From first word to final publication (Part 1)
I’ve talked at length about how I develop the ideas for my stories before I actually write them, and how I write – in a general sort of way. Now I’m going to describe in more detail how I go about writing a story and getting it ready for release.
While I’ll have spent plenty of time working out the basic building blocks of a story, its DNA, I don’t outline how it's going to play out. I have a starting point where everything kicks off, and a direction things are heading in and a vague idea of where they should end up, but everything in-between is a journey of discovery. The basic premise, the characters themselves and the world they inhabit – they drive and define the story as I write it.
That’s my first draft.
I know (or think I know) that I’m ready to begin writing the first draft when I can start typing the initial scene that launches the story and just keep going. It’s easy to start, but the real test is whether it flows all the way to the end of the scene. Because I never know beforehand how that will end.
I do recognize it when I get there – an ending to the scene that feels right and satisfying. And suggests what comes after. Then I start writing the next scene and it develops as I go along until it reaches its proper stopping place and I know what scene should follow. And so on and so on until I reach the end of the book.
It’s not a perfect process. Sometimes I have to stop in the middle of a scene and consider how it works in the context of the story idea I started with, in order to know how to finish it. Or after completing one scene, I may have to meditate on the larger framework of the narrative that’s developing to understand what should come next. But there’s always a piece that fits – waiting to be discovered.
As I continue to write and my grasp of the story grows, I often look back and tweak the structure of what I’ve been writing. Sometimes that means eliminating scenes or going back and writing new scenes, or switching the order around so the story flows better.
By the time I’ve reached the end, I can see how it all fits together and finish tweaking the overall structure so that every piece is in its right place and everything fits together the way it should.
That marks the completion of my first draft. Along the way I’ll have made notes about changes I need to make that are too tiny or too pervasive for the first draft – they’d only bog me down when I need to be following the story forward. Once I’ve finished the first draft I look back at those notes and add to them and get a good grip on what the finished story is supposed to look like.
Then I’m ready to start on the second draft – when I try to do a better job of telling that story. I call it the Big Rewrite.