As you may know, I am currently working on a yet-to-be-named dark urban fantasy novel that currently lacks a name. I’m dubbing in Free-Lancers Book 1 for the time being, and it’s about a young woman with mysterious powers who has to fight off a demon hell-bent on converting her to its master’s cause. To see what said cause is, who its master is, and how the poor girl copes with all this, you’ll have to read it because today isn’t about excerpts (there aren’t any yet) but about my writing process.
I decided to reveal the method to my madness because there seems to be a lot of confusion out there about techniques for writing stories, especially novels. There is no fool proof method for writing a novel, best-seller or otherwise, but I thought I’d share the method I’m using for this book, which I also used for Aral-Kahn.
Generally the process begins with an idea. Sometimes it’s a scene (usually the climax) or a scenario. Sometimes it’s a character. As a rule I don’t write down said idea until a day or two after I have it, because if it’s a good enough idea I won’t forget it. Typically during that time the idea sorta percolates in the back of my head, fleshing itself out and growing until I write down the basic scenario. From that basic scenario I weed out the hero and the villain. About this point I also start to think about ancillary characters and where they fit into the basic scenario. I start working out character profiles, typically starting with the hero and the villain and then working my way out to ancillary characters. From there I can proceed to do a LOCK.
LOCK is an acronym for Lead Objective Conflict Knockout. It’s both a guideline to help you keep your story on topic and a test to make sure your idea is actually workable as a story. For an idea to work, the protagonist and the antagonist have to have a clear, simple, and defined goal that puts them in conflict. This simple conflict is the engine that drives the entire story. The LOCK technique (outlined in the excellent book Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell) helps you to sketch out these conflicting goals in a very simple way. It gives you something to refer back to should you get lost in the story and need to get back on track.
Once I’ve done a LOCK for my protagonist and my antagonist, then I can begin to figure out the general layout of the story. I write in a three act structure. Typically by this point I know what the climax of the story is going to be, and a few details about the beginning. So I draw out a line and divide it between acts one, two, and three. Each dividing line on my timeline is what Bell calls a “Doorway of No Return”, an event that propels the protagonist kicking and screaming into the next act. You can think of them as the big turning points of the story, because that’s essentially what they are. So I plot out the inciting incident (the first thing that disrupts the protag’s everyday life in act one) and the 1st turning point (which propels the character into act two) on my line, along with the 2nd turning point which leads to the climax in act three. This leaves a huge gap in the middle, which is act two, and generally the most difficult part of the novel for me. There’s also a blank bit at the end for the actual ending of the story, which I don’t typically fill in until after I’ve worked out the second act.
Once all THAT is done, it’s time to break out the index cards. I set out the key turning points including my climax on the index cards, and I lay out blank cards for my missing scenes. Gradually, scene by scene, I fill in the gaps until I have every card filled. How I choose the number of cards varies by what works for the story, so there is no real hard and fast rule for that except that generally act one accounts for a quarter of the work, act two is one half, while act three makes up the remaining quarter.
Finally, the last step before actually writing draft one is to do a chapter by chapter summary outline based on my notecards. Oftentimes one card will equal one chapter, but that isn’t always the case. It just depends. The level of detail in the outline depends on my will power and how clear the idea for a scene is in my head. When I finish the summary outline, it’s finally time to start draft one.
Now I haven’t quite worked out a system for doing revisions, but once I have that more systemized I’ll have to let you guys know. Hopefully this is helpful for any writers out there who might be confused about how to go about planning a novel!