My Novel Writing Process in Fifteen Steps

I love processes.

I like looking at the big picture and making a plan. That way I can follow each of the steps in the plan with complete focus, knowing that overall, everything’s going in the right direction.

So, I developed a step by step process for writing a novel. It’s not the only process for writing a novel, and it’s probably not the best. But it’s mine.

And now I’m going to share it with you.

You can actually see this all in far more detail here, but below is a summary.

I start by writing a single line premise that contains all the major story elements: main character, what they want, antagonist and conflict.

Step two is to expand that sentence into a paragraph which contains all the stages that my genre requires, be that the hero’s journey, noir, romance or whatever.

Step three is to start looking at my main characters, including basic data, their motivation and their driving characteristics.

Step four is to extend my paragraph into a page and step five is to expand the page into about four pages.

Next (step six) I look at my four pages and make sure they are a continuous cycle of goals, conflicts, disasters, reactions, dillemmas and decisions, and I check that there is always increasing tension and stakes.

Step seven is where I expand on my characters, thinking about their histories, what their lives are like and generally getting to know how they tick.

Next (eight) I consider all my key locations and do a bit of research and take some notes.

Nine is where I look at my plot outline, new knowledge about characters and anything my location research might have added. I think about sub plots and items, and make sure the threads are reasonably coherent.

Step ten is one of my favourites and is the only one I don’t see described by other writers very often (or ever). I go through the whole story from the point of view of each of my major characters. It’s awesome what you learn and how it adds dimensions to your story. You can read more about this here.

Step eleven is a sort of pre first draft, where I block out the major actions in each scene, without worrying about writing nice words.

Step twelve is the first draft! Step twelve! Some people just sit down and start writing a first draft, but those people are crazy. I realise that many people are far too excited about writing their story to do eleven other steps before they even start writing their first draft. I also realise that many people feel that all the fun is gone by that point if they’ve prodded the idea so much by then. But on the plus side, by following my process, I find that my first draft flies from my fingers like fireworks. It only takes about a month to get over 50,000 words, and the first draft is in far better shape than an ad hoc one. Which means far less time rewriting and redrafting from now on.

Step thirteen is where I see what themes have arisen in my writing and try to formalise and develop them.

Step fourteen is redrafting the first draft, improving the writing, removing cliches, developing the characters, plot and descriptions.

Step fifteen isn’t really a single, clear step. You just have to keep redrafting and editing until it’s ready or your fingers are bleeding or you just can’t face looking at it ever again. In fact, fingers bleeding probably isn’t a good enough reason to stop editing.

So there you have it.

The process I use to write a novel. I’d love to hear about other people’s processes to see how they are similar or different, so please comment below.


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