Today I have Benedict Jacka on the blog for a guest post. When he needed some ideas of what to write about one of them was that I was curious about his process. I've been working on writing again lately and haven't yet quite figured out what works for me. So I've been very curious about what works for others. So here he is with his awesome post! (Also be sure to read to the bottom because there's a giveaway!)
Also, I LOVED these books! My review of Cursed will go up next week but my review of Fated is HERE, check it out!
The Process - From first idea to first draft
First is the initial idea. These come unpredictably and in numbers, and they range from very incomplete to very vague and usually both. Often they’re just a single sentence, something along the lines of “this sort of character doing that sort of thing”, and they’ll usually be heavily based off whatever movies, books, TV shows, or games I’m occupied with at the time. Out of everything I read or play or watch, about 99.9% of it slips right by, but one bit out of a thousand sticks in my mental filter and hangs around to become an idea.
Once I’ve got an idea, I sit on it for a while. I have a lot of these ideas, and I don’t keep close track of them – at any one time I’ll have a sort of mental folder of anywhere between five and ten of them somewhere at the back of my mind, and from time to time I’ll take the folder out, shuffle through, play with one a bit, then stuff them back again. Sometimes I write these ideas down, but just as often I don’t – I tend to find that if I need to write an idea down to remember it then it probably wasn’t that important anyway. If the idea’s good then it’ll stick around long enough that it’ll start growing, merging with other ideas and adding extra bits onto itself. Eventually it’ll get to the point where it’s occupying enough of my mental space that it’s beginning to push into my daily thoughts, and at that point I’ll move on to the next stage.
Next I start writing notes. I do less notes now than I used to, and that’s mostly a matter of efficiency – over the years I noticed that I just wasn’t using most of the notes I wrote and decided it wasn’t worth spending so much time on them. Usually the finished product ends up looking absolutely nothing like the notes, but the notes are important all the same – even if I don’t end up following them, they make me think about the questions that need to be answered before I can write the story.
Things that get sorted out at the note-taking stage include:
• Character names – I spend a while trying to decide on names for new characters and in some cases I’ve got notebook pages covered with literally dozens that I’ve gone through and discarded.
• Possible scenes and elements to include – often only about half of the list will make it to the final manuscript, but there’s usually a few that get all the way through.
• What’ll happen in the book, in broad strokes – what the general feel of the story will be and any major plot twists.
The note-taking stage is where a lot of my stories are killed off. Either the book doesn’t seem interesting enough, or problems emerge that I can’t see how to fix, or (most often) the whole thing just doesn’t satisfy me for some vague-but-important reason. If the idea gets past this stage, great! Now the real work begins.
The next stage is to design the story’s main structure. This feels a lot like designing the blueprints for a building, or the skeleton of a living creature. Nowadays I tend to draw diagrams, red and blue and green pens marking different story strands and tracking the scenes, with notes in the margins on what’s going on in the meantime. I can usually get about the first third of the book onto an A4 page – the rest will have to sort itself out on the fly.
Next stage is to begin writing the book. This part – anywhere between the book’s beginning and up to about 1/2 of the way through – is the bit I find the toughest. I have to simultaneously write the first half of the story (and do a good job) while also planning out everything that’s going to happen in the second half. If I’ve made any mistakes in the note-taking and designing stages then this is where they’ll show up, and they’re costly when they do – often a book will stall in this period and I’ll have to spend days or even weeks puzzling over it before I figure out the problem. Usually I’ll have to retrace my steps and go back a few pages or a chapter, and the old version has to be abandoned – my hard drive’s littered with version 1.0s and 1.1s that’ll never see the light of day. I always know when I’ve fixed the mistake because the book speeds up immediately.
The next stage is the last half of the book, and compared to the first half this is pretty straightforward. If I’ve done my job right most of the really major decisions have been made and it’s just a matter of putting in the hours and doing a bit every day. Once I’ve finished (which I will, once it gets to this point – the worst is over and it’s just a matter of time), then it’s time to celebrate! Get a nice meal, go out with friends, give the book a quick edit and send it off to my publisher (if I’m lucky) or my agent (more likely).
So the book’s done, right? Well, no. Next comes the edits, and there’ll be at least three full rounds of those, spread out between all the other stages on the long road to publication. But from this point on it starts to get more and more technical and I’m honestly not sure most people would be interested in the details (and besides, this piece is nudging a thousand words already), so I’ll leave that for another time!
Thanks for stopping by and sharing your process. To be honest, the first bit of what you said is basically what I do as well. Especially all those ideas. I agree, if it's worthwhile you won't be forgetting it. Sometimes I manage to combine a few of those ideas...
Alex Verus is part of a world hidden in plain sight, running a magic shop in London. And while Alex's own powers aren't as showy as some mages, he does have the advantage of foreseeing the possible future--allowing him to pull off operations that have a million-to-one-chance of success.
But when Alex is approached by multiple factions to crack open a relic from a long-ago mage war, he knows that whatever's inside must be beyond powerful. And thanks to his abilities, Alex can predict that by taking the job, his odds of survival are about to go from slim to none...
Benedict Jacka's acclaimed Alex Verus series continues with Cursed.
Since his second sight made him infamous for defeating powerful dark mages, Alex has been keeping his head down. But now he's discovered the resurgence of a forbidden ritual. Someone is harvesting the life-force of magical creatures—destroying them in the process. And draining humans is next on the agenda. Hired to investigate, Alex realizes that not everyone on the Council wants him delving any deeper. Struggling to distinguish ally from enemy, he finds himself the target of those who would risk their own sanity for power...
You can find Benedict Jacka on his Website.
The generous folks at Penguin are offering up one copy of Cursed to one lucky person!
Open to US only
Must be 13 or older to enter.
Fill out the rafflecopter. If for some reason it doesn't work please leave a comment telling me so.