Writing Methodology: How do you start?

Writing a novel is no easy task, and writing a good novel is even harder. It can be arduous from the beginning, developing a fledgling idea into a full blown narrative that not only grips the reader with each word, but completely represents the story you want to tell. For each author, this process will be different. I thought, however, that it may be helpful for some young writers to see what method other authors use when preparing, and developing, a story.

I go through a few different stages when it comes to developing a new story. I have the idea, the storyboard, outlining, drafting, editing, then finally polishing.

The Idea
Arguably the most difficult for some writers is coming up with the main theme for the novel they plan to write. More often than not, a writer will know what they want to write, but they won't know how to write it. Why should their character do this? What caused that to happen?

The first step I take is to decide on the main plot. Many things are considered, such as the world in which the story will take place, where in this world, the constraints of the world, and so forth. Next comes the main character. Since I write fantasy, this will consist of species, gender, appearance, social qualities, and so forth. This allows me to get into the mind of my character and work out who they are, how they act, etc. Finally, support characters are considered. I will generally come up with far more than I will end up using.

The Storyboard
Once the world and characters have been drafted, I can move on to deciding the main structure of the story. The beginning, middle, and end of the narrative are the main points of interest, deciding how the main character(s) will be introduced, what they will need to overcome, and how they are affected as a result of their experiences.

In my first novel, The Immortal Tales: Kri, I ended up with a string of main characters. I decided to introduce them over a number of chapters, allowing the reader to learn more about them than they could if they had been thrown in a room together. As the story progressed, I placed a roadblock for the characters; one half to initiate a war, the other to defend against it. Finally, the story concluded with a somewhat damning revelation, leaving the characters looking towards the future.

This is a step that I tend to take a little further than I probably should, but it comes down to each author and how they like to write. I take my notes from the storyboard, which should give me a rough idea of the locations and general flow of the narrative, and expand it. A lot.

My notes remain in point form, at least in essence. The general structure of the story is laid out, and the characters are allowed to develop themselves further. More often than not, I will find myself deviating from the structure I had decided on in the last stage, and it always works out for the better. Remember, writing is about creative flow, not sticking to a straight line or mechanical structure. Once I have completed my outlining, my story as a whole is laid out before me from beginning to end, allowing me to go over everything and work out what needs to be removed, added, or modified, before the groundwork for the actual novel can take place.

In addition, when I say I expand it a lot, I really do mean it. My final word count on my second novel, The Immortal Tales: Tarlos, sits roughly around 90,000 words. My outline sat around 20,000 words.

The story finally comes alive as I begin to draft the actual novel. All the notes and point form additions from the last stages are combined and structured to flow as a properly written work. Dialogue is added, and actual character interaction is implemented.

This is not the time to be thinking "oh, well I've finished my novel now, time to market it!". Far from it. Generally, I will pump out a draft in a few weeks, allowing me to fully understand the world I am writing and the characters that live in it. The draft cements in my mind how the final work should appear, and lays the groundwork for the next stage.

Now that my draft is completed, I can move on to editing to ensure that all my silly grammatical and spelling mistakes are corrected. I also ensure that everything reads as it should, that there is no confusion to who is speaking at any point in time, and so on. This is also the time that I look over my novel, perhaps reading it three or four times, to ensure that everything has been foreshadowed correctly and that the story actually makes sense.

This can be a brutal, often painful process to do, but it is important to ensure that you remove parts that just don't work, or dialogue that just isn't necessary. If you are particularly attached to a particular piece of text, perhaps see if you can fit it in somewhere else, or even put it aside for your next work. Removing it doesn't mean you don't have to use it, it just means that you're not using it at that point in time.

I tend to take things one step further. While most people will be happy leaving a novel after editing, I like to go over it a few more times. More often than not, I've missed spelling mistakes, grammatical errors, scenes that just don't flow right, and so on. It can also be a good idea to get friends or family to read over your work, or if you feel more comfortable, beta readers (strangers that will read your work and provide you with a critical response to it). The best advice I've ever gotten is to get a stranger to read my work. They're far more likely to criticise your mistakes than your friends, as they're not worried about hurting your feelings.

Hopefully some of the information here is helpful to young writers just starting their journey. If you have tips to add, feel free to comment below, and if you think I'm doing something wrong, let me know about it. I'm always willing to learn.