Clarity after a long break, Part 4: My workflow

In my previous three posts, I talked about the creative process from the initial spark through sustaining that spark to molding the untamed energy of the initial inception into something polished. Now, I will describe my actual workflow from the initial idea to editing a completed piece of writing as a way of a concrete example. (Note: this workflow is geared more towards novel writing.)

Before I start: a disclaimer. This workflow was developed to suit my own needs and hence it is not something I recommend as a solve-it-all method for everyone and anyone. Also, I’ll be learning for as long as I’m living, and I’m sure that with time I will tweak the way I work.

This workflow is a combination of my own experience and ideas and tips I have gathered from different sources. Some of these sources have been paid-for workshops, and, thus, I’m not allowed to explicitly state what I have learned there, but wherever I have come across something useful that was freely available, I have given concrete examples.

I want to extend abundant thanks to all the people that have contributed to my development as a writer:

So here it is:


I. Preparation

(In whichever order)

  • Write down initial idea and concepts
  • Think about the overarching themes
  • World building
  • Note major plot points, direction, ending:
    • aim of protagonists
    • obstacles
    • stakes
  • Figure out the main characters:
    • What do they want?
    • What are their weaknesses?
    • Where are they from (literally and emotionally)?
    • Where are they going?
    • Personality traits, quirks, ticks => why and what these things mean to the character
    • Physical traits: their body, how they sound, how they smell
  • Let it rest and revisit
  • Formulate pitch (this will for sure change, but a good exercise to get direction and clarity)

II. Drafting

  • Start writing
  • Do minor revisions
  • Apply immediately new decisions and note where this requires changes in already written material
  • When necessary, stop and redevelop plot, world building, themes, new characters

{Do not do an outline while drafting “do it after starting on the revision plan.}

III. Revision

  1. Make a revision plan
  • Make a revision plan for the big things (check out Ellen Brock’s video on making a revision plan):
    • plot
    • structure
    • pacing
    • world building
    • characters

(not style and technique)

–       Check comments in the manuscript for stuff that needs revision and add to plan

  • Ask following revision questions and when in doubt, add to plan things that need fixing:
    • What is the central conflict?
    • Is the beginning pulling the reader in? Is there enough / too much info?
    • Pace of the middle ok?
    • Is my structure balanced? (3-act, 5-act, free structure)?
    • Is the ending satisfactory? Does it do its job?
    • Is the setting part of the story or can the story take place anywhere? The setting should be an intricate part of the plot.

–       Ask the following character questions (for major characters) and when in doubt add to revision plan (a good resource on characters is Brandon Skyhorse’s video on Coursera):

  • Does the character arc change? (character arc = where from + where going)
  • Does the change in character arc affect the character’s actions and decisions?
  • Is the protagonist the best person for accomplishing the task / solving the problem?
  • Are the stakes important enough? (Should be the most important to the protagonist’s life based on protagonist’s values.)
  • Does the character have a goal? (Character needs to be proactive and this is not possible without a goal.)
  • Do the characters do something to surprise us?
  • Let the manuscript rest.
  1. Make an outline

>Here I need to reread the manuscript

  • Make an outline for chapters and scenes with word counts.
  • (–> a good resource on that: Ellen Brock’s video on working with an outline)
  • A few sentences for each scene about:
    • what character was trying to accomplish
    • what the conflict is
    • what comes out of the scene
    • Mark the POV (if multiple POVs)

–       Add stuff to the revision plan that I’ve noticed needs fixing (can be done while outlining). 

  1. Go through the outline

–       Plot the structure of the novel (Freytag’s pyramid, 5-act structure?)

–       Revisit the revision and character questions and add new stuff to fix to the revision plan

–       Revisit the pitch and check if it holds or if I have new clarity on the story

–       Go through the outline and mark scenes that need fixing (e.g. scenes without conflict, repetitive scenes, missing scenes)

{Do not fix yet! Add what needs to be fixed to the revision plan.}

  1. Take stock of the revision plan
  • Go through the revision plan and get an overview of
    • changes that overlap
    • changes that will cause more changes in other places
    • changes that will not be necessary
  1. Go through the revision plan
  • Go through the revision plan and fix the manuscript
    • Start from the biggest fixes to the smallest fixes
    • Check points off on the revision plan to keep track of what is done
  • Let the manuscript rest.

–       Reread again before sending it off to beta-readers

IV. Beta-readers

  • Fix with comments from beta-readers.
    • Send beta-readers a questionnaire with exact questions
    • Ask them to mark passages they like or dislike

V. Editing

As many reads as necessary

  1. The bigger things

–       Cut places where doing the readers’ thinking for them (show, don’t tell)

  • Cut stage directions, clumsy backstory, belaboring the obvious
  • Is there context and setting to the dialogue?
  • Am I writing in active voice? Signs that I’m not (check Strunk for more):
    • There is/are
    • It is
    • Made his way
  • Are the transitions between paragraphs and sections smooth?

2. The smaller things

–       Exchange placeholder words for feelings and senses (check Janice Hardy’s spit shine at Fiction University)

  • Use adverbs in dialogue judiciously (especially in dialogue tags). Can use actions to supplement dialogue.
  • Start aggregating own spit shine

–       Punctuation


–       Read the text out loud.

Let the manuscript rest and reread before sending it off into the world

Published by Adriana K. Weinert

I write novel-length speculative fiction with the occasional short story to boot.

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