How to write a book- from idea to finished rough draft

from Fritz Lang’s seminal 1927 science-fiction classic Metropolis

Gentle reader, this post will start a series on how to write and publish a book.

I know, I know. It’s a big topic. I’ve invited guest bloggers for part of this journey to speak about their areas of expertise.

This first post is about how to get from an idea to a completed rough draft. I will share my process, such as it is, in hopes that it helps someone else in their journey.

How do you start a book? Well, you start with an idea.

How do you transmogrify that idea into a fully-fledged story? That’s the hard part. Avoid the techniques in the picture above! Some people just start writing, no idea of where the story will head- these persons are referred to as pantsers. Plotters start with an outline of places, story arc, characters, and outline everything before they start writing. Lots of writers float between these goalposts.

My personal process is a hybrid version of the plotters and pantsers. I will start with an outline, like for the first three chapters, and I have an idea where I want my story to end- the big climactic scene. Once my world building takes hold, I need to revise and change things a lot, which is why over the years I realized it makes no sense for me to outline anything more that the first bits of story. My outline is a work in progress, and is a combination style sheet and novel scaffolding  than I can use as a basis for a synopsis if needed. For me, the outline serves as a repository of all things plot, world-building, character and setting.

Once my outline is started, my creative juices are flowing and I start writing. I don’t worry too much about anything at this point other than getting the words from my head onto the page. I tend to write sparsely at this stage with just enough detail to define setting, time, place, and character.

The next part is where I hit the rapids.  I typically produce roughly 10,000 words before the creativity starts to wane. Doubts creep in. I question my hypothesis, my choice of character, my choices for anything, and in general believe all that I have written at this point is a pile of garbage. Which is sometimes true.

WHATEVER YOU DO DO NOT HIT DELETE. This is the part where the harder work for me kicks in- here is where I go back to my original outline, my original world-building, my original character sketches, and get everything back on track, reform the characters and plot to conform to my original idea, as I have invariably gone off the trails by this point in the work. This helps me refocus and plow through the next 30000 words or so. Then I write the ending- not because my story ends at 40000 words, but because I need to see the finish line and this propels me forward the rest of the way.

After this scaffolding is complete, then I go back and fill out the rough draft with details, correct POV, fixing plot and character issues, which adds another 10000-15000 words.

Then I take pivotal points in the story, write them out on index cards, and rearrange them into HOW I WANT THE STORY TO BE. Of note- the pivotal points may not be an entire scene- it may be a conversation with a character, or a particular plot point. These go on the index cards as well. I’m not Mozart, so there is a LOT of rearranging and gnashing of teeth to get the pacing right with the story choices made at this juncture.

Then I start the first edit.

Seems like a bit of work just to say I am done with my rough draft, but I cannot slog through the mess of a NANOWRIMO type of verbal regurgitation, and I stall out and just keep going back and editing stuff if I don’t force myself  to plow ahead.

THE key for me, at the end of a rough draft, is to know the motivations and conflicts of my main characters, have the plot arc set, with setting and tone and voice trending in the right directions.

All the rest, I fix with editing. I also have a decent rough draft to work with, so my editing is *faster* than if I just verbally vomited on the page and try to sort it out.

Your mileage may vary.

Next post, I talk about how I keep all these things sorted until I can put them into my final document— organizing your workflow up next!

Writing today, then gardening

Hello all!
Today I am deep in the part of a writing project I call “Hold on and just keep going.” It’s the part where all my ideas and characters try to pull me off task, onto tangents and limbs that my story cannot support, a deep dark hole of temptations that I must resist. I want to have this particular project done for my writers retreat in early June, so time is of the essence.
To help with attaining this goal, I am really trying to stick to an outline for the first time ever.
I will let you know how it goes.
Later, I will do a bit of gardeniing whilst my story is marinating in the back of my brain.
Have a lovely day in your part of the world, and if you have any insights to share on getting through the rough draft, share them int the comments.
Until next time-
Lillian

It’s not all Fabio and Bodice-Rippers by Janet Walden-West

Today, gentle reader, you are in for a treat! The incomparable Janet Walden-West agreed to stop by and talk about romance. Thank you, Janet!

Know what happens when you show up to a spec fic critique session with a romantic suspense excerpt in hand? You’re branded for life, and eventually, The Lovely Lillian asks you to write about what goes into a modern romance or romantic sub-plot.

Since one does not argue with The Lovely Lillian, here goes.

Romance.

A simple seven-letter word. But on closer inspection, one that belongs up there with sex, politics, and religion as far as topics that can lead to heated, unpleasant disagreements ‘round the dinner table.

Why it’s a polarizing topic, at least in literature and media, is problematic. Maybe because many people equate romance with sex and Americans still see sex as “naughty.” Maybe because it’s largely a genre written by female-identifying people, for female-identifying people. Whatever the reason, romance gets an unfair treatment—“unrealistic,” “mommy porn,” “bodice rippers,” “anti-feminist propaganda,”  “garbage for bored housewives” are a few of the accusations leveled at the genre, usually accompanied by a disdainful eye roll or worse from co-workers, that random guy on the subway who keeps reading over your shoulder, and other writers.

Yet romance is a billion dollar a year industry, and accounts for a major percentage of the adult fiction market—far more than the two closest genre contenders, Mystery and Suspense/Thriller, and close to the entire combined sales of General Fiction.

And that doesn’t factor in the books that have a romance of some form as a major subplot. The Fault in Our Stars and You Before Me? Neener-neener, buddy—tragic romances. The Princess Bride? Romance. The Maltese Falcon? Romantic subplot. Star Wars? Major romantic subplot.

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Which is the long way around of saying a lot of people read romance, and a lot of people write it, so if you’re considering dipping your authorial toes in? You go for it, Sunshine.

But check any outdated assumptions at the door because the romance readers and writers of 2016 expect quality writing, a balanced approach, and thoughtful plots. I’ll preface this list by saying this is my take on what constitutes a successful romance, keeping in mind there are always outliers at either extreme that throw off the curve, so if you want to search out books with awful gender stereotypes and dino-porn to wave as proof I’m wrong, you’ll eventually find them.

However, tossing aside those outliers and oddities, what points are the baseline for modern romance?

#1) Sex isn’t romance. Let’s get that assumption out of the way up front. Romance may contain elements of sexual attraction (but not always) and implied or explicit sex scenes, but sex and romance are two different creatures. If you don’t believe me, check out the Erotic Romance sub-genre. Slapping a gratuitous “Insert Tab A in Slot B” scene, or series of scenes in a manuscript, does not a romance make.

At its core romance is about emotions—the emotional connection between two (or more) people. Sex may or may not enter into the story.

#2) Respect is key. Basically, the modern romance is the opposite of the clichéd bodice ripper, with its thinly veiled sexual assault (often served with a side of misogyny, racism, and interpersonal deceit) dressed up as the prelude to a romantic partnership.

Nowadays, both people bring something to the relationship and it’s a true partnership between equal, capable adults.

Because we are talking about a relationship between equals, consent is also key. And consent isn’t limited to intercourse.  Consent can include something as overlooked but problematic as replacing the swoop-in-for-a-kiss trope with asking first. Young Adult and New Adult romance writers nail making consent normal and sexy. One partner doesn’t get to physically intimidate the other, either, by preventing access or denying them the ability to walk away from a conversation.  Neither character gets away with the outdated “I’ll make decision your decisions, for your own good” trope, either.

#3) Autonomy is important. Character agency is important. Some writers and readers maintain more traditional gender roles, but they do it with that equality in mind. Other writers turn roles on their ears, with fascinating twists. Now, the White Knight may be the virgin, and after the Damsel saves him, she recruits the dragon and executes plans to win over the kingdom with her PR team.

#4) Plot is important. “Romance is formulaic” gets trotted out as the reason the genre doesn’t deserve respect. Now, romance readers do enjoy their tropes, and the Romance Writers of America defines a romance as “a central love story and an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending.” But lets be real. All genres have certain expectations as far as plot and resolution. Cozy mysteries, pulp, thrillers, fantasy, and science fiction all have familiar, readily defined patterns. Readers look for those patterns.

However, romance isn’t all about over-the-top heroes swooping in to claim the heroine’s virginity and make her life whole.

Now, the hero or heroine is busy taking care of business (sure, that kind of business, too), as opposed to pining away, waiting for a mate to give their life, and the story, meaning.  Thus, sub-genres abound.  Contemporary Romance, Romantic Suspense, Inspirational, Historical, YA/NA, and Paranormal all have plot requirements, aside from a Happily Ever After or Happily For Now.

#5) Diversity, baby. What surprised, and thrilled, me was the level of inclusiveness and diversity present in romance now. There’s a lot of talk now about the trend towards diversity in publishing. I don’t believe it’s a passing trend, but more a long overdue reflection of the world around us. Many, many writers feature main characters of multiple races, nationalities, religions, sexual orientations, ages, physical abilities, and neurodiversity. More agents and publishers are seeking out marginalized writers, to write #ownvoice characters. LGBTIA+ characters are gaining ground, and not as simply so-called issue or message stories. One of my favorite, most poignant reads this year featured an asexual protagonist, and the romance level and sheer feels were off the charts.

I hope my ramblings at least cause a few people to reconsider the intelligence of devoted romance readers and talent of romance writers. Maybe someone will even get the urge to try penning a romance or fitting a romantic relationship of whatever flavor into their other genre WIP. At the very least, exploring and learning to write realistic emotions serves any writer well, whether it’s in the quest for a happily ever after, the throat-tightening terror of a hacker proven right in their doomsday scenario, or the righteous vengeance of a futuristic space knight ending a tyrant’s rule.

For a more complete overview of the romance world and opportunities for diverse manuscripts and writers, check out the links below.

The Romance Writers of America  https://www.rwa.org

Rainbow Chapter of RWA http://www.rainbowromancewriters.com

Cultural, Interracial, and Multicultural Chapter of RWA http://www.cimrwa.org/about-us.html

Write in the Margins-Helping Underrepresented Stories Find Their Place http://writeinthemargins.org

The Mad Rush to the End

Gentle readers, I hope you have had a lovely thanksgiving break. For me, Thanksgiving is not only the juggling act of family and work, but also the signal for the mad rush to the end, that rising lump in my throat of all the goals I have set for the year that fell to the march of time.

Yep- I found a list of my writing goals for 2016.

This year, it is not so bad- I have met 72% of my goals. I am proud of this achievement, but as I do every year, I will go for a run, and think about ways I can meet 100% of my goals. In the meantime, I will try not to rush to put words to paper, thinking it means a goal achieved, when really, I need GOOD words on paper to feel accomplished.

Do not join me in the mad rush- it is a hazardous swamp of exploding ideas, story tangents, and dead ends. Stay calm, and write at your own pace. Goals are great, but do not sacrifice quality for quantity. That is one goal I hope I keep for the remainder of the year.

Until next time-

Lillian

Current works in progress

Gentle reader, I thought today I would update you on all the crazy going on in my head- my current WORKS IN PROGRESS! I got this idea from Ken Schrader- you can see him at his blog HERE.

Jamaica Spell (working title)
When I finished Prodigal Spell, I felt like I had run a marathon. I was out of breath, my writing muscles were shaking, and I needed time to recover. I have outlined this book more times than I can count, and the thing I keep tripping over is the fact that at the end of Prodigal Spell, I have so many characters going in different directions, I feel like GRRM when he must say to himself “I must get Tyrion to Daenerys and then everyone up to the Wall.” (cause in my fantasies, there will be a ginormous clash between the Walkers and everyone else. And dragonfire will reign and Jon Snow will be alive). What I have decided to do, after much gnashing of teeth, is a set of short stories about each of the characters, so I can get them all to “the Wall” and then we can proceed. I will keep you posted on the success or flaming disappointment of this project.

Chloe Longood
Yep, for those who have read Prodigal Spell, Chloe gets her own story- a twisted take on historical YA fantasy. I mean, how well-adjusted can she be after being abandoned by her family and possessed by demons multiple times? I am feverishly writing to find out that answer! This will be a short story/ novella most likely when it is done.

Alistair Dupont
My favorite traitorous bad boy gets his own story to examine his motives- where his true loyalties lie, and what it means to be faithful to a cause. Again, way too much depth to this piece than I could have accomplished in Jamaica Spell without hijacking the story.

Richmond and Julia
At the heart of this relationship are two people with naive but sweet ideas about what they want from a love match. I needed to develop their relationship more before I could throw them into the maelstrom of Jamaica Spell. This is the story that I am waffling about the most, as I need to see the finished product before I can decide where it lives best- as novel fodder or a stand alone.

Moonshine Spy
This is outside of the Caribbean witches world. It is set in 1960s Cold War America, and the protagonist is an American spy with Russian heritage out to stop a plot to release a biological weapon. There will still be magic in the story- my main character will have power, as well as some of the bad guys- but it is writing like a Cold War spy thriller, rather than a traditional fantasy. I am having a ton of fun with this one!

I will post updates on my progress with each of these projects.
Until next time-
Lillian

New Writing Blog

I know, gentle reader, you need a new writing blog like you need a new set of sparkly pink pens. This site is different, ’cause I am part of it.

I belong to a writing retreat group called the Roaring Writers, and ConCarolinas is our home con. Earlier this year, we decided to share our journeys in writing with the world through a group blog. themillionwords.net is the product of this union of minds.

The leadoff post is by a writer you may not have heard of now, but you will. Alexander Gideon is a fantastic writer (he wrote a short story about a weresquirrel and it was fabulous) who plumbs the depths of emotion while navigating plots of fantastical horror.

We hope to share a bit of ourselves, our insights, and some tradecraft to all who walk with us on this journey.

Until next time-

Lillian