Monday, 17 July 2017

My Drafting Process

So, did I mention that I finished my first draft of Prince of Blades?

Let's celebrate again....

Okay, got that out of my system. Moving on...

This was the first time for me actually writing a full novel from start to finish, and my drafting process changed as I plodded along. I found a way of writing that really works for me, keeps me productive, and ensures that I never get stuck along the way. I wanted to share my process with you in this post.

NOTE: This is just MY way of doing things. Every writer is different and this isn't going to work for everybody, but it works for me. Take my words with a pinch of salt, I am not Author God, but if you have found yourself stuck in your own drafting process, or you're simply reluctant to start because writing a book feels waaaay too daunting - then try my way and just see how it goes.

NOTE 2: I am an outliner. It's the way I do things, and my method is very structured. For all you pantsers out there, this may not be the best method for you, but feel free to tweak away and try and make it work.

Before I started drafting, I made a pretty extensive outline for my entire book. This outline changed a fair bit along the way, but the story remained the same. I can't work without knowing where I'm going - I just can't. So I made my outline and I went from there. In my outline, I detailed all of the chapters I wanted to include, what order they should be in, whose perspective they should be in, and noted briefly what would happen in that scene.

Here's an example of Chapter 1 from Prince of Blades taken from my actual outline:

Yes, it's very brief, but at a glance I know what that chapter contains and a few little details I want to include. The text is coloured blue because this chapter is from Bianca's POV - the pink chapters belong to Cresseida. My entire outline looks like this.

Drafting an entire book can feel so intimidating. There's so much story to tell! So I just took it scene-by-scene, chapter-by-chapter. To begin, I looked at the chapter I wanted to work on and began breaking it down in more detail. I make another, much more detailed outline of THAT CHAPTER ONLY. That's right, an outline within an outline. Things are starting to feel a little Inception-y but hear me out! It's less complicated than it sounds...

So I start with the very basics - who is in this scene? You have your main characters and you probably know what they will be doing - but what about everyone else? Are there any side characters in this chapter? Do they need to be there? If yes - give them something to do. Don't just have them stood around idle waiting for their turn to speak. What about any extras? Townspeople - even animals! Work out exactly who is in this scene and how they contribute to it.

Next, what I like to do is involve the senses. Your setting becomes so much more real, and your writing more immersive if you think about and include sensory descriptions. List each one and brainstorm how they apply to your scene. For this example I am imagining a scene in a bustling city harbour. Here's how I would break it down:

SEE: (this is the biggest one, and you'll probably have the most to say about it. Keep it brief, you can expand on everything later, you just need to know what your characters can see). Red-stone pavement. Wooden docks. Various ships of various sizes docked in the harbour and surrounding bay. Market stalls line the road selling refreshments for arriving sailors and last-minute wares for departing ones. It's a bright, sunny day. The harbour is bustling with people. Adults, children and animals alike.

HEAR: The hustle and bustle of busy people. Calls of stall-holders. Dogs barking. Gulls squawking overhead. Waves gently lap against the hulls of boats.

SMELL: (This is my favourite sense to explore in a scene and I find it can really give it dimension). Baking pastries. Sweet-scented flowers from the mountainside. Salt water carried on the sea breeze.

TOUCH: This is a tricky one. Are your characters going to interact with any of the scenery? Think of what that feels like: the course, brittle fibres of the rope ladder as your character climbs up onto a boat, the cool metal of the ship hull. You could also think about how the floor feels beneath their feet, how the wind feels on their face and in their hair etc.

TASTE: An even trickier one. Obviously, if your characters are eating anything, then describe it. Does the air have a taste to it? Has your character been in a fight in the previous chapter and can still taste the blood in their mouth?

Now that you have all of the senses explored, you can start to insert elements into the scene as you write it. Don't dump sensory descriptions on the reader all at once, weave them through the narrative as you build the story around them.  

When you've done all of this, you can start mapping out your scene. Everything you've done so far will really help you visualise as you write, and hopefully make things easier. I find this bit fun. Don't worry about making the prose perfect - or even writing in full sentences - just flow down the page and jot down all of your ideas for this chapter. Work out what happens from start to finish, and all of the little bits in between. You are just brainstorming the scene, not actually writing it.

Sometimes I think of a beautiful setting description, witty lines of dialogue, or a whole passage that perfectly sums up a moment - other times I can only come up with a few words that indicate what needs to happen here. I couldn't find an example in my own work that didn't give away too many spoilers, but just think of it like the stepping stones of your chapter - how to get from A to B. You are working out your scene from start to finish so that when it comes to writing it, you won't get stuck wondering what happens next. As you go, keep an eye on your sensory descriptions and figure out where you can place them into your scene when it's relevant to mention them.

After that - you are FINALLY ready to start writing. It should be easy by this point, you are just fleshing out what you already have on the page. Turn your ideas into full sentences and those sentences into paragraphs, slowly building the scene. Write well, but don't worry too much. You will come back to this scene a million times during revisions and will have a chance later to perfect every word. For now, just worry about getting the words down.

Then all of a sudden, hey presto - you have written a chapter!

Now you just need to repeat the entire process again and again, chapter after chapter until you have a complete first draft - that's where I'm at now. It may sound complicated, and some of you might just want to sit down and write and see what comes out - that's great too! I'm just telling you how I do it, and breaking the scenes up this way really helped me.

I am currently making slow but steady progress through the first round of edits I have just edited chapter 3....of 48, and I am finding it really fun reading through some of the stuff I wrote so long ago (I wrote the first half of this book in NaNoWriMo 2016!)

I hope this post was helpful in some way, I know I love reading about how other writers work.
Happy drafting and I will speak to you soon


(all pictures and gifs sourced from google unless stated otherwise)

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