I first encountered Victoria Grefer and her self-published fantasy series The Herezoth Trilogy in a Facebook group. Victoria stood out instantly for her ability sell her work in a few clean, simple sentences—exactly how a mainstream publisher would. Her story synopsis alone convinced this picky writer-reader to give her work a try, and I wasn’t disappointed. Now I read her blog Creative Writing With The Crimson League regularly. Today, I’ve asked her to share her process with us. So welcome, Victoria, and take it away!
I’m so excited to guest blog here on Journey Craft! As a fiction author (my genre is fantasy), Lisa asked me to write a little bit about my process, and how I take a novel from start to finish. I thought that was a fabulous idea, so I agreed. I’d love to hear how other people write differently, or do something similar to my M.O.
When I draft a fantasy novel, I go through different phases and do things somewhat differently each time, but more or less, I follow the same pattern and process. First comes the first draft.
What, you might be thinking, no outline? Generally, no. I’ve used an outline only once, for my last novel, because I thought I it would help speed the process of getting words down during National Novel Writing Month, a 30-day extravaganza during November where thousands of writers try to write full novels or at least 50,000 words of one. I prefer to discover the story as I go and to let the characters guide me. I love it—just love it—when I realize my characters are more complex than I foresaw, and they would respond to a situation differently than I anticipated, and what they would do is a hundred times more interesting than what I first thought. That’s why I write, in all honesty. For that thrill of discovery. One thing I’ve learned talking to other writers, though, is that everyone approaches the drafting phase differently. There’s nothing at all wrong with outlining, and it did have the effect I sought of helping me write quicker. Writing off the cuff is what I prefer, and it works for me. I try as hard as I can to edit as little as possible while I’m writing. I focus on adding words to the document until I get to the end.
After finishing a first draft, I celebrate and let the draft sit for a few weeks. I picked up that tip from Stephen King, and it’s a useful policy for distancing myself from the work, to later view the draft more objectively. That said, leaving that file alone for any length of time is not an easy thing to do, and I rarely end up keeping it closed as long as I should.
When I finally give in to temptation and decide to begin the editing process, the first step is a read-through. (Again, I adopted the advice on Stephen King here. I highly recommend his On Writing to any current or aspiring writer of fiction who hasn’t read it. It was the most honest and most helpful writer’s handbook I’ve ever picked up.) The point of my read-throughs is to, well, read the novel (crazy, I know) as quickly as possible. I never get through it in the one or two days King suggests, though. I take longer. I try not to edit as I go, just to take notes on things that don’t make sense, that I feel I can cut, or that might need further explanation. If a passage seems out of place, or pacing isn’t right, I mark that. If something raises questions in my mind, I note it. The point of a read-through is, as much as possible, to examine the work objectively in its entirely; that’s why I resist the urge to stop and edit during this phase. One thing I end up marking a lot during read-throughs, since I write by the seat of my pants, is places where I might add exposition to set up for events that occur later in the novel. Oftentimes I don’t know how the novel will end as I’m writing it, so I need to add foreshadowing or background info to prepare readers for things that will happen later, things that I didn’t know would happen when I was first writing the novel.
Then comes the first edit. All those comments I took during the read-through? They usually number over one hundred. I go through the novel and address each comment, deleting it as I fix the issue it named. Some are really quick, others require an hour or two of work. Eventually the last comment is gone, and I read the novel again, polishing things. From this point on, my editing generally consists of polishing, and sometimes deletions. Every now and then it will strike me as I’m reading that something is missing, but I don’t often add substantial passages after this point (unless beta readers have questions I feel I can best address with an added snippet or two.)
And speaking of beta readers…. I ship my novel off to my trusty beta readers after I’ve edited the work two or three times following the initial read-through. I continue to edit as they’re reading, as then some more, to address their concerns after I’ve got their responses and comments. They often see problems I that hadn’t occurred to me, or have questions that let me know something I thought I’d explained well still needs clarification. Every writer should have a great group of at least three to four beta readers in my opinion. It’s always a great idea to have a “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” arrangement and read/comment upon each other’s unpublished work. Beta readers are a wonderful tool, when they are honestly and respectfully critical about what aspects of your work need improvement. I don’t know what I would do without mine!
After beta readers, I continue to edit a pass or two. Then I consider having someone proofread as I prepare the work for publication. And that, more or less, is how I handle the writing process. I have favorite things and things I loathe about each step. All in all, it’s a great adventure taking a novel from start to “finish.” I never feel like a novel I’ve written is finished. I don’t think any writer does, but the time does come when it’s time to send a cherished book out into the wide, wide world.