When questioning how exactly one goes through writing a book, there is no direct answer. Every author who speaks on this topic will probably say the same thing. Every author is different, for they have their own specific process to plan and write their novels.
One method does not fit every writer. Most of the time, writers tend to grab at different techniques and practices from different authors to form their own unique style. There is a considerable amount of alteration in the crafting of a writing process that usually follows the same methodology.
Throughout this article, we are going to look at two major writing techniques as well as the basic initial structures of storylining/building to get a grasp on how one can begin to craft their own method of novel writing.
The Pantser vs The Plotter
This idea, pantsing vs plotting, is a very basic method for categorizing how a writer organizes the makings of their novel. This differentiates the Type A writers from the Type B writers, based on if they choose to plan out or simply begin free-writing their story.
Pantsing is a method of free writing in which a writer simply begins writing without a specific plan or direction in mind. This method is very creative and exploratory, where the writer trusts their own imagination and words to shape the plot instead of planning the entire thing. This can also be referred to as “discovery writing”, given the author is discovering their story as it is written.
Depending on the author, pantsing can begin at any point in the novel. Some writers start their pantsing method at the very beginning of the novel while others may be inspired to write the middle or, even more grappling, the ending of a book. Pantsing is more often used during short stories or other, shorter, literary works.
The consequence of the pantsing method is that writers are more prone to get stuck, without any direction to go off of. Since they are simply making the story up as they go, if they hit a wall in the story, it is more difficult to find their way out of it without a specific goal or arc in mind. Plot points are more difficult to connect when the story has no structure.
It’s rare to see a sole pantsing author who writes a good book, there is always some form of plotting that goes hand-in-hand with their writing style. Despite this being a rarity, there are a good few famous examples of pantser authors, some of which include Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander, George Martin’s Game of Thrones, and Stephen King’s IT and The Shining.
A plotter, on the other hand, has a well-flushed-out plan for their story, one of which consists of a storyline that’s been written out prior to writing. These authors usually start their writing process by brainstorming their story and writing down all of their ideas, filling in holes until they have a concrete plot.
This method of writing is very organized and keeps a writer on a direct track with certain plot points they know they need to hit to keep the story going in a consistent flow. This keeps the writer from getting stuck or lost, because even if they’re running out of ideas, they already have the story set out in front of them, they only need to write it.
The issue with this method is that it tends to limit creative freedom and the desire to stray from a specific track. It can keep the author from coming up with new plot ideas or alternative routes that their story can go on. This creates a different kind of wall, one of which disrupts a creative outlook and flow, often leading to a predictable plotline.
Some authors have a one-track mind and rarely stray from their designated script, but other authors like to incorporate little hints of pantsing into this method. As I stated earlier, not all plotters are sole plotters, just as not all pantsers are sole panters. Here are a few examples of authors that consider themselves plotters: Harry Potter’s J.K. Rowling, Fear Street Books’ E.L. Stein, and A Time to Kill’s John Grisham.
A happy medium of these two methods of writing is the Pantster-Plotter, the most common form of a writer. This incorporates both methods, although the way this method occurs depends on the author. This can mean mostly pantsing with a little plotting or a lot of plotting with a little bit of pantsing. It depends on the author and how structured they think they need to be in order to succeed in writing a novel.
Aside from these two methods we’ve discussed, there are essential elements to a story that every writer needs to identify. These next steps allow for a concrete story to be built. They are the foundation of the story-planning process which almost every author creates before finishing their book.
The Seven Steps of Foundation For a Good Novel
The seven steps that need to be established throughout the process of novel writing are Character, Conflict, Plot, Writing, Structuring & Altering, First Draft, and Second Draft. These seven steps do not necessarily have to go in order, depending on the author’s writing/planning style, but they are crucial in establishing the backbone of a good story.
Character is one of the most important if not the most important factors in story building. Many famous authors throughout history have emphasized that a story must revolve around its protagonist. Therefore, a story must be shaped around the main character, the conflicts in their life, as well as their goals.
A protagonist must have three concise factors: a conflict, a flaw, and a goal. The conflict that the protagonist possesses is what leads to the story’s essential issue and allows it to escalate into the plot. The flaw must be something about the character that needs to be changed throughout the course of the story. The flaw usually goes hand-in-hand with the conflict which leads to the character’s goal. A goal is the driving force of the protagonist’s motivations and drives throughout the story. It is what keeps them going and what forces them to make certain decisions.
These three factors are only the most basic structures of creating a protagonist in order to signify a plot. There must also be backstories, traits, relationships, and other factors involved to create a fleshed-out character; but conflict, flaw, and goal are crucial in sparking a story surrounding the main character.
Conflict is very self-explanatory, it is the problem that forces the story to pick up or escalate. This can take the form of any sort of issue, whether it be personal, relationship, nature-oriented, or catastrophic. No matter what, the conflict must be important to the protagonist for some pre-existing reason. The conflict will be the thing that the protagonist must work to fix or somehow combat for them to reach their goal.
The main categories of conflict are usually man vs man, man vs nature, man vs society, man vs supernatural, or man vs themself. The conflict may vary depending on the protagonist and can thus be solved by plotting.
Plot is the factor of writing that’s up in the air, as it is not always concrete from the beginning and must be created based on the last two steps. Only once a character and a conflict are presented can a plot really be created, or else it falls flat with no substance. It can also be crafted along the way, unlike the previous steps. As I mentioned before, the plot may be structured before or after the writing process begins.
Although the plot can go before, after, or during the next step (writing), it must be established by the end of the first draft. Unless a sudden epiphany occurs in which a writer wishes to change the entire plot of a book in their second draft, the plot usually stays the same from the first to the second draft.
The writing process begins at different points in story building. Like pantsers, many start with this step. On the other hand, plotters tend to do this step after they’ve established the first three steps. Writing can go differently for many people. Sometimes, people keep writing without going back to review their work until the first draft (step six) is complete. Others edit each chapter after they finish it, which leads us to our fifth step which occurs throughout the writing process, structuring and altering.
Structure and Alter
Structuring and altering have to do with breaking down all ideas and writing pieces in order to alter the story based on how the author sees fit. Often, this happens later on or in the middle of the writing process because the author discovers that they know their characters and story very well, much more than they did in the beginning, causing them to make changes to certain factors in their novel.
This step can be done in the writing process or the rewriting of the second draft. Often, authors like to have a full first draft before going back and making changes, but some authors like to revise along the way.
The first draft is a messy, incomplete version of the final product. Often, first drafts have many plot holes, inconsistencies, and messiness that need to be fixed. It is a crucial part of writing a novel to have a messy first draft, for the basic spine of the novel needs to be edited and retouched to become the desired story.
First drafts allow an author to see their work from start to finish. Therefore, they may notice what changes need to be made, what holes need to be filled, and what’s working and what’s not working for the story. This is where editing comes into play, as editors are consistent with making certain suggestions and changes to a first draft before it is rewritten into a second.
The second draft is not necessarily the final product of a novel but it is much more fool-proof than the first. This is a full sweep of the book, rewritten from beginning to end and reviewed for the purpose of revising the plot, structure, characters, and writing choices. Things are rearranged, cut, added, edited, tweaked, etc.
Sometimes second drafts are final drafts while other times they’re not yet on the level of publication. There are several drafting processes a writer must go through before the final version is completed.
Writing a novel is not an easy feat. A book requires several intricate steps and processes that are quite demanding of the author. Authors must be tough, hard-working, and imaginative to reach their goals. Finding your own rhythm and process of story building and writing is crucial to becoming a good writer and writing your novel.
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