Friday, December 23, 2016

From Concept to Completion: My Steps to Novel Creation


In my last post about why it takes so long between books, I promised some additional details about the various steps a book goes through (at least for me and my novels). So here it is.  Get ready, it's kinda long:
  • (1) Before I start a book, it’s usually been banging around in my head for a year or more. Not the whole story, just certain scenes or ideas. So step #1 is to get a Moleskine notebook and write down all those bits and pieces. While doing that, I start forming the basis of the outline.
  • (2) Next comes research. If I’m going to write about bronze-age peoples, I need to know what kind of buildings they lived in and how to build them. How did people cook before pots and pans? Did you know you could boil water in a bag made from an animal’s stomach? I have to learn all kinds of “daily life” facts. If my book takes place on the high seas, then I need to know the various ranks and customs. I do the research up front, so I don’t have to pause during the writing stage.
  • (3) Step three is to make my Scrivener file. In it, I assign names to characters and places (I have a long list that I’m always adding to, and I usually pick from there). I also create character profiles, so I don’t change a person’s hair color midway through the novel because I forgot what I used earlier in the story. Next, I’ll set up my chapters and how many sections each contains and determine who is the best person to be the POV (point of view) to see that scene through. That can, and often does, change. For instance, when I started the book I’m working on now, (the fourth Riyria Chronicle), I wrote the first chapter from one person’s POV, and it just wasn’t flowing well. When reading the opening the next day, I picked someone else, and now it has improved significantly.
  • (4) Then comes the writing stage. I write every morning, no days off. At the end of each day, if I don’t have a clear idea for the next day’s section, I’ll go for a walk to work on that. By doing this, I always have the next day’s scenes figured out (and sometimes many days’ worth). I write sequentially through the book (never understood how some writers can skip around as they do), and as I mentioned earlier, I sometimes will take side trips during the journey or change my ending destination complete.
  • (5) When I finish the first draft, I have a list of things I need to fix up written in my Moleskine. These are from my side trips or new things that I discovered that need a foundation laid. I’ll also examine the story as a whole to see if I can “take it to the next level.” In some cases, that’s led to a twist even I didn’t see coming. This part of the process doesn’t last long. Usually, I’ll spend a week or two on it.
  • (6) As I mentioned, I edit the previous day’s work at the start of the next day, so the prose is in relatively good shape. At this stage, it’s getting close to being ready for others, but I still have to read it cover to cover and make minor adjustments and fix sentences that are weak or wordy.
  • (7)Now we’re at the stage where other eyes can see it, and that starts with my alpha reader, Robin. She’s my wife and an exceptional structural editor. She’ll go through the whole book and come back with a list of impressions: things she liked, those she didn’t, plot holes or problems in motivation (she’s great at those). She’ll also provide suggested changes, but more often than not, I’m able to come up with a better solution. We’ll also have long detailed conversations on various topics, and in a few days, I have a new list of things to address. I spend about one to three weeks implementing those.
  • (8) At this point, the book is probably 90% of the way to the final product, but that last 10% requires A LOT of work (mostly by people other than myself).
  • (9) Robin will copy and line edit the whole book. She’s polishing the apple and removing some of the wordiness that I missed. I then read through her work accepting most of it but reverting maybe 10%. At this stage, it’s ready for input from the “outside world.”
  • (10) Now the book goes to my agent, editor, and beta readers. Robin runs the beta reading program, and it’s quite extensive. From those three sources she gathers all the feedback and organizes it, so I can quickly evaluate all the input. I go through and make the changes I agree with. Generally, this means only minor tweaks here and there. In one case, a passionate beta reader saved the life of a character who had died, and I was able to spin his “living” into a new plot which I could pull on in future books.
  • (11) After I make those changes, Robin goes over it again—more copy and line editing polish. Then the book goes to Linda (an editor I’ve used for both my traditional and self-published works). She’s great. Her changes are usually in the accept/reject category, and Robin is so familiar with my style that she can handle 90% of the things Linda points out. She flags any issues she’s uncomfortable dealing with on her own. And, of course, I read the whole book through again. I may make a few adjustments or undo a change they made, but at this point, it’s simply a matter of nitpicking.
  • (12) Now it’s ready for the publisher’s copy editor (if traditionally published). If I’m self-publishing, I usually have a second freelance editor go over it. Again, their changes are almost 100% accepted by Robin, and I might adjust 5% or so.
  • (13) Now the book is ready for layout, and at this stage, there shouldn’t be any content changes. Once it is laid out, I read it one final time and might adjust a handful of sentences across the entire book. It’s also possible to find a few typos at this stage, but beyond those kinds of things, nothing else is changed to prevent layout issues.
  • (14) Finally, the book is off to the printer, and the anticipation starts. Waiting to hear from the readers about how the book turned out is always stressful, so I pour my energy into the next project.
Did I mention it was a long process?

Now, let's bring this back to the books I'm working on now, and where each stands.
  • Untitled Book #4 of Riyria Chronicles: is on step #4. It's still very early in the process, and has been hampered with work on the cabin, reviewing Age of Swords before final copyediting, and various holiday stuff.  Still, I plan on having it to Robin for beta reading around the end of February.
  • Age of Swords:  is on step #12 and sometime in January I should get the copyedits back. It only takes a few days to go through them then the book will be off to layout.
  • Age of War: is at step #7 - Robin is going through the book, and making a list of structural edits that she thinks needs addressing.
  • Age of Legends, Age of Wonder Age of Empire: have all gone through a first set of alpha reading and my implemented changes but because the work was so extensive it is basically at a pre-step #7 stage as Robin will have to do a whole new alpha read on those books. This really can't happen until she is done with Age of War which will be about the time I'm done with Riyria Chronicles #4. Since Riyria Chronicles #4 and Age of War will both be hitting much sooner than any of these books, it is likely that these will sit for a bit, but once work on them starts, I suspect we'll rip through all of them in one fell swoop.
And that, as they say is that. So as I alluded to in my last post there really is a lot of difference between written and done. But we're hard at work making sure you get the books just as soon as you can.  Thanks for your continued support!!




3 comments:

  1. Well that's the $64,000 question isn't it Many have expressed an interest to woo her away. But after 37 years I think she's made up her mind and will be sticking with me. I do wish everyone had one though. And not because of her amazing talents on my books behalf. I would truly be lost without her in my life.

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  2. Michael your books are incredible! I am thoroughly looking forward to Age of Swords and the untitled book 4 of the Riyria Chronicles! In fact I look forward to anything you publish!

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