From Idea To Book Baby

One of my favorite things about blog reading is learning about other people's writing processes. There are so many different ways to put an idea on paper and then transform it into a novel!

So how do my stories evolve from a twinkle in my eye to a fully formed book baby? (Well, when a writer and her story idea love each other very much...)

Just in time for my second ever NaNoWriMo, here's how I'm planning to turn my brand-new WIP into another completed manuscript:

  1. Pick an idea. This is arguably the hardest step for me, but there's always one that shoves the others aside and hollers, "Pick meee! Pick MEEE!" And then it pops up in my dreams, waves its arms frantically when I hear a certain song or phrase, and generally makes itself too obnoxious to ignore.

  2. Buy a new notebook. I apologize to all trees, but I have to have a fresh notebook for every new story. I prefer spiral (so I can stick a pen in), with a folder or two, and nice clean lines.

  3. Write a short synopsis. When I was younger, I loved writing book jacket and movie summaries for my stories. Now, I use that as a pre-noveling tool to get a general idea of what my story will be about.

  4. Make a cast of characters. I like it when books include a dramatis personae section, where you can see how each individual is related to another (i.e. Hamlet, Prince of Denmark; Gertrude, his mother; Claudius, his uncle). This is also where I name my characters, with a little help from my friend Google.

  5. Do research. My NaNo project is based on Greek myth/legend, so I hit up the library for resources: history books, myth retellings, and a biography of Arthur Evans, the archaeologist who discovered the palace of Knossos. I take notes on things that I want to add or that might be pertinent to my book.

  6. Make a chapter-by-chapter outline. I write a short, general description for each chapter that includes all of its major events. This is subject to change, of course, but it becomes a writing map that I rely on heavily, especially during time crunches like NaNo.

  7. Decide on add-ins. I always have a page called "Add-Ins," which are events/characters that might not be crucial to the plot, but that will help with other stuff, like world-building. Eventually, as the story unfolds and I decide how closely it's sticking to the chapter outline, I'll write each of these on a post-it note and attach them wherever I plan to write them in.

  8. Make a loose schedule. I don't do this for every story, but with NaNo, it's a necessity. I pick a projected final word count (also subject to change) and divide it by how much time I have to write. I set mini-goals and try to hit those to stay on track.

  9. Write, write, write! Write until there's a rough draft! Usually, by the time I type "The End," I'm so sick of the story that I take a long break (1-2 weeks) before Round 1 of revisions.

  10. Revise, send to CPs, revise, send to CPs... And rinse and repeat.

So there's my basic strategy. It might not be the easiest, and the planning stage alone can take weeks to months because, well, I need to work and have a life... but that's the technique that helped me write my three previous books!

What's your process like? Do any of these steps show up on your idea-to-book-baby journey?

P.S. This will be my final entry for a while as I gear up for NaNo. Feel free to spy on my progress here and to send me snippy tweets if I'm not meeting my quota. See you in December!


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Add-ons - that's a good idea. I tend to do a lot of the world-building and description later, but that would help while I was writing.

1000th.monkey said...

Wow, 100% the opposite of how I write...

Generally, I start with a weird snippet of an idea, or a scene. Like, Scarlight started with Jay & Kell in the graveyard comparing scars, and the graveyard originally came from a school my older sister went to for about 6 months, after she was expelled (for smoking) from the school we both eventually graduated from... her are her friends would sneak out @ lunch and smoke in the graveyard, so as not to get caught, and therefore expelled from another school ;)

Once I have that beginning snippet/scene, I just write out as much as I know. I seriously consider it along the lines of automatic writing/drawing where you blank out and just let your pencil (or in this case, fingers on keyboard) move without thinking.

(yes, here is the time to make blonde jokes)

...and I keep doing that... I blank out and let the story come. I don't think forward at all, make plans, or even know when a new character is suddenly going to pop in.

Tiana Smith said...

We have a pretty similar process :) For me, it's hardest to decide on the right story, then I have to write a short synopsis that's like the jacket copy or a query. This helps me know where it's going and whether there's enough tension or drama. Then I have to do a character map of how they're all interrelated. From there I just have to sit down and write, but for some stories, I have to do more plotting, it just depends. Good luck with NaNo!

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

I never think to write up a synopsis or blurb first! Maybe I'll try that this time around.

And I love a new, fresh notebook. My favorite is the sustainable earth, eco easy one from Staples. It's hard cover, spiral bound and smaller than a regular spiral notebook but not too small. :)

workofheart09 said...

I totally do the notebook thing, too! Something about using the same one for multiple novels just feels too cluttered (plus, by the time I'm finished with one MS there isn't enough room left in the notebook, anyway). My process is similar to yours, minus the synopsis and outline part. I always have a specific idea of beginning/middle/end and work out all the major turning points before starting to write, but I like to leave myself a lot of wiggle room, too.

Good luck with your upcoming book-baby! I hope you have a blast nurturing it as it grows. :)

Connie Keller said...

I like the add-ons and the way you organize everything. I wish I could do it that way. :(

I generally start with a couple of scenes, the inciting incident, a few of the characters, and the secret (there's always a secret). Then, I start typing.

mshatch said...

Mostly I start with an idea, a what if, and just run with it for a while, see if it goes anywhere, holds my interest. If it does, then I start delving into characters and motives and backstory. It's mostly pantsing with some plotting thrown in along the way :0

Laura Marcella said...

We have very similar processes, Julie! The only thing different is the add-ins. I like that! Plus it gives me an excuse to use more post-it notes. I love anything that allows the use of office supplies!

I have to have a new notebook for each story, too, and like you it has to be a college-ruled spiral notebook! I need one or two folders, but get this: last weekend when I was at Target I discovered a spiral-bound folder organizer! I didn't know they made those. It has four folders (so eight pockets) connected together with fun sayings on the front like "Notes" and "Jot it down." If you can get to Target I highly recommend it! It was in the notebooks/folders aisle and I think it was $5.

Happy reading and writing! from Laura Marcella @ Wavy Lines

Crystal Collier said...

Whew! You have a totally different process than me. I'm such an organic, "in-the-moment" writer that I don't think I ever even sit down to pound out characters. They just come. I'll shape the story so it fits an arc, but there has to be enough leeway to change as we go--and I totally research along the way. That way I'm not tempted to info dump all my bright shiny discoveries on my exposition-weary readers.

DL Hammons said...

We are very similar (imagine that). Usually I have a rough outline for the book laid out in my head before I do anything. The next step is a brainstorming session with my wife (or son if YA) where they listen to my ideas and throw out suggestions. Then I outline my cast of characters and a complete chapter by chapter plot. One of the last things I do before I begin to actually write is take the story and turn it on its head...looking for ways to shake things up and incorporate idea's I hadn't thought of before. This is actually my favorite step in the process. :)

Michael Di Gesu said...

I usually just JUMP RIGHT into my stories... I also do a lot of research, because many of my stories are period or in other lands...

GOOD luck on NaNo!

Colin Smith said...

I've made some failed attempts at being this organized in the past, which leads me to think I'm more of a pantser. But I'd like to give your method a serious try sometime.

All the best with NaNo, Julie--and have a productive blog break! :)

akossiwaketoglo.com said...

See you on twitter (hopefully) and see you in December.
Happy Writing!!! oh and Happy Nano!!!


Tammy Theriault said...

Great ideas! That is quite clever to make a list if character and who they are. I should do that because sometimes I forget the names I gave them. Well...the last names.

Cynthia said...

You are so brave to do NaNo! I did it last November, and I got a lot done. I think outlining your chapters is a great idea. In fact, I remember vaguely doing something like that last year. I'd outline what the rising action, conflict, and resolution was in each chapter. Good luck with your planning! You sound very prepared.

Also, something else I did during the planning phase of my novel was that I checked out Plot Whisperer Martha Alderson's online tips for planning out a novel. If you search for "Martha Alderson Youtube" online you might come up with some videos. What was fun about her videos was that they were shot at various locations around Santa Cruz, if I remember correctly, so I'd feel like I was on some sort of retreat while watching them.

David P. King said...

Sweet! That's pretty much what I do now (minus the synopsis at the beginning ... maybe I should try that). Turns out I'm able to get a project finished sooner this way. :)

Margo Berendsen said...

My process is very similar. Unfortunately, I haven't started it yet for NaNoWriMo! 9 days left, eeep!!! I'm one of those cheaters that counts all my outlining/character sheets/brainstorming as word count the first week in.

I did a story set in 300 AD Greece and Thrace (Huns!) a couple years ago, I'm actually thinking about re-writing it this year for NaNo completely from scratch because I thought of a great twist. The research was SO MUCH FUN!!!

LD Masterson said...

I've never done the synopsis or blurb first but I'm starting to think it's a good idea.

Nick Wilford said...

You're way more organised than me! I only go as far as a rough outline. I can see how your approach would be great for NaNo. Best of luck!

Medeia Sharif said...

Sounds great to me. I just bought a new notebook for a shiny new idea.

Julie Dao said...

Alex: I like having all of the pieces in place before I start writing, but I always think of other stuff to add later on, too.

Monkey: Hahaha! I was hoping there would be comments like yours! You sound like the classic pantser, and I have ALWAYS admired people who could write an entire novel just from one burst of inspiration. I used to have an English teacher who always made us "free-write" for 10 minutes at the beginning of each class, and I ALWAYS struggled with it. It's kind of a crutch to need to have a plan, but that's what works for me, so... *shrug*

Tiana: Oooh character maps sound like so much fun! I've never tried one before. Yep, agreed, I need to have a short synopsis as well before I start so I actually know what I want to write about. Sometimes I write one and it surprises even me what the story is REALLY about, compared to what I thought it would be about.

Madeline: At the very least, it's just kinda fun to imagine a book jacket or movie description for your story! Give it a try! I'll have to look up those Staples notebooks :)

Shari: Sometimes, when I'm in a pinch, I start plotting another story in the back of the notebook. I finished ELEGY and got the idea for this latest NaNo project, and didn't have time to go shopping, so my ELEGY notebook has stuff on Greek myth in the back. I'll probably end up tearing it out and sticking it in my new notebook!

Connie: I love that you always start with a secret! Sounds like a great way to begin noveling.

Marcy: So interesting... I love hearing about combination pantsing/plotting. I *guess* I'm sometimes loosely a pantser when random things happen and my story plan gets off track. Someone died in my recent book that I hadn't anticipated would die until it happened, and then I had to change the story from there.

Laura: You know I share your love of office supplies! My heaven would be a combination of Barnes and Noble and Staples! That Target folder sounds awesome... I actually just bought my new story notebook from there, and I'll have to keep an eye out for that when I'm there again! I love their notebook aisle!

Julie Dao said...

Crystal: It sounds like we're all pretty much evenly divided between people who plot and people who are inspired by a scene/idea and just go for it! Really cool. It's so funny how many different ways there are to get to the same end product - a manuscript!

Don: Yes, we do have a VERY similar process - surprise surprise!!! I love that you run over story ideas with Kim or your son first, and look for ways to turn the story on its head. I'll definitely have to try those things in the future. I sort of did the idea-tossing thing with you on FOTL way back!

Michael: I wish I could jump in right away, too, but I guess I'm a toe-dabbler... testing the temperature before I dive! Thanks!

Colin: Whatever works for you is the best process! I have to say, I did give pantsing a solid try, but it just doesn't work for me.

Akoss: Yes, see you on Twitter! Happy writing to you!

Tammy: HAHA, I forget their last names, too! I usually just know my characters by their first names.

Cynthia: I am definitely going to check out Martha Alderson. Bookmarking her video right now. That sounds fascinating! And ugh, I would love to go on an actual retreat to Santa Cruz. Maybe someday :)

David: Cool! Is that how you wrote WOVEN? I agree... I get my stories done a lot faster when I outline.

Margo: That is awesome!! I wish you luck and inspiration on that story, and hope it works out this time around! I'm doing the brunt of my NaNo outlining this weekend, so I'm pushing it pretty close as well...

LD: At the very least, it's fun to do! I always loved pretending my book had a book cover, and imagining what it would say at the store.

Nick: I worry sometimes about the process being TOO structured, but it seems to work okay for me. Maybe I'll try having a looser outline in the future and see if I can fill in the blanks as I go along.

Medeia: You know how much I adore fresh notebooks and shiny new ideas!

Beverly Fox said...

Hey Julie!

I just added you as a writing buddy! Thansk for sharing these steps- lets see if i can get them all done by Nov. 1st!

Meradeth Houston said...

Love how organized you! I, on the other hand, am totally not :) I always wish I were though, and like the way you have this set up!

Christina Farley said...

I love these ideas! Part of writing is also staying organized too.

Lexa Cain said...

Thank you very much for your good wishes on Marcy's blog about my cover reveal! I really enjoyed reading your post - you're so funny! I think I use all of your techniques (but not for NaNo - too scary). I've been having an awful time with #1. I just start things and then after about 10k convince myself the idea isn't good enough and quit.

Wishing you good luck on NaNo! :-)

Julie Dao said...

Beverley: Added you back! Hope you're having a great NaNo so far :)

Meradeth: And I always wish I could be more spontaneous! I'd love to just sit down with nothing but a story idea and let it go.

Christina: I always need lists and synopses and binders when I write!

Lexa: You're so welcome - congratulations again! Thanks for stopping by. I totally feel your pain about starting a story and then having to take a break at the 5-10K mark. Sometimes it's nice to be able to go back to them, though!

Jay Noel said...

Good luck with NaNo!!! It's my second year too.

Julie Dao said...

Thanks, Jay! Good luck to you, too! Your word count is astronomical right now.

Brandon Ax said...

So cool to see your process, which is way more structured than mine, lol. I think that it is good to have a plan going in though. It is too easy to stop when starting is just something you do here and there. Good Luck on NaNo.

Gina Gao said...

These are pretty good ideas! Thanks for sharing.


Julie Dao said...

Brandon: Thank you! A story plan really helps me keep writing. It's making the time to write that's hard. Hope you're well, and loved your post from yesterday!

Gina: Thanks, I'm glad you think so!

Jay Noel said...

Looks like you're right on track with NaNo. I'm a little behind. And I will far further this week until the weekend.

Shelley Sly said...

This is so interesting, Julie! I, too, like learning about other writers' processes. I like the idea of add-ins. I'll have to steal that from you. :) Hope your NaNo project is going well!

Gina Gao said...

This is a very nice process! I also have this thing about notebooks. It's the neat lines that have something to do with it.


Julie Dao said...

Jay: Congrats on winning NaNo! Yeehaw! Now let's see if I can, too.

Shelley: Hope the add-ins work for you! They're fun to have :) And thank you.

Gina: Thank you!

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