Monday, November 30, 2009

Birth of a Book

This week, I'm posting about the formation of a book. From first word to final product, from a small press author's point of view.

Today's Post: The Birth of a Book
  • The Dossier
  • The First Chapter
  • The Ugly Middle
  • The ReDo
  • Rushing to the End
  • The End
  • Constant Edits
Okay, many people do this many ways. I'm going at this from MY experiences. This is the way I do it. No one way is right, it's whatever works for you, personally. That said, I'm a plotter and a pantser. This means I'm terrific when it comes to plots--that I make up as I go along.

Kind of crazy, but exciting. Still, before I put one word down on the computer, I have a background "dossier" if you will, on my characters.

The Dossier
I like to draft an ABOUT document. In it, I name and describe my characters, traits, issues to overcome, physical and emotional descriptives, and ages. For some reason, I get stuck on ages. They have to be juuusssttt right. Kooky, I know. Then I give a blurb about what I want the story to be about. Five military men who volunteer to be supersoldiers, caught in a conspiracy and needing the love of good women. Beginning, end state. A kind of rough path to get there. All of that might take up a whole paragraph. If I'm feeling frisky, I'll even briefly describe what I'd like to see happen in each chapter, figuring on a ten to fifteen chapter book (think 45-60K words). The longer the story, the more details I like to begin with. Easy-peasy. Then I run with that.

The First Chapter
I do normally toy with an idea in my mind for a few days before I even start writing anything. So once I have those protagonists' names and ages, I'm ready to go. With the story brewing in my head, the words flow. I can, on a good day not interrupted by children (who should be at school), normally bang out anywhere from 7-15K. On a great day I can hit 20K. That's morning to evening writing, and not every day is a great day.

I have friends who work, and friends who write at a slower pace. Just making sure you write every day is good. So you jot down 150 words, that's 150 words toward finishing your book. Don't worry so much about word count, just WRITE.

The Ugly Middle
To catch myself up on mood and pacing, I reread ONLY the part I've worked on the previous day, edit, and move on to the next part of the story. This way I get extra editing in before the book is even finished. Unfortunately, there comes a point when the story is just running around in circles. Happens on every book. I can't move forward. I hate the story. The characters aren't ringing true. Sometimes I need a breather and work on something else. Other times I'll take a break. Walk the dog, listen to music. (I like to write in silence, only the hum of the fish tank to accompany the clang of computer keys.)

When I return to my story, I can normally plow through it. But when I can't, I take drastic action. The Re-Do.

The Re-Do
Though I hate doing it, sometimes I just have to delete. Not just words, but whole scenes, pages, even a chapter, if need be. Rewriting the part that sticks fleshes out the rest of the story. When writing Circe's Recruits: Roane, I had this kick-*ss sexy scene where everyone was going, er, getting down. Sexual healing, at its finest. And it just didn't fit. The heroine needed to bond to her mate first and foremost. The rest would come later. And it did.

It hurts to cut out a chunk of something you've created. But again, if it doesn't fit, you can't make it fit. I've learned this the hard way. I'd rather rewrite a passage than lose a day or two of writing because I'm so frustrated. Time and experience has shown me when to see what's not working.

Rushing to the End
This sounds negative, but what I meant is that once I'm past my ugly middle, I can roll straight through to the end. The characters take on their own voices and move the way they need to. The end is in sight. I normally write a lot more on a daily basis when I'm near the end. When starting the book, I have a desired length in mind. Nothing definite, but novella, short story, and novel are all different feels. When it's a novel, whether it's 40K or 60K, that's up to the characters to decide.

The End
It's almost orgasmic. That rush, that sense of worth. I LOVE finishing a book. It gives me leave to celebrate, and I no longer feel guilty for watching television or not staying up super late to work. A reward in itself. But once I type that final period, I don't immediately rush to send the story to my editor.

Constant Edits
I wait a good week after finishing the book, reread, reedit, then wait. Edit again, and again. If it works, I send it. I'm not one of those folks who writes five drafts of the same story. I can't do it. That would kill me. Yet I know (crazy) people that do. Hey, it's whatever works for you. Still, I edit throughout the story. Writing it, reading it, and rereading it. But I miss a lot, and I'm a grammar Nazi. I've found that time and distance from my project gives me a better, fresher perspective to fix the small flaws in syntax, grammar or consistency.

Once it's all done, I send it to my editor. And then it's time to repeat the process all over again. Yippee.


Savanna Kougar said...

Marie, thanks for sharing. I always find it insightful to learn about how others work the writing process.
So far, darn it, I haven't felt orgasmic over writing ~ The End.
Who knows, maybe, that will 'come' in time.

Marie Harte said...

Hey Savanna,

Yeah, I'm interested in how others work through their own processes. I find it fascinating how people use words to convey images and thoughts. Putting them into a readable format is always a gamble. But I like it when it pays off.