I was struggling for an idea for this week’s blog post that didn’t have to do with my EXTREMELY slow revision on the now-titled Shadow of the Necropolis. Work is still underway on the final draft, but I’ve been dragging my feet since I decided to insert a couple of all-new chapters in this draft. Which requires, *gasp* actual writing. As soon as I finish drafting this blog post, though, I’ll be diving back into revision.
So, this week, I decided to discuss my drafting style a bit. It always fascinates me to hear how other writers work, whether they dive in with only a vague idea of plot and characters, or map everything out on giant whiteboards.
I am DEFINITELY a plotter. I don’t have an enormous whiteboard, but I create a fairly detailed outline before writing down a single word. So I don’t confuse myself, and to give you a better broken-down visual, I’m going to separate my process into sections.
1: The Idea Phase
The Idea Phase is one of my favorites. I primarily write YA fantasy, so the initial idea, and fleshing it out, is so exciting to me. I get to create entirely new worlds! Most of my ideas come from “what if?” questions that pop into my head, sometimes from other books I’ve read, sometimes not.
Another great resource for me in the Idea Phase is Pinterest. I can’t tell you the number of story ideas I’ve gotten just from a single image or two. I save everything that inspires me to a catch-all novel ideas board. I’m very image-driven, so if I see something that sparks an idea, I love having the image there to refer back to throughout the writing process.
Shadow of the Necropolis was sparked, strangely enough, by an episode of CBS’s Under the Dome (based on the Stephen King novel of the same name). In one of the episodes, the dome goes entirely black, plunging everyone into darkness and causing chaos. What if, instead of a town, an island was plunged into an unnatural darkness thought to be the work of the gods? How would that affect the population? Blending that with my longtime love for Mayan mythology, I was off!
2: The Plotting Phase
I’ve tried lots of different outlining strategies over the years. My first novel, Soulreader, was primarily plotted with note cards spread out over my bedroom floor. Even though I enjoy a good visual, the sight of so many notecards overwhelmed me. I couldn’t rearrange them in my head.
I’ve created an actual bullet point outline in Word, and a color coded outline in Excel. Both work pretty well, with points going to Excel for the ability to see a bit more at a glance.
Still, my favorite plotting device is probably Scrivener. I got it half off after winning NaNoWriMo one year, and I’ve used it intermittently ever since. I’ll admit, I’m still not 100% sure how to work all its features, but I like that I can keep everything in a single project folder, instead of having multiple Word docs open at once. I actually lost Scrivener in January when my hard drive crashed, so I should probably download it again…
In the plotting phase, I generally have ideas already for a few key scenes. Sometimes I have a beginning in mind, a major disaster or two, and, if not the ending, a scene pretty close to it. I tend to gravitate towards Randy Ingermanson’s “Snowflake Method” (as described in Writing Fiction for Dummies). It doesn’t work for everyone, but something about it clicked with me.
The idea is that you build your story from the ground up, going from basic to increasingly complicated, like going from a basic polygon to a multifaceted snowflake. You start with a one-sentence synopsis of your story, slowly working up to a paragraph summary, a one-page summary, then building a detailed outline from there. Some people prefer to write a stream-of-consciousness long synopsis, then whittle it down from there. Whatever works for you!
Once I have a pretty workable outline, it’s time to start drafting!
3: The Drafting Phase
Once I have my outline, with a sentence or two summarizing each scene, I’m good to go. Drafting typically doesn’t take me too long. I draft quickly to get the bare-bones shape of my story down on paper. If I’m really feeling it, I can crank out 2000-3000 words per day, which usually gets me finished with the first draft in a month or so.
My first drafts of both Soulreader and Shadow of the Necropolis clocked in at about 65,000 words. Not a bad word count, especially for YA, but fantasy is usually a bit longer to accommodate the extra world building. I write quickly, without stopping to slow down and add in details of the world, even if I have the details in my head. My first priority is getting the basic story down.
In later drafts, my revisions usually consist of bulking up, adding extra words, even entire chapters, to strengthen the story and flesh out the characters and setting. Both novels I’ve written have grown to 80,000+ words after revision, which is pretty typical for a YA fantasy book.
That’s about it! I would promise a follow-up on my revision style, but it’s a mess, quite honestly. I’m so tentative about revision that it takes me FOREVER to get a semi-polished draft, and I’m never sure when to stop editing, when it’s finally ready for eyes other than my own.
Hence, my current dilemma with Shadow of the Necropolis. It’s been 3 years. It’s probably almost done…. right?
Post-Script: Books I’ve Read Since my Last Post
War Storm by Victoria Aveyard
Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman (**audio**)
The View from the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman (**audio**)
Robin by Dave Itzkoff