The time has come to end this series of the tools and processes that I use to write. Two weeks ago, I wrote about flash fiction. A week ago, I wrote about writing short stories. So this week, we finally come to how I write novels. I’ve only ever written one novelette, and that started life as a short story, and I’ve never written a single novella. Though I suspect that if I ever do, I’m going to treat it like a novel to start with.
To start with, I’m not entirely sure where my novel ideas come from. Mostly I construct them out of thin air through a long time of mulling over a starting point. Lately, the starting point has mostly been a genre. “I want to write gothic horror”. “I want to write a tech thriller”. The last novel I queried started from “I want to write about sisters”. There are a lot of seeds, but not all of them have actually made it to even the germinating stage. There’s a fair amount of churn with any set of ideas for me, and most of them spend years just being developed. That tech thriller? I’ve been thinking about that one since 2017 or 2018.
While I’m mulling, I try to figure out the viewpoint character and the story that I want to tell. When something grabs me, I move on to the next stage. Sometimes, I move books back to the mulling if it doesn’t work out. Like that tech thriller.
When I’m planning a novel, I use a mix of two different processes. Story Genius by Lisa Cron, and Rock Your Plot by Cathy Yardley. (Please note, those are both affiliate links.) Cron’s method is very good for my brain to delve deeper into the character and their past and their needs. She has you do some freewriting based on some questions. Then write some past scenes that were instrumental in forming the central need of the character that the story revolves around. Then she has you do some more freewriting on where the story starts and where it ends. And then she has you writing out scene plans for the first five scenes. Between those last two steps is where I need Yardley’s method to help me see the story arc. And then I write out the scene plans and I start drafting.
Working the plan
My tools here are actually pretty familiar by now. I use 4thewords to draft, and I use Scrivener to store and organize my work as it happens. I use Google Docs to keep and develop my scene plans, or scene cards as Cron calls them. I start writing a novel with 5 scenes ready to go, and I plan more as I go and I see where the story develops into. I keep the outline as a guide for myself, but mostly, the scene plans are the blueprint that I use to build my novel, five scenes at a time.
I’ve been trying to learn a new revision system for almost a year now. Revision Season is the method Elana K. Arnold developed. I like it, but it’s just SO MUCH work. But I think it’s going to result in a better novel. And for this process, I use several different tools. 4thewords when I need to do some freewriting, Microsoft Word when I need to mark up my manuscript in various ways. And Scrivener, when I need to actually edit the thing. And repeatedly export it for re-marking. Revision Season gave me a plan for the work and then I work the plan until I’m done.
So that’s it. That’s all of the tools and processes that I use to write. What do you use?