Someone on Quora asked me how I write a book, so I sat down and really thought about it. This is what I came up with. (They got a condensed version)
When an idea pops into my head—from a dream, something I heard or saw on TV, or heard in my (but more likely someone else’s) conversation—I write it down as quickly as possible, usually using a notepad app on my phone. Note: No matter what I’m doing, part of my brain is off in another world doing crazy things there. I just that notepad a lot!
Once I get to the computer, I open a blank Word document and write down everything I can think about regarding the new idea.
The first, most important thing is the story. Is there enough to my idea to find the basic who, what, where, why, and how that every story needs to be a “thing” that lets people envision it when they read. If I add people and a world, will the story take my characters through a specific time in their lives when something(s) happened to them, but they dealt with it, came through it, grew, became better or worse (became or already were the bad guy/good guy) and all the while, entertained people?
The next consideration is characters—not yet people with names and faces, but only what they are, and how and what they’ll contribute. What kind of magical folk, warriors, craftspeople, etc., does my story need (e.g., 1 f. seer, 1 m. griffin, 1 m. Elemental, 1 Magical Entity (no gender), several m. warrior/highborn Fey, 1 f. sprite = “Summerbird Rises”). Or is the story something different, requiring regular people? Or cats? Can I shape these characters into credible people who can take my idea and run with it? The development of characters is important to me, as they write most of my story.
Next is worldbuilding 101—basic stuff about the world and how it helps the idea and characters. Is it this world, alternate, alien, or something else? Medieval, modern, combination? What will the government be, the types of jobs, the currency, the power source, religion—but only if these things matter to the story. I don’t have a list because I’m only thinking about what impacts the concept at this stage. And all stories are different. Worldbuilding is critical to me. It’s also one of my favorite aspects of writing.
If I like my people and their world and think I’ve got something going, it’s time for a strategy meeting with myself. By the time my basic idea has transformed into a Project, I have a feel for it, knowing I can flesh out a 3D world, and populate it with various kinds of people who have an objective and a way to get to where they’re going, plus whatever little necessary subplots they deal with along with way.
Or it hasn’t— At some point, I’ve figured out things just aren’t going to gel. That actually happens; I have several ideas that fizzled in my Plots File. Some are chapters long, but they just didn’t go anywhere for me. Maybe another day. But we’re going on the assumption that this is a workable, decent idea. It deserves a basic plot to be developed, even if I’m a pantster. STOP! What the hell?
A moment to explain: Pantster—A person who writes by ‘the seat of her pants’ as opposed to a plotter, one who plans or outlines her writing. And that’s straight from the Urban Dictionary. And even though, by definition, I should be a plotter, I’m not. I just can’t get into it.
I don’t develop a plot from start to finish and use it. To me, it’s worth taking the time I need to do as I’m describing, and get everything saved in my Plots File. I have about 20 of them now, some with a lot of fleshing out, others with less than a page. It’s a wild and crazy process for me. I’m a slow writer, and my books are long, which is probably why I’m working on only the fourth right now. But thanks to my process, I also have three more that just need good editing and a wee bit of fleshing out. So much fun!
Once the complete first draft is written, I use Word Voice to read it back to me. Hearing mistakes is better for me than trying to read them. I know the document too well; my eyes often skim over typos and other errors. This is also an excellent time to catch things that can be foreshadowed and/or discussed later. I can ask and later answer questions (meaning I set up something to happen and resolve it later), find/add mysterious things that must be explained, remove what doesn’t belong, or put it where it works better. Also cut. Cut, cut, CUT! And I know I still don’t do enough. Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch said it best—“Murder your darlings.” I find that very difficult.
I have a few people who alpha read for me, that is, read the book along with me as I edit. They’re great because things they’re patient, and find can affect the story as it goes and the outcome. It’s better to get those changes made as early as possible. Note #2: I can always use more readers, especially beta ones, who read when the manuscript is complete. Hint, hint.
After my alpha readers and I reach the end, I get to start over again. I read and make notes. I mostly jot down things that come up as plot points and make sure they’re dealt with. *Actual item on my list for “Summerbird’s Quest” which I’m working on now: Why did Orkey steal ribbon [from the Mart-hoor’s tent]. What’s a Mart-hoor? Make sure the hypen is removed. Yep, misspelled hyphen. See example (excuse my sloppy handwriting).
I have a process for creating names. Since I write epic fantasy, it’s not logical for my characters to be named Joe and Sally or live in Boringville. But I’ve tried to make them more easily pronounced due to snide remarks from some alpha readers (not necessarily you, who thinks she means me). I have a Word table where I list every character. It includes everything pertinent to them, from names to tattoos to what they like/hate to eat. I hate having to go back and look that stuff up!
Once I decide on people/place names, I google them. Why? you ask. One of my characters in a Work-in-Progress (WIP) was named Chyme. Such a gorgeous name, looks so nice. And it means—drumroll—the semi-fluid mass of partly digested food that is expelled by a person’s stomach (Wikipedia). That’s disgusting. It’s also the worst almost-error I’ve yet to make. Others haven’t been quite so bad—someone’s name or a place, but I always change them. And I always check. How couldn’t I after…Chyme? I mean, who knew?
I know I’ve probably missed some things in describing my process because they aren’t always the same. In another WIP, I took an event from American history and used that as a major event to build around. In yet another WIP, voodoo plays a part, it’s a time-travel piece, so I had to do a lot of research—stop the press!
I forgot about research! I mean, I can’t make up everything! In the WIP I mentioned with the lovely but disgusting name, I had to do a lot of research and finagling answers from friends and relatives about the engine propulsion unit I’d thought up—is it feasible, how will it work in these different situations—I think I drove them crazy! And in my “Dragon” books, water runs all their structural mechanics, so that took more research—I mean, it is my world, and I can run it as I please, but some part of me demands that it at least sound doable.
So, let’s get back to drawing things to a close. For me, writing a book is a life-consuming event; just ask my family. I like to share the process! I can’t not write; I have too much to share running around in my head. But I never forget I’m writing something to hopefully make someone else happy and enable them to escape reality within my story and characters. And my epic fantasies are long enough to keep them there for as long as they want to be!
And to that anonymous Quora person—thanks for asking!