Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Writing a Novel, Part 1

This is the first in a month-long series on writing in honor of Camp NaNoWriMo.

Before I started writing, I had this idea that authors just sat down at a computer, wrote for a few days or weeks, proofread their work for typos, and then sent it off to a publisher. It was then magically transformed into print after getting a cover and being proofread again. 

If only it could be that simple. 

The path of a story from an author's mind to into your hands is far more convoluted and lengthy. 


First, an author has to come up with a story worth writing. For me, this comes in one or more ways, depending on my brain that day (For fun, let's create a goofy little story). 
  • The "What if" scenario, such as: What if my marching band was placed in an alien battle of the bands on another planet? 
  • The character idea: There should totally be an ex-swimmer with 13 siblings who also has ninjas for parents For me, this is often quickly followed by a "what if" that involves the character.
  • The world idea: A planet completely covered by water that is inhabited by mermaids.
  • The plot idea: A quest for a missing jewel goes terribly wrong when the leader of the party gets kidnapped. This method is similar to the "what if", but tends to have more of a plot.
  • The scene strike: A flautist passes out trying to win a breath-holding competition. This method is shorter and more narrow than the plot idea or what if scenario, but begs questions.
You'll notice that none of these ideas constitutes a full novel. The marching band needs players, perhaps a quirky drummer. One scene doesn't constitute a whole novel.

So how do these crazy ideas get strung together? I like to call the next step...

Fermentation (Or Brainstorming)

Have you ever had a sourdough bread starter? It takes weeks to months to develop a mixture capable of making the wonderful, aromatic bread known as sourdough. It needs fed flour and water to allow the yeast (the microorganisms responsible for making bread rise) and bacteria (responsible for the sour flavor) to grow. It also needs kept at a certain temperature, stirred occasionally, and monitored for bad bacterial growth. This whole process can be considered a form of fermentation.

"Fermenting" a plot occurs in much the same way. You have to feed your idea with more ideas.

Let's string our story ideas from above together.

 The quest for a missing jewel occurs on the same world as the mermaids--maybe it's the mermaids' crown jewel. They narrow it to a person who lives on earth who's in a band and summon a bunch of high school students to their underwater planet for a band competition. Our ex-swimmer with 13 siblings and ninja parents just joined up and has become friends with the quirky drummer. On the way, he challenges a flautist to a breath holding contest. Being a swimmer, he wins and the flute-player passes out. Meanwhile, the mermaids' quest leader has just been kidnapped.

The story ideas might not have come complete, but following fermentation, we have something that's ready to move on to the next step in the writing process.

Fermentation varies greatly from story to story and author to author. I've come up with whole plots in a day, characters included. Have these been my best stories? No, and I tend to let them sit and develop for a while to iron out some kinks. Some stories have taken me months just to get a vague idea of what's actually going on. Other authors prefer to  use "random story generators" to flush out their stories, or even just give them starting points.

Next week I'm going to cover the process of writing a rough draft and some of the different approaches to doing so. Don't forget to tune back in on Friday for a book review! (I'm finally going to break the fantasy streak for a change of scenery). 

Please feel welcome to post your comments and questions about the post below. 


  1. I totally agree with how it differs from author to author, and especially story to story. I have one story that I've been planning for years, and I'm sure I won't get around to it for years but it's still not ready yet. For other stories, I'll write 500-2,000 words in a flash of inspiration and have the whole novel planned out by the time I finish.

    Hahaha, I'd love to see your story written. It might be just a little random, but you never know, I'm sure you'd get a good laugh out of it. (Ninja parents?!?! So cool!)

  2. Maybe it would make a good pet project :) Thanks for the comment, Victoria!


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