What is The Writing Process?† There is no such thing. There are processes, plural, perhaps. I don’t have a production line procedure. Every story, every novel, every project is different for me.
The current novel I’m working on (one of three) began on impulse when a main character found an enormous egg on the kitchen table, and it went on from there. Here’s the “writing process” it went through: draft starting with an odd image, spool out text and scenes in a chaotic sprint, rewrite it to make some kind of sense, edit it, send it to agent, find out my agent is dead, put manuscript away for a very long time, pull it out again, notice it’s still incoherent, revise it, revise it, and revise it again. Edit. Edit again. Edit again. Revise.
And now, Edit. Again.
I’m at an editing stage in the process now, one of many, a late stage. This stage is what I call continuity. Partly, that means making maps and moving the landscape around. Partly, it’s soldifying and settling the characters so that they gel.
Putting things in place.
The maps aren’t too hard. The novel is loosely set in the Mid-Atlantic suburb where I lived for much of my life. My protagonist lives on a lane much like the one where I lived, in a house like my old one.
To suit the story, I changed the landscape, of course, and as I drafted, I often forgot where things were. I kept sticking in stores that didn’t exist, plus churches and gas stations. They were all on a main drag that also doesn’t exist. I put a big mall off somewhere but didn’t decide whether it was north, south, east, or west of the central setting. The same for the airport where the final action takes place.
As a reader, I confess don’t care about where I am in the book exactly. Even though in real life I’m an oriented person with a good sense of direction, I only occasionally glance at frontispiece maps in books and then forget them. Some readers do care, though, and I have the irrational conviction that when my characters make a right turn, they shouldn’t be driving out of town when they meant to go into town.‡
Therefore, I’m going through, literally drawing maps, though not to scale, and either editing the manuscript to make sure people turn the right way to get places or editing the maps to accommodate the turns.
Stopping people in their tracks
The other part of the continuity editing pass, setting the characters in stone, means reading through the manuscript and noting what I have said about everyone. It usually, at this stage, also means killing characters off. I tend to clutter my books with minor (and even major) characters as I think of them, and so at some point I have to murder people or combine them, lopping off spare limbs and backstories.§
Progression of character is also important. The young man with the long nose should be considerably scarier at the end, not less so. Also, another person should not be covered with fur later in the book when he had already lost most of it earlier. The sad fact is, though, once you have made people consistent and coherent, you realize that they Just Won’t Do. After this pass, I will have to rewrite several people slightly.
Usually, in this interminable, circular, chaotic version of the Writing Process, once I have made lists and character pages, I never look at them again. Because the next book is a sequel, though, I’ll actually hold onto my maps and some of my character sketches, because the place and its people will still exist. And I can’t go back and change where things are if I publish the first book.||
*Cartography (n). The science or practice of drawing maps.
†As an English teacher, I taught “the writing process” according to some Very Good Books on the subject, but I always told the kids they could do it other ways.** That was probably confusing of me, but I wasn’t going to lie to them even for the sake of clarity.
‡Even if I do that sometimes myself. I do find myself driving to work when I meant to go to the hardware store. My main character, however, is driving a Narrative Purpose, while I drive a battered Honda Fit.
§You wouldn’t think that a small crabby male fire elemental middle school student who swims and a sad but brilliant female earth elemental middle school student whose parents have been kidnapped could be the same person, but surprisingly, apparently, they are. That’s not this book. It’s the next one. I’m keeping that situation in the back of my head right now. ALL the situations are in the back of my head, intermingling. That’s one of the things I like about writing.
|| I dealt with continuity in my first two books by setting the second book in the same general time period and universe and with the major large-scale events the same, but with a different POV character. Hm. On reflection, that sounds really complicated. It wasn’t. There’s a third book in that series. I will probably never write it. Wait. I did draft much of it. Huh. I don’t know where that one is.
**As a Fundamentally Disorganized Person, I love systems, lists, and procedures. I have LOTS OF LISTS. LOTS AND LOTS. I have a bullet journal, right now, but I seem to be using the Clear App instead, plus a list in a binder. I use the GTD system, except I don’t. BUT I’M SO ABOUT LISTS. ***
***In my spare time, I have a part-time position coaching college students who are doing a practicum in elementary schools, and I told them when we met the other day that the secret for a disorganized person is to Do It Now and get it out of the way. The system works well, and they told me that I am the only one of the coaches who has already assigned the classrooms and gotten them in touch with their mentor teachers. I was gratified that I was able to demonstrate so effectively how well I cope with my disorganization. Then I stood up at the end of class and all my loose sheaves of papers, cards, plans, and binders fell out of my hands and onto the floor. The student teachers tried to help me with them. “Leave them,” I said. “That is my reality.” They did not understand. Welcome to my world. Or worlds.****