My Writing Process: planning it out
One of the questions I get most often is "How do you write?" Ok, it's usually some variation, but in the end, that's what it comes down to. Things like when I send my manuscript to beta readers, how I build my worlds, and if I'm a plotter or a pantster. Over the last five years of doing this, with three now as a full-time author, I've tweaked things to work well for ME. I'm also still tweaking them, but let me tell you how it works. As my readers know, I'm an insanely prolific author. I love writing. I enjoy the process, and I have this little mini-game of trying to make it more and more efficient for myself. Right now, I think we're pretty close to perfect. And yes, I said we, because in order to do this well, writing books is NOT a solo activity. How it starts:
Every series I have starts with an idea. It could be anything from a character concept, a world idea, or a conflict I want to work out. Maybe a trope, like enemies to lovers? Whatever it is that's calling to me, that's the seed. From there, I have to build it out, and this is where my Enablers come in.
They're a group of three women - Lizzy, Kylie, and Kitty - who enjoy my writing, have become close friends, and are willing to speak up and shoot down my ideas. When I have an idea, I start to build it up while talking to them, and any time it gets into the weird zone, they speak up. Things like "But why would an elf want to live underground?" or maybe "what does the mafia boss care about some journalist who is going to expose his criminal empire? Wouldn't he just kill her?" The things that break plausibility. They find them and make me explain or change it. From there, we talk about it. A scene, a character, a concept. Doesn't matter. We let the concept breathe a bit, taking on its own life, and getting a feel. Once we know what we want, then it's time to answer the four questions that every book depends on.
What makes a story:
1. Who is the story about?
2. What do they want?
3. What/who is stopping them?
3a. Why and how is it stopping them, and does it have its own goal?
4. Do they win or lose?
From there, I sit down and begin a plot outline - kinda. I use google docs for this so my enablers are there with me, ready to call out anything that sucks or doesn't make sense. So, first, you plan out how we're going to mee the character.
But let me break in there. A lot of novice authors want to start the book with a chapter that explains all the cool shit they thought up. Don't do this. You'll have your character wake up on a normal day - the day everything changes! - and look in the mirror so you can describe her. And in the middle will be big blocks of narration explaining how amazing she is, how smart, beautiful, ordinary, or whatever. How she's always noticed this THING that is going to become special, or how lonely she is. BORING!
Introduce her in the middle of shit going wrong. Maybe it's a breakup. Maybe the monster is about to eat her. Maybe we need to know that she's a college grad, a mom, or the most super special of all specials. Don't care. The readers don't know her, don't care about her, and it will come off as trite and make them hate her. Start with something changing, usually for the worse, and toss that bitch right into the story.
Ahem. But, as I was saying, you make a sentence about the beginning. Our girl is being chased through the woods by a monster. Then you hit the next bullet point, which is the hook. This is where everything changes. Say, a group of guys appears from nowhere to save her. The next point will be when she figures out what is really going on. Then what the source of conflict is. After that will be the final confrontation, and then the ending (win or lose).
Not much for a plot, right? So fill in the gaps. How does she get from being chased by a monster to the guys saving her? Once they do, how does she react? Fill in the gaps, and then fill in those gaps. Eventually, you'll have a pretty good idea of how things flow.
For me, I use a basic bullet system here. By the time I'm done, I pretty much have a general outline for each chapter. Then, I convert those little round bullets to numbers, and BAM, it looks like I know what I'm doing! In reality, I'm just kinda telling the story to my friends. This is why it's easier to do it with company, see. If we try to do it alone, it's "plotting" and BORING! Why can't I just write it out? But when I do it with friends, it's STORY TIME! I'm all like, "Yeah, so she goes here, and she has her hair like this, and then she spits at this guy, but he's a dick, yet he wants her... (I write romance if you couldn't tell). And, after talking it all out, I kinda have a general idea. So I write a bullet line that says, "FMC goes here, has confrontation with Guy 1 who wants her. They do not get off to a good start." And move on. That line, right there, is an entire chapter, see? The dialogue, the body positions, the bickering... it will all flesh itself out, and the characters will be able to breathe on their own and not become puppets that feel flat.
Repeat ad nauseum until all the pieces make sense. Warning: you will not get it all. Somewhere in the middle of the writing process, your chapters will jumble up, and you'll have a bit of 5 in 3, and some of 4 will want to wait until 12 to come out. That's fine. You'll get down to 27 and realize that you're off course and need to rethink that point because the magic sword was destroyed in 16 now.
All of that is fine. It lets the world be true to itself instead of to your puppet mastery. So long as you stay in the general area of the path you worked out (e.g. FMC is going to slay the dragon) then you're still doing GREAT!
But if you're writing a series...
One thing a lot of people never consider is that the first book in a series has to tie in to the last. Series have an overall goal. In other words, if all of your focus and attention is on the very first book, what will you do when it's time to end the series? Do you even know when it will end? Are you just going to write 100 books in a row and hope the readers don't get bored of that? Is there even a bigger goal, or should this have just been a standalone in the first place, but you aren't ready to let the characters go?
Because series should be tied together. Each book should progress toward the ultimate goal. Maybe the characters don't KNOW the end goal in book 1, but the author should. So, before you write the first word of your book - too late, I know - consider how it will all end.
Then make a list of that. Book 2 will be about turning the dragon to their side. Book 3 is about freeing the dragon. Book 4 is about one of the team turning on them because the dragon master wants his dragon back and is willing to pay enough to corrupt the trusted friends. Whatever. Mark your ideas down, and get all the way to the ending of freeing all dragons and releasing magic back into the world (or whatever. I'm honestly whipping up this idea as I go.)
But now, we know (using my hypothetical example up there) that releasing magic is a main goal of the story. Just knowing that means it will leak into the other books. Conversations about a time when magic existed, characters who don't believe in it, people questioning why it even matters, and magic clinging to the dragon. All of those things are what makes the world LIVE. If you don't know it before you write it, you can't leak it into the story.
So plan ahead. Trust me, it really does help, and it's fun when you do this with friends - even online friends through private chats, emails, or whatever. Real friends by sitting down for a coffee and gabbing about this crazy idea.
My most important piece of advice for anyone thinking about being an indie author:
This is the bit that NO ONE wants to hear. Right now, you're so damned excited about your book. You feel proud of yourself for even trying (You should!) and you just want to get done and get it out there so you can prove you're a "real author," right? STOP!
Do not publish the first book of your series until you have finished the rough draft of the final book. TRUST ME on this. It may take forever, but it'll be worth it. Otherwise, you run the risk of your audience losing interest when it takes you too long to write it. You get to book 5 and figure out that you made a mistake in book 3 that ruins everything. That guy? Yeah, he was her brother, not her father. Crap, too late now without some cheap and cheesy excuse.
Plus, by the time you write the last book, you will have grown as an author. Go back and re-read the first book. You'll find icky phrases. You'll see ways to make it better. Clean that shit up, and then you can consider a publishing schedule. You've already bought yourself time to save up for covers. You already got an editor booked and won't need to pay rush fees. You can do this now.
So, just trust me. Don't plan on publishing the first book until the last is done.
And next, I'll discuss my writing process, and how I have streamlined it to cut down on wasted time and waiting for others. All those things you wondered, like where do betas fit in? Yep, we'll get to that.