somewhere writing process. You guys all know I'm a pantzer; we don't need to into that again.

But I have a really detailed revisions process. I revise in seven different waves. This process first came into existence with Aundroma, because I revised the first book so many successive times, each time looking for different things as I learned more and more about craft, that the waves just kind of happened. That very haphazard experience formed the basis for revising as I do it now. With Familiar, I think I finally got my revising method down to a solid process.

Wave 1: Macro-edits After the initial crazy first draft writing phase is complete and I've let the story rest for about a week, I read through the whole thing again and look for major plot holes, scenes that I meant to include but forgot about in the frenzy of writing, characters who appear out of nowhere or disappear with no explanation, and subplots that never resolve. I don't do any line editing in Wave 1. All I do is identify these major problems, make notes to myself on existing scenes detailing the changes that will need to be made, and write any new scenes that have to be inserted into the story.

Wave 2: Highlighting With Familiar I tried out the EDITS system, as taught by Margie Lawson and I am totally hooked on it. If you can get into one of her classes, do so. EDITS is fantastic. I go through my whole manuscript and highlight all of it using the EDITS technique. I do end up doing another round of reading through the manuscript at this point (it's hard to tell whether a sentence is yellow or green or blue without reading it) so I do also end up making some more notes to myself during Wave 2, but that is not the focus. It is important, I think, to note that I don't analyze the highlights at this point. All I do is read the sentences and classify them. Analyzing comes later, in much smaller chunks.

I call Waves 1 and 2 my second draft. This part of the process takes about a month. At this point I stop working with the manuscript as a whole and work waves 3 through 6 on each scene before moving on to the next scene. I won't look at the manuscript as a whole again until Wave 7.

Wave 3: Scene edits At this point, I break the story down into small chunks, usually scenes or chapters and go through a really detailed edit. This is where I look at the EDITS highlighting to make sure all my colors are balanced. I go through all those notes I made before and fix the random little issues. I make sure the flow of the scene works, that the tension is right, and that the story is moving the way I want it to.

Wave 4: Micro-edits Once I've got the scene just the way I want it, I start really drilling in line by line. I'm looking at this point for repeated words, excessive adverbs, passive voice, grammar issues, etc. This is also the phase where I start reading the text aloud, because I catch a lot of errors when reading out loud that I miss when reading silently.

Wave 5: Critique I am blessed with a fabulous critique group that meets once a week. I try to bring 10-20 pages to critique every week. I recommend every writer find a critique group. A critique partner is a must, but a group, in my opinion, is better. By getting multiple perspectives, from writers all over the board when it comes to genres and career levels, every scene gets filtered through a slightly different lens, which gives me a better overall view of what works and what doesn't. I don't always make the changes my critique group suggests, but they are pretty smart, so I go with their advice more often than not.

Wave 6: Scene polishing After the pages go through the group--assuming the group doesn't read them and tell me they just don't work at all and they need to be rewritten--I make whatever adjustments need to be made and give it one final look, making minor tweaks here and there. After that, barring a major story change occurring to me during the revision of later scenes, the scene gets locked. I put it in a separate file and don't look at it again until Wave 7.

Waves 3 through 6 make up the third draft. Now, assuming I've made it through the whole manuscript without going totally insane, we're back to working with the whole text once again for the last wave.

Wave 7: Final polishing After putting all these pretty revised and analyzed and critiqued and polished scenes back together into a manuscript, I have to go through the whole thing again on an overall level, just to make sure the whole things flows together right and that the overall plot arcs in the right way. If I'm lucky, I don't catch more than minor tweaking and transition smoothing here, maybe a balance here and there of the scene/chapter breaks.

Theoretically now my manuscript is perfect and lovely and ready to send out to agents and such. I try not to look at it again after this point, but I don't usually succeed at that. Invariably, a random little quirk here and there will occur to me and I'll open the document and make a quick change.

So that's my process. What about you? What's your process?

No comments: