Conventional wisdom says there are multiple steps in the creative-writing process. These steps can vary depending on the type of project and who is writing the steps.
Most often the steps are some variation of
My own fiction writing process looks like this:
- The Idea Stage: This is where I commit my ideas to paper. Sometimes that’s where the process stops. If it’s a viable idea, I’ll keep coming back to it, and it moves into the next stage.
- The Prewriting Stage: This is when I do my research, do outlines, write character biographies and determine what plot course the novel will take.
- The Writing Stage: I do all my rough drafts by hand.
- The Typing Stage: The handwritten manuscript is typed. It may get a preliminary edit when it is typed.
- The Editing Stage: More research is sometimes conducted during this stage as the novel goes through numerous drafts then is copy edited and finally proofread.
- The Publication Stage: This is the next step for my novel Angel of Mercy.
Believe it or not, I have met authors (self published) who freely admit that they never make notes of any kind before they begin writing. These same writers also admit to never making sustainable edits to their drafts, if they make edits at all. This kind of sloppy work shows.
Other novice writers complain they begin writing stories but then can never seem to finish them. More often than not they do no prewriting. They will say they prefer stream of consciousness or they believe the story should guide itself.
I strongly disagree with those who decide prewriting is something to shrug off. It is an essential part of any novel. Writing a novel without prewriting is like building a house without a foundation. Eventually, it will fail.
My first step in the prewriting stage is making an outline. When I say “make an outline,” I’m not referring to the type of outline you did for term papers when you were in school, where you make a neat list of “first this happens and then this and then this.” No, my outlines are dozens of pages long.
The outline is my map for the path the novel will take. It is divided by chapters and further divided by scenes in the chapter. Each scene has a paragraph devoted to it which summarizes what will happen in that particular scene. If I have any dialogue in mind, I’ll include that, too, so I don’t forget by the time I write the scene.
Angel of Mercy was written over the period of several years, usually a few paragraphs at a time late at night, and sometimes with several weeks between work sessions. Without my detailed outlines, I would have never completed the manuscript because I would have been completely lost. The outlines allowed me to pick up where I left off.
We all love a good story, but without characters that seem real and alive, how good can the story be?
The next step in the prewriting stage for me is writing my characters’ biographies. For the main character in Angel of Mercy, I know everything about her and her immediate family.
I know when her ancestors arrived in North America, their ethnic origin (based on family surnames), her religious affiliation and her family’s favored political party. I know what sort of education she had, what her childhood was like and the month and year of her birth.
In addition, I know all her siblings, her parents, her grandparents on both sides of the family, several aunts and uncles, some of her cousins and a set of great-grandparents. I have an entire family tree devoted to the family.
Why all the work, you may ask, when most of the information won’t appear in a novel set between 1914 and 1918? Because these are the people and events which made my character the woman she is. And notice I said the “woman she is” because to me she is a real, flesh and blood person. If I have done my job correctly, she will appear alive to my readers as well.
In historical fiction, some artistic license is allowed, but accuracy is important. Believe me, there is someone out there who will know the difference. I’ve done multiple rounds of research – on a period I already knew much about – and even now that the manuscript is finished I continue to do research. Inaccuracy is my fear.
At the same time, research has been part of the fun, because I’ve learned a great deal, but that subject is for another blog post.
As far as what I’ve researched, it’s been a number of things including characters’ hometowns, national history, women’s fashions, medical history, battle particulars and everyday life. I also read World War One era poetry and short stories written by the soldiers, nurses and journalists who live through the conflict.
Do you have a process when you do creative work? What does your process look like? Leave a comment below.
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