How My approach to Writing Novels has Changed

When I started my first novel, I was eighteen. I’d written many stories before this, but this one felt different. I didn’t know much then. I just enjoyed writing for the sake of it: building new worlds, creating new people to populate them. That hasn’t changed, but how I approached a new project has steadily evolved over time.

My first novel had so much planning before I started. There were maps, time-lines, character biographies and so on. I had chapter plans and little record cards with important notes for quick reference. I went through about five or six plans for the first chapter before I even put pen to paper. The whole thing took me about eight years on and off to write. Frankly, it’s about as good as you’d expect from something created by a teenager with no experience or teaching.

My next book only took five years. I still had a chapter plan (it’s saved in Evernote on my phone even now). This time thought, I didn’t worry about drawing out all the other details. Again, it wasn’t great. I thought it was at the time, but looking back on it is painful. I might go back to it one day. I like the setting and several of the characters, but my biggest problem was I didn’t really care about the main character.

Apple was spawned a little differently. I had the idea for the first chapter and it was only after I had written that and part of the next one that I really knew what genre story it was, let alone where it was going. Once I had worked out it was a horror story, I stopped and planned out the rest. I knew the end right from that point, which meant writing towards that climax was always a little painful, but I was happy with it. The story went through several changes as it progressed through editing and beta-readers, but the end was never going to change.

The focus on the ending continued with The Mortician’s Boy. I felt comfortable writing towards a destination, even if many of the stops on the way were vague and hazy. I think this story changed less through the editing stage. It was more about polishing the narrative than sculpting it. I didn’t bother writing down any time lines or character guides but I knew what the nexus points where and made my way between them.

Happily Ever After started with a thought sparked from a film, and again, was a first chapter I had to get down. I knew the ending, I had the perfect image in my head. I knew what the last couple of lines were going to be. I looked forward to getting to that point. It was going to be powerful, dramatic. And when I got about half-way through the book I knew it was never going to happen. The characters had got away from me, evolved in their own right and I knew if I forced that ending, then it would feel false. It was a little disappointing to know I’ll never get to portray that moment I saw so clearly, but I’d rather stay true to my characters.

And what of the latest project? This one is completely organic. I have no idea how it will end, and the setting is still working itself out in my head as I write. This means I’m almost certainly going to have a hell of an editing job when I get to that point, but on the other hand it’s exciting. I like the idea of giving the characters the rein and seeing what they do with the story.

How do you write? Are you a details planner, or do you just see what happens and go with it? If you’ve done both, what advantages and disadvantages have you found?

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