Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Building a Novel: My Writing Process

Yesterday I completed *drum roll* my eighth manuscript. I've had a lot of people ask me how to write a book and the picture above shows some of my tools. But this is a summary of how I do it:

  1. Start with a premise statement--what's the story about.
  2. Write a 2-3 page general outline of what I want to happen in the book and the sequence of major events.
  3. Research, research, research. Ask questions and research some more.
  4. Develop my characters. This is a long process. I developed a character profile table from the concepts in Marc McCutcheon's Building Believable Characters. My profile sheets are really quite extensive, but all major characters in your book need a backstory--where did they come from, what are their beliefs, what sort of social/economic situation did they come from, what were they teased about as children...the list goes on for pages. Then, I'll pull out Are You My Type, Am I Yours? by Renee Baron & Elizabeth Wagele and determine my main character's personality type--Is my protagonist a Perfectionist or a Peacemaker? There are nine personality types in this book, which also discusses how they interact with each other.
  5. At this point, I still haven't written a word of my novel. I open up my spreadsheet outlining template (in the center of my picture above--actually I keep a notebook for ever novel). This template lists every scene, and is a living document, in that it changes as my story unfolds. But the conflict and outcome of every scene is carefully planned before the scene is written.
  6. Now I roll up my sleeves and write the first couple of chapters, print them out and pick them apart. Is the setting vivid? Are the characters plausible? Is there too much backstory (a common mistake)? Are the characters acting the way they should according to their profiles? Does the first page grab the reader? What about subsequent pages? Is the story heading in the right direction? Is there enough conflict? How's the pacing...and a hundred other questions.
  7. Then I write the next 10,000 words and ask all the questions in #5. One thing to note here is that I really get to know my characters by 10K words. This gives me the opportunity to go back and polish their thoughts and actions in the beginning.
  8. I review again at about 150 pages, and again before writing the ending.
  9. After my final "draft" review, I plot the ending and then write it. 
  10. Have a glass of champagne. The first DRAFT is done. I stress draft, because that's what it is. In no way is it ready to go out.
  11. Next, I go though it about 8-10 times. Things to edit for: Setting, Characterization, Voice & Deep Point of View...edit out "she felt", "she thought", "it seemed", Syllabic, Story Completeness, Plot & Plausibility, Repeating Words, Chapter breaks, also for a romance I edit for sexual tension... FINALLY edit for Grammar/Spelling. 
  12. Get as many people to read it as possible and apply their feedback.
Then I have a completed manuscript that is ready to send out to the industry. TWO GLASSES OF CHAMPAGNE! 

A couple other books that I rely on: The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi and Rivet Your Readers With Deep Point of View by Jill Elizabeth Nelson.

What are some of your tricks to building a novel?

Write on Friends!


  1. Thanks Amy, you've given us a wonderful overview. I'm going to check out a few of the books you mentioned, they sound fantastic, especially Building Believable Characters and Are You My Type.

  2. Woohoo! Congratulations on finishing your book yesterday! (Well, the first draft, at any rate, because, as you said, there's still a lot of work to go.)

    I love your instructions on how to write a novel. I bet that will come in very handy; you can just send the link off to people any time they ask you now.

  3. Arriving at these 12 steps has been a long road fraught with mistakes...but s-l-o-w-ly I am climbing the ladder :-)

  4. Once again you have given of yourself to those of us struggling to actualize. Thank you Amy!

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  6. Amy, wonderful article, and I love the champagne idea -- it would go well with a little chocolate, don't you think?

  7. Oh yes, champagne and chocolate sounds fantastic!