Friday, March 9, 2012

Novel Evolution

Whether you’re a plotter or a pantser your story, from the moment you have an idea, your book will go through several evolutionary changes. Make note of those changes because they will help you in subsequent endeavors.

I’d like to discuss the evolutionary stages of my book, Beta, and perhaps looking at the process, you may find something to help you with your stories.

Beta was supposed to be the sequel. The first, Alpha, I wrote in the late nineties. This was a time when I was still learning my craft, and while this first book didn’t fare so well at the beginning, it gave me a lot of material.

To all you pantsers out there, congratulations. I can’t do without an outline. When I have an idea, my thoughts attempt to visualize the story from beginning to end. Most of the time I have some interesting scenes I want to include, but I always know how the story ends. I don’t necessarily have all the details, but I know if the bad guy gets killed or escapes, and maybe some of the twists I’d like to include. For instance, I struggled for awhile on how I should end Beta. The question I had to answer was: Did she or didn’t she? What do I mean? Well, read the book and you’ll know.

My outline takes a few days to develop. I may have to do a bit of research to gather details on setting for scenes. For Beta, this meant driving to the various businesses around Des Moines to obtain descriptions of buildings, the surrounding landscape, and in a few instances, talking with people. I interviewed several people about their businesses. Most were receptive and a few were not. However, in one form or another, they all ended up being included in the story.

After the outline comes writing chapter one. As I move through the story, the outline will change due to circumstance about which I previously hadn’t thought. For example, Beta is set in November near Thanksgiving, which meant I had to take into account the sun setting earlier, the temperature fluctuations, and precipitation.

One of the biggest challenges I had with this story involved time. How much investigation does my heroine, Mallory, conduct during a single day and how long will each phase last. I had to take into account time for driving to and from different locations, how long she stayed at each place, and still leave time for her to attend her martial arts classes in the evenings. When the search for the kidnapped girl leads her to the Quad Cities, she partners up with a detective for a day. Once again, I had to drive the route, talk to people, visit businesses, note details. I enjoyed this part of the research because I gathered so many tidbits of information to include in the story. Time again became a factor because her day with the detective needed to last from morning until late afternoon. However, driving the route, I finished by noon. So, once again, the outline changed and I had to rearrange and tinker with some scenes.

So, after months and months of researching and writing, I finally finish the manuscript. Then I spend months and months editing and rewriting and reading to critique groups and making those appropriate changes. Fellow authors helped me to find areas for improvement. For instance, I needed to soften up my main character and add more masculinity to her secretary and the QC detective. I added a small scene to introduce a supporting character as well as a second chase scene with Mallory and one of the bad guys. Once again, the original outline changed, but for the better.

Your publishing house editors will also find mistakes and make suggestions. My editor noticed holes in at least two of my scenes and questioned me on them. Re-reading them (and how many times had I re-read everything and not seen these holes, I don’t know) I discovered how the scenes needed to be strengthened.

Alpha was a mess after I completed the first draft. However, I learned and improved for Beta. Taking what I had learned, I went back and rewrote Alpha and it is now the sequel, due out this year. It took a process of evolution to write both books. My outlines and the general plots never changed, I just added and deleted material as needed to make smooth flowing, strong, emotionally charged, and action-packed stories.

2 comments:

John N said...

So good to read about another writer who sweats out the outline.

Stephen L. Brayton said...

Thanks John. As I've mentioned in another post somewhere, for me, writing without an outline is like entering a cavern system with only ten matches.