Here I am again with an article on writing. When I started this blog in 2013 (5 years ago! Time flies!), I had pretty specific ideas about how I should write my novels. I have also shared here several of my techniques, my methods of organization, my preparatory sheets. 5 years later, I learned a lot about writing a novel and I especially wrote a lot. There are novels that I finished, others that I left on hiatus. Stories that were easy to write, others where the birth was long and painful. Here in this post you know about how to writing a novel.
Let’s be clear, I still use more or less the same methods, my way of preparing my writing and of working hasn’t fundamentally changed, but I really… relaxed from my underwear. As the years passed, I realized that too much preparation did not necessarily help me. I also met many authors who did not have the same methods, some who were more rigorous than me, others who assiduously practiced the technique of freestyle.
Table of Contents
Too much planning kills my motivation
I ended up realizing it. Preparing my stories too much, quibbling too much about the creation of my characters ended up irremediably making me lose my taste for writing a novel. Indeed, if I already know everything that was going to happen, if everything is already ready in my head, then why take the time to write it down? Having an overflowing imagination and a capacity for visualization, my faith not disgusting, I used to invent the scenes in my head, to make the dialogues to me, a little like I would have watched a film.
The problem is that if I know the content of my scene too precisely, it’s as if I no longer see the point of making the effort to write it. Unlike, if I have a fuzzy idea of how events unfolded, I ‘m much more motivated to write it down since I myself can’t wait to imagine what’s next!
Conversely, if I have no idea of the content of my chapter, it blocks me completely. I had to find a middle ground. Have an idea that is vague enough to be motivated by writing a novel and at the same time an idea that is precise enough to easily find inspiration.
Fewer character sheets, more writing
Of course, I haven’t abandoned my character sheets. They are always extremely useful to me! On the other hand, I no longer make sheets as detailed as before. I gather the essential information, especially on the personal history of the characters, then I quickly throw myself into writing. My characters are defined as the writing progresses, their character takes shape within the story when they interact with each other.
I realized that when I took too long to prepare my character sheets, without actually using them in ghostwriting services, once again my motivation dropped. If I’m unable to start with zero-character ideas (others do!), I need that excitement of creating a new character to write.
So, I make little cards, which I complete as I write. Each time I add a detail about his life, his family, his physique, I write it down in his file (or at least I try to think about it). The sheet expands over time, the character takes on relief and above all I get to know him.
Defining story arcs
I usually work by scene. It’s rare for a chapter to stretch over a long period of time, happening in multiple locations. It’s a habit like any other. Anyway, before writing a novel, I cut my story into story arcs, then into chapters.
For example, in Mon Amie Gabrielle, there were 3 story arcs:
- 2004: adolescence, Gabrielle is dependent on Salah and he comes to her aid
- 2011: young adult couple, the dynamic is gradually reversed, Gabrielle gains independence while Salah clings to her
- 2014: adult life with children, Salah is dependent on Gabrielle and unable to make his own choices
In the case of this writing a novel, there was no plot other than the relationships between people. It is therefore these relationships that define the narrative arcs. In the case of my novel Alana and the Vampire Child (which has not yet found a publisher), the plot is closer to an investigation, which gives:
- Part 1: discovery of the universe of vampires
- Part 2: Is J. a vampire? the 2 heroines lead the investigation
- Part 3: hunt for the big bad vampire
I like 3-part stories, but obviously this is just an example. In any case personally, it helps me a lot to think about my story like this, rather than going straight to a chapter.
Note that everything also depends on the stories. In Tant Quail Le Audra, my serial novel on Wattpad, I didn’t plan any narrative arcs because I write as I go and I follow precisely the course of a school year. The rhythm is therefore rather imposed by the associative agenda of the characters. But who knows, maybe I’ll change my mind and go back to my little habits?
Preparing the chaptering (provisional)
After laying my bows, I can tackle the chaptering. Clearly having a problem with math, I can’t resist doing strictly the same number of chapters per arc, but that’s just me. Anyway, I’m starting to think about the content of my chapters. I always start by defining:
- the point of view (if it changes according to the chapters)
- the main action
- the place(s) (often there is only one, but that can change)
- the characters who will intervene
For example, here is what I wrote for the 1st chapter of Tant Quail Le Audra:
- PDV Prudence
- 1st local meeting of the year
- Present: David, Léo, Min-Jae, Shun, Harry, Gwen, Mehdi, Max, Prudence
- Absent: Ina (GM of her other association), Jade (accessibility), Romana (family weekend), Nathan (work)
For a chapter of Alana and the Vampire Child, it’s a bit different:
- J. joins the group at the last minute, not happy to have been left out. The 3 teenagers break into the house while Jupiter is held elsewhere by the adults. They are surprised by V. while they free the 2 children.
- It’s not presented the same way, but we have the same elements: the characters (whom I’ve anonymized a bit to avoid spoilers), the location (the villain’s house) and the action (the forced entry, the liberation and surprise).
- Depending on the size of the book, I do all the chaptering at once, or I proceed by arc. I do the chaptering for arc 1, I write everything, then I do the chaptering for arc 2, etc. It is quite possible that my chapters move during the writing, that I reverse some of them, that I postpone scenes, that I add some, that I delete some. The important thing is to have a coherent basis on which I can rely, so as not to write blindly.
- But that’s just a base! And that’s the whole point. It is a base from which I can deviate a little according to my inspiration.
Write in chronological order
The novels I never finished are the ones I didn’t write in order. The reason is very simple: when I don’t force myself to write chronologically, I write the scenes that make me like the most. As a result, after a while, I only have “less good” scenes left to write. So, I stop writing. Every time it’s the same thing.
I know myself, I absolutely have to stop myself from writing this kiss scene chapter 12, even if I can’t wait. I have to write the first 11 chapters and the famous kiss scene chapter 12 will be my reward. I imagine other people don’t have this problem and I envy them. I know that ideally, all the chapters would be equally fun, but you have to face the facts, there are scenes that motivate me more than others.
In addition, my characters evolve within the story, but also in my head. It is possible that Kevin’s character has changed a lot between the time when I made his character sheet and the time when I arrive at the famous chapter 12 where he kisses Jean-Michel. Writing in order helps me to keep a certain coherence and to better control the evolution of the characters. There’s nothing that annoys me more than throwing away a whole chapter because I wrote it too soon and making ends meet doesn’t fit.
So, I stopped writing bits of history here and there, and I write in chronological order. It’s restrictive, but that’s what I need. Moreover, I find that writing like this gives me more freedom, more improvisation. History can change slowly, without me tearing my hair out because I thought I had calculated everything in advance.
Prepare to improvise?
All this talk to say that in the end, I prepare myself much less than before when I start writing a novel. And I think it pays off, since I finally manage to finish long stories. And it’s still a big step forward! I still like to do index cards, research, take notes. But I leave myself much more leeway to improvise, I allow myself more freedom, in particular by leaving lots of holes everywhere! My characters are more blurred, to take on more character in the story. My scenarios are less detailed, for more interesting diversions.
Well, I’m going to stop here for today! I hope this article has been of interest to you. In any case, it was also a way for me to formalize my pre-novel preparation method a bit. Maybe if you’re interested, I’ll do another article on my writing method (therefore excluding upstream preparation).