Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Novella To Novel (In Progress)

So I wrote a novella over the summer that I liked so much, I decided to turn it into a novel. The novella was about 20,000 words long and the novel is currently about 65,000 words long. Here I'll tell you what the process has been like so far. This may sound like a very weird way to write a novel, but everyone does it differently.

I took about a two month break between projects and while I was bubbling with ideas at the beginning of those two months, I was unfortunately a little dry when it came time to start the novel. I had a couple of ideas I knew I wanted to explore and wrote them down, then I mostly just wrote whatever came into my head about some political and technological ideas I decided to throw in.

It was going a bit slower than I wanted it to, so I whipped out my secret weapon. My secret weapon is a reader of this blog to whom I give my personal deadlines. I realized months ago that I'm pretty good at meeting deadlines for other people, but can't meet my own. So I give this person my deadlines, and I work a lot harder to meet them. I had set a deadline of 100,000 words by the end of the year, but nothing any more specific. I realized I was falling behind quickly, so I made smaller goals with weekly deadlines. 7,000 words a week. Then things started moving.

Next some scenes started to gel so I wrote those. Now, for the most part, I wrote each of these chunks down after the body of the original story, in no particular order and whether or not they made perfect sense in relation to the rest of the story.

When I ran out of ideas, I read through the original story once more and added stuff, bits of dialogue and details, which led to more ideas for chunks of stuff to be added to the big mess at the end of the file. I was shooting for 100,000 words for the first draft but petered out at 65,000 words using this process. No sweat. This meant, for me, that it was time to move onto the second draft.

Some writers overwrite for their first draft and spend subsequent drafts cutting stuff out. Others underwrite and add. I'm one of those. So in preparation for the second draft, I picked up each one of those homeless chunks of text that came after the story and dropped it roughly where it fit in the story chronologically. I made new chapters for them if they were needed. Now, as I've said, they might not make perfect sense with the rest of the story, but that's going to be fixed later.

Once the chunks were distributed, I renumbered my chapters (I ended up adding sixteen chapters) and sketched an outline. I never begin with an outline. I write chunks, assemble them and then write the outline. The outline is just a list of chapter numbers, each with a one sentence description of what happens in the chapter. This way I can see the entire novel on a page or so. A handy reference.

The step I'm in now is to read through the story I've got, make little changes and write notes for bigger changes. After that, I'll make those changes and then see what's missing, what still needs to be written.

That's all I've got for now. There will be more than that, but I don't want to get too far ahead of myself. This novel will be the first one I've ever finished. The process I've described here, though, is the same sort of thing I use for my short stories. I start with unconnected scenes and fix it up later. Best writing advice I ever got? It was from my guitarist friend, Chris Simmonds, when we were teenagers:

Write what you've got.

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