Today (and I know it’s Friday not Wednesday) I thought I’d revisit the subject of ‘The Process’. I’ve looked at it before but I thought I’d try to go into some more depth this time and include phases that I *intend* to include during the writing of ‘Riding the E-Rail’ as well as those that I’ve employed while writing the Camelot 2050 Trilogy.
So, it all starts with an idea. A setting or situation that speaks to you and stirs your creativity. Whether it’s a re-telling or re-imagining of something that’s gone before or an original concept it doesn’t hurt to do a little research into what’s already out there before you start. The closest properties I found to the Camelot concept before I started was an short-run comic book, ‘Camelot 3000′ by DC comics and a Saturday morning cartoon show, ‘Arthur and the Knights of Justice’ by Golden Films. But, realistically neither of these came close to my vision of a modern day Camelot. The main reason for this initial research is to help avoid copywrite or plagiarism claims later down the line.
Once you’ve got you inspiration it’s time to start planning. Now it doesn’t matter how you plan. I have a broad overview of themes and the main story in my head and fill in the blanks as I go, you might want to draft the story lines that are going to feature, create short biographies for the main characters and some settings notes too. For E-Rail I have drafted a broad scope history of the events that have led to the current Galactic social and political climate; which might sound daunting but it’s in no way and in-depth history.
Another planning tool that I use is this, when I have an idea I *don’t* write it down immediately. I sit on it and see if the idea stays with me for a few days and, if it proves memorable I use it. This applies to larger elements of the meta-plot all the way down to lines my characters speak to each other.
Once you’ve assembled your notes and research in a way you’re happy with it’s time to block out the sequence of the main events, the high points that drive your story along. In theater and the movies ‘blocking’ is the process of planning the movement of actors and cameras on stage but for us writers it’s more about arranging events into a satisfying sequence. You can plan flashbacks and other such narrative tools and then see how they actually work out in practice.
Once you’ve blocked out your story it’s time to write the First Draft. You’ve probably got an idea of the overall length you’re aiming for and it’s good to hold that in mind but don’t let it restrict you if you go over or disappoint you if you fall short. My aim during the Camelot books was 100k per novel and the first two dropped a couple of thousand words a piece but ‘Dark Magic’ ate up that dropped word count and asked for more. So the series, in all, turned in at a little over 300k and I’m happy with that. For Camelot I also settled on a chapter length of 2.5k each, for E-Rail I’m looking at 3k and that adjustment has taken a little getting used to. Now, some very famous authors don’t use chapters (Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series for one) and some break their books down into smaller book sections so there are many options open to you in that respect.
The thing about a first draft for a first book is that it will take time. It takes time to ‘find your voice’ as a writer, your style and flare so, if you feel it’s dragging out and you *should* be doing better don’t worry about it. ‘Should’ is a bad word that makes us feel bad when we’re not writing or not writing as fast as others. Taking breaks for a day or a few days is nothing to feel bad about, sometimes the well of creativity needs time to restore itself.
Now, with Camelot I never did a second draft. I reviewed as I went and, for a time, that hobbled me to the first few chapters going back and rewriting over and over again and I’d advise against that, it’s a trap! As they say. My writing developed far faster when I was writing new material than it did rewriting what I’d already done. Also it got boring fast so, my advice is to forge ahead and be patient until you get to the next stage. As far as Camelot was concerned, once I had the edits done that was it. I refused to second guess myself and I had a few test readers opinions to bolster that attitude. As a result Camelot is pretty raw still but that works for the story in my opinion.
The Second Draft. This is where you can edit your punctuation, spelling and grammar (and Do, do that but don’t feel like you need a professional, a knowledgeable friend will do) and then take all that you’ve learned about your writing style and spread it evenly throughout your book. This is is the time to polish dialogue and address and lines or sentences that might be confusing on first reading because that’s a big no-no. If a reader has to reread sentences or sections they’re likely to put the book down and not pick it up again. Read aloud, it’s a fundamental tool to polishing your language. I didn’t do that for Camelot and (while I still enjoy my story) I’ve read back and there are some lines I missed. Down the line there’ll probably be a re-edit of the entire series and a re-release of the final, finished project.
Once the Second draft is done it’s time to find yourself some Beta Readers. Now, an Alpha Reader is someone who is familiar with the writing process so an editor or another author and, by this point you might’ve had that already. Beta Readers are more representative of your intended audience and that’s the important part. You’ll want to find individuals whose opinions you’ll listen to. If you’re intent on not listening to criticism you might as well skip this step entirely so, if you are prepared to listen you want to be sure it’s coming from a source you hold in some regard. That’s not to say that you do have to listen but you have to be prepared to at least think about it, consider it, and then either implement a change or not. While you might have had some praise or criticism from your Alpha reader, the Beta stage is where you’ll get a more representative idea of how your book will be received by your intended audience.
Once you’ve made any final changes based off the Beta read through; Congratulations! You have a manuscript and everything from this point on is formatting.
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