This post discusses the creative process for developing a manuscript. It focuses on the phases of a project’s development from conception to finish.
It is more important how you dedicate yourself to the process of developing your manuscript, than it is what the story is about.
Artists who are developing have a system by which they work. Even though we begin the habit that becomes our craft by winging it, eventually a system wins out. Great writing comes from revision.
Order is important to the development of a manuscript because it facilitates clarity, which will help you map out the structure of your book, solve problems as they arise, and save you time. If you devise a plan you can get to the end sooner than if you wing it.
There are two main components of conceiving a book. The order in which you develop them is dependent upon what you think of first.
Developing your story
Why do you want to tell this story? What is it about? Whose telling the story? When does it take place? How long do you think it will be? How much time will it take you to write it?
No matter how well you know your story as you develop your manuscript, it will change. It will be easier for you to develop your story if you have an outline of it to work with.
Make an outline of what you want to say. Consider it in three parts which will then be broken up into more detailed components. A beginning, a middle, and an end. Your outline might resemble a calendar with details filled in the squares, or you might use Roman numerals and lettering to get the details out. Choose which works best for you.
Developing your characters
Good stories are written through the character. The more that you know about your character upfront the better time you’ll have writing book.
Know your characters before you begin drafting. Knowing who they are means knowing what they look like, how they sound, their opinions, how they would think and behave in any given situation. It means knowing who they are as a person from their perspective.
Describe them, write it down. Everything from physical characteristics to what they do for a living, to the way they think and act. When you know how a character will operate in any situation you have the makings of a story. Give them a person to interact with, a problem to have, an environment to be in, and you’ll have a situation for them to respond to.
You could freewrite on your character, getting all the important components out, or you could create a chart with points to cover:
Background story: What are your characters’ background? Where do they live? How and when do they live? What ethnicity are they? Where were they born? Are they learned? Have they committed a crime, are they running from someone/something? What income bracket do they fall within?
Motivation: What drives your character? Why do they do the things they do? What are their political leanings? Social leanings? Sexuality? Faith?
Diction: How do they speak?
Behavior: How do they act usually? When they’re under stress or experiencing something fearful?
Social status: were they born poor or wealthy? Are they self-made?
Once you have the principal characters, put them into action and you have a developing story.
Drafting is the longest phase of a manuscript’s development. It will take many drafts until your project is finished. Drafting begins with the start of writing a story and ends with proofreading.
Drafting is an art. A writer develops their style by writing and revising until they have the system that works most efficiently for them. You’ll intuitively know if you’re going against good form or keeping it.
Some writers will write fast and develop the material quickly day after day, adding to what they wrote the session before, and see their manuscript systematically develop. Another writer may labor over their words, taking 20 minutes, even an hour to write a paragraph. Ideal progression is contingent on your style of drafting.
Aim for the fastest competent way you can get the words out.
Also called rewriting. There are two goals to be met when revising a manuscript.
One: get the punctuation and grammar right.
Two: make sure overwritten sections are cut back, darlings that hinder the continuity of your manuscript are cut, and underwritten sections, or those missing entirely are written to perfection.
Revising is either light or heavy.
Heavy revising is when a significant amount of text is added or cut to the manuscript as you revise. In some cases thousands of words will be written to or removed from a project, causing it to double or shrink in length.
Light revision is word and sentence changes here and there, paragraphs moved around without much question as to where they are going to go.
Editing is often confused for revising. Whereas revising is the updating of a text with new content, editing is up dating the grammar of a text. Often it’s done as a text is developing. It’s definitely done at the end of the revision process. This takes us into proofreading.
Proofreading is the systematic read through of a text to find all of the mistakes it contains and correcting them.
It is a crucial stage of writing. If you’re planning on submitting your work it must be done, otherwise you’re wasting your time and potentially someone else’s time. If you have someone who has your confidence and is willing to edit your work for you, great, let them proof your work and pay them for their time.
Proper proofreading is done with a printed hard copy of the manuscript.
Always read your work out loud as your proofing.
Reading aloud does two things:
It clears up any issue with grammar, punctuation, spelling, and diction that your manuscript may have. It will also lead to changes that need to be made that otherwise might be skipped if the manuscript were to be read silently. Eyes trick the brain into hearing what it wants to hear. When you read aloud the facts come out.
Use a ruler, pencil, and a highlighter to mark up the material as you go. A mistake can be corrected in pencil and highlighted to make it easier to count them going down the page. Use the ruler line by line as you read the text aloud.
As you refine your technique during these four stages of writing a book, you’ll see your efforts becoming more efficient and streamlined.