This is a response post to Musings Of An Ink Stained Wretch "Learning from Experience: Five Novels and Still Finding Ways to Improve My Process" The question posted was, "How do you write a novel? What do you do differently? What have you learned over time?"
I have written a total of four novels and published one. With each book I have gotten better. My first book written at 16 was under the tutelage of an experienced writer. My second, just 3 years ago was "pantsed" or in other words, I just threw words at the page. I did some outlining for my third novel, some basic story development. Neither my second nor my third book are in any shape for publication. In fact they will require extensive story reconstruction before I can give them to editors or even beta readers. While there are sections that are great, in general, they are pretty big pieces of poop. My last novel "The Hunger Inside" was developed quite extensively before I started writing. I outlined chapters and told myself where I wanted the story to go. I had "conversations" with my characters. I even posted those conversations on Google Plus! It turned out well and although I'm sure there could be improvements, it's a decent book that tells the story I wanted it to.
Figuring out a story is not just me saying "I want a story about.." I need the characters first. My writing is mostly character driven. The characters have to tell me who they are and what they want. Yes..I talk to myself. The characters themselves tell me what setting they are in and their motivations. They even argue with each other.
While writing, it's almost like watching a movie. I write down what I watch on my mental screen. After I have finished watching the movie, I go back to see what I wrote. Some of the problems I run into are: names/dates/timeline issues. I frequently forget who is who because I'm so busy writing what I see, I don't write down these characters and places that will reoccur later on. I will also forget when important things happen.
I will follow this same process for my new Sci-fi novel that I used for The Hunger Inside. It really worked for me. Pantsing did NOT. I'll be just as tough on my word counts, requiring myself to write at least 2k words per day every working day. I will not edit until the whole novel is written. I will be adding a data list of characters, places, times for reference.
For me, it's not so much about selling the novel as it is making the people who do read it, feel what I want them to feel. For my Sci-fi novel, I want people to feel the desperation of someone who's body has been utterly ravaged. I also want them to feel a bit of shame at a system that developed into a controlling, manipulative government and people who allowed themselves to become ignorant and passive.
How about you? If you are an author how do you write your books? What have you learned over time?