To write a good book you need a lot of things; time, love (you have to love your story and it´s characters because you are going to live with them for a long time), pen and block (or a laptop), a camera. If you have the willingness to change your job, your friends, and your personal style it´s even better! There are a few rules to always follow during the writing process;
- Always keep everything you have written, drawn, painted or whatever, no matter how bad or uninteresting it might look.
- Always do each and every step of the writing process very carefully. If you miss anything it will be hard or even impossible to do the next steps.
- Never chose a genre. You can write whatever you want, and how you want it. Choosing a genre will just limit your writing. When you´re done with your story other people might put it into genres, but you will not do it.
- The reflections are like safety nets. If you do them too fast or don´t do them at all, you will miss important stuff and might have to redo all your work.
- You are allowed to brake any rules, and as many rules you want if you believe that it will be good for you story.
- This is how I do my writing process for the moment. You can do it any other way you want, and as I develop as an author I will change my way of doing things. Always question everything, and experiment yourself before you believe in anything someone else tells you.
- Have an open mind. Sometimes it´s easy to plan too much. I´ve experienced an uninvited character walking straight into the middle of my story, refusing to leave and asking to stay the night and get a role to play in the plot! In those cases it´s important to stop for a while. Have a dialogue with the character and see where it takes you. Maybe he/she/it will do something good for your story, who knows? Ready?
I´ll go throughout the following stages:
- Setting the scenes
- Plots making
- Time line
- Amount of words
Yes, a lot of reflection. It´s your safety net. It´s important.
Brainstorming (6 months – many years)
The first thing I do when I want to write a story is to absolutely brainstorm. This stage contains of a lot of writing. Everything is possible, acceptable, with or without logic. I write down every single word, character, line, sentence, title, scene, color, smell, taste, sound, feeling, question, dream or fantasy I might have. I write it down in the order it comes up within me in no particular order at all. I keep an empty piece of paper next to my bed so that I can write things down if I wake up with an idea in the middle of the darkness. Sometimes I paint my ideas, and I also use a lot of free-intuitive writing, to see if something more comes up that way. This is a very messy and creative step of the book-writng project. I put at least one month on brainstorming only, but sometimes it can be years. The important thing is to empty oneself of every single thing that could have something to do with a coming story.
Reflection ( 6 months – 1 year)
When I feel that I´m finished with the brainstorming I wait for a week or two. If I´m still finished, then I go on to reflect over what the brainstorming has given me. I ask my self questions; Are there any theme that comes back over and over again? What theme? Is there any kind of character, scene, act, words or anything else that comes back in my brainstorming over and over again? If there isn´t I have to go back to the brainstorming stage and keep on doing that. But if I find a red thread in my brainstorming, then I try to follow it. Grab a pice of paper and write down what you see; characters, scenes, actions, feelings, words – anything you see that comes back over and over again.
Characters ( 1 – 5 years)
At this stage you observe a lot, and write just a little. You need to be open to impressions, so let go of the pen and just take it all in! Working with my characters goes hand in hand with the work I´m doing with the scenes in my story. I try to live the way my characters do, at least for a while. That´s a great way of getting to know them, their situation, there feelings and to see life from their point of view. I have been in the most strange places and done strange things in the name of my writing. Some things are not even worth of mentioning here. I´m saying that I really try to live my story before I write it. And to observe; relations, actions, way of speaking, how people dress, how people move. Sometimes it´s also a good thing to take some photos with a camera, or to draw, as a compliment to the writing at this level. And no, if you don´t want to have that very odd job you can always observe people from your place at a coffee shop. I think it´s better to live the life of my character, but if you don´t want to be a *put any job or way of living here* for a while, then don’t.
Reflection (1 – 2 years)
Close your eyes and feel. The characters that you have gotten to know during the last stage – what are they telling you about themselves? What are they not telling you that you still need to know about them? If there is anything more you feel that you need to know – go back to the character stage and keep on doing that till you have all the information you need for now. Then come back to this reflection again. Ask yourself (just ask, don´t write yet); how many characters is there in your story? How many men, women and children? How do they dress, feel, relate to each other, what temper do they have, how do they look, act, walk, what are their best and worst memories, what is their job, what is driving them crazy, what´s making them happy, religion, culture, age, criminal records, favorite food, dreams, fantasies, interests, skills, where have they been and where are they going – you basically need to know as much as possible about them. More then you will tell your readers! This prevents an unexpected conflict from turning up in the middle of your writing. You would´t be too happy if a character living in the 1700-centrury suddenly happens to like The Beatles. A silly example, but you know what I have in mind. Done with your question and answer? Now – ask yourself all these questions again, and all the other questions you might have – and write down the answers.
Setting the Scenes ( 1 – 5 years)
There are great ways to set a scene. Go out and visit the places you think of! If you feel that your character is an alcoholic – visit an AA-meeting a couple of times. If you feel that your character is homeless; visits the homeless people of your town and talk to them. If you are to be writing a scene at a pub – go to the pub. But make sure to stay sober, you want to observe people. Look at how people are living, and write down every impression you got as soon as your are back home. You don´t write during your observations, keep your focus on what you are observing. Back home write it down even if you have many impressions going against each other, draw it, paint it, take photos of places that are similar to your scenes. It does´t matter if you´re good at drawing/painting, it´s for you memory, for your feelings, for your story. Nobody else.
Reflection (1 – 2 years)
Close your eyes and put your characters into the scenes you just created. Look at them, feel them; How does the characters relate to the scenes you just created? Will it work? If not, there is something wrong and you have to find the fault and redo something. But mostly it will work, you know where you are heading, it´s your story. Is there anything missing in your scenes – or you characters? What? Redo? If not, then write everything down; describe your scenes well; look, taste, smell, feeling, hearing. Animals? Weather circumstances? Fauna? Dangerous things? You do this for a long, long time, live in the world of your character just observing it, listening. When you are done with that – after a year or two, the you write as much as you can about it. Why not write it down immediately, you might wonder? Well, as soon as you write it down it might become a t ruth for you. Stay open, let you characters change, let the scenes change, let anything play around in your mind and change. When it doesn´t change anymore, then you´re done and then you write.
Plot Making (1 – 5 years)
It´s not really plot making, it´s rather plot listening. The plot of the story is mostly something that reveals itself when I´m doing all the other stuff. When I have set the characters into the scene it all starts living, and I´m living with it. Any time; on the bus on my way to work, when trying to fall a sleep, I go to the scenes and my characters and live with them. This is a stage of stepping back and observing again. Plots will turn up, no matter if I want them too or not. Just stay with it, listen, observe, feel, accept whatever happens. But whatever you do – do not try to tell you characters what to do. You are not writing the story, they are! You are just listening to what the have to say. And again, when you have heard it all, when there is stillness and silence within in – then you are done with the listening. Then you start writing it down, and write it down no matter if you like it or not.
Reflection (1 – 2 years)
I never ever pick the first plot that appears in my head. I write it all down. I´m like a child that listens to Mum and Dad when they are fighting, registering everything within me no matter if I like it or not. But I have to know my characters and the scenes before I can know/understand the plot. I have to understand all mu characters motivation, what they have to win or lose on that plot, the reasons for their behavior. When the plot listening is done, I start writing it all down. All! Then I chose a couple of them, the best ones. But I still keep and remember the other ones, everything can change at any time. I have an open mind. And I can have one big plot in a story and several smaller side-plots.
Time line (3 – 6 months)
You now have to decide when the story is happening. Use the knowledge you already have about your characters, the scenes and the plots. Is this telling you anything about when it is happening – in the past, in modern time or in the future? Or maybe it doesn’t matter when it is? You really have to make a decision here, a decision that never changes. One solution you can try is to set no time at all. This can be hard to make trustworthy, and I don´t recommend it if your new to writing. If you want to check out how this can be done, read the book Mr God, this is Ann written by Fynn. In this books things from different centuries turns up in the same scenes, and it´s well done. But hard, I warn you! The best thing is to decide when your story is set, and stick to that desiccation! It might be a century, years, months, days or even hours. When you have made your decision, make a time line.
On the same paper you draw a line, and on that line you mark the time, the scenes, the characters and the plots – everything in chronological order. I does not matter if you are going to tell the story in any other order, you have to do this time line in chronological order. It´s not done for the readers, it´s for you. You put the time, scene, characters and plots underneath each other in a column. Then number the columns. If I ask you about column number 5, you should be able to immediately tell me what time it is (century, year, month, week, day or hour), what characters are involved (name and who/how they are), the scene (place and how it looks, smells, feels), and the plot (what is happening in scene number 5? Who is talking to who, body languages). Don´t go into details, you are supposed to make the full story fit into one or two papers.
Reflection (1 – 6 months)
Again, reflect. Is this how you want to have it? If not – change it. Go back, redo until you are happy. You will spoil your story if you don’t do all the steps very carefully. And do this slowly. Do it all very slowly and with huge care. You want millions to read and like your story, don´t you? When you have reflected for a while, a couple of month, you have to write down your reflection. You need to be able to go back to eat, to read all the details from your reflection.
Synopsis (1 – 2 months)
Now it´s time to write your synopsis. A synopsis is your story outlined as you want to have it, but as a shorter version. For example, if I write a novel at about 60 000 words my synopsis would contain all the chapters with all its characters, plots and scenes. But the synopsis would probably be at about 4 000 words. I don´t write with too much detail, but I write down the full story. Can you see what I´m doing? For every time I write, I add a little bit more.
I recommend that you start with your synopsis by looking at your timeline. Decide what your chapters are; is it the scenes you mentioned in you timeline, or is it anything else. A good way of finishing a chapter is to do it in the middle of some important plot. That catches the reader. When you know where a chapter starts and when it finished – start to write down the content. I could easily say that this post is a synopsis because I would be able to write an entire book about my writing process at 60 000 words. I could go much deeper into every single paragraph, but since it´ a post in a blog and not a book… I´ll call it a post.
Reflection (2 – 4 months)
Again, I reflect. Now when I have written the story for the first time in its very short version; is there anything missing? Off course it is! It´s not that much written. What is missing? Whenever you work with your story – keep a block and a pen with you and remember to write down everything that turns up in your mind. Is there anything else you might need to brainstorm?
Feedback (as long as your friend needs, and then another 2 – 3 months)
When you feel really, really done with your reflection (slow down, do it properly) it´s time to show your short-story-version to another writer so that you can get feedback. Even better – give your synopsis to a couple of friends. The more people that read it, the more ideas, and feedback you´ll get. Good for you! And make sure you chose your “friends” wisely. Chose the ones who dares to criticize your work, the ones who dare to ask the difficult questions. It will be good for your story! While your friend(s) reads and reflects over your synopsis you rest from it. Forget about it! You need to get a distance from whatever you have written. When your friend(s) comes back with the feedback you sit down silent and listen to them one by one, take notes with your paper and pen. Don´t say a word. Your friend is the one questioning your work, you´re not questioning their feedback. Not for the moment, at least. Write it down, everything he/she says. You might not agree, but you write it down.
Then put that feedback away for some time, maybe two weeks. Again, forget about it. You will work with it somewhere back in your head anyway, but do something else for now. Then, when you get back to it again; read through the feedback and decide what you are going to change in your story, and what you´re not going to change. remembering the saying; Kill your darlings. That means that sometimes you actually need to delete something even if it happens to be the best thing you ever written. If it doesn´t fit into the rest of the story, you need to delete it. That means to put it away into some kind of archive and maybe use it in another story. Whatever you do – deleting or keeping – you need to motivate what you are doing. Do you have a motive resting on a ground of quality, or are you just being hurt because your friend didn´t like your writing?
Amount of Words (1 day)
Before you start writing you actually need to make another decision. You have all the chapters, scenes, characters, plots… but you need to decide yourself for how long your story will be. There will always be possibilities to make it longer. If you say “I don’t know” you´ll never finish it! Make a decision! That will help you to stay on track. Instead of floating out in meaningless long explanations you might keep it short and sweet. And instead of jumping too fast in the plot, you develop things. How many words do you want to write?
And before you start writing – how many words will you write each day? I´m actually bookkeeping the amounts of words I´m writing each day. It helps me to keep my discipline, and to know how many days I have been working and how many more days I need, and it gives me a fair feeling of the quality. Too short means that I haven´t developed the story well enough. Too long… I´ve been writing about crap just to write a certain amount of words. I already know what the story is about, the characters, plots and scenes, I also know myself as a writer – how I write – therefor it isn´t too hard to know how many words I´ll write in one story.
Writing (for as long as you decided according to the amounts of words written/day)
Now it´s time to start writing. When it comes to writing you have to remember all the work you have done. You might need, you will most certainly need, to go back from time to time and do some more brainstorming, reflection, character or scene making, or even work some more at your plot. Remember to use the people and places that surrounds you as recourses. And remember – you might need to kill some more of your darlings as you write. Sad, but truth. Keep them in a warm and nice archive.