On Novel: My Writing Process with Elaine Dodge

I love reading about another author’s writing process. Not only does it make me feel sane (because sometimes there are some weird things I do while writing) but I also gain useful tips that help in how I approach some of my writing projects. On Novel: My Writing Process is a writing tips series I’m going to be running throughout August, September and October with guest posts from authors sharing their experience. If you’re a novice the series will definitely benefit you. So without further introduction, here’s the first guest post from Elaine Dodge.

 

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On Novel: My Writing Process

Author Elaine Dodge

 

Rabbit trails. I would have to say rabbit trails – if I was asked where I find my ideas. Inspiration is everywhere. Pay curious attention, do good research and everything can lead to a great story idea. That’s not to say though that the research you do today will have any bearing on the story you’re currently writing. But, file it away, make a brief note on it and let it brew.

When asked about my actual writing process, I tend to laugh as I don’t really think about it. But having been asked to think about it here, I realised I write short stories and novels in completely different ways.

I’m currently part of a short story challenge. Perhaps it’s the fact I’m a content creator by profession, where word counts are essential and not up for debate, that I love the constraints of the challenge. Others rail against the prompt, the word count and the deadline. I have no idea why. Where’s the challenge if there are no constraints?

I approach these tales the same way as I do my ‘Running the Bathwater Stories’. These are a series of short stories which I write under one strict, self-imposed rule. After turning on the taps, I must sit down at the laptop, with no story idea in my head, and start writing immediately. I must complete a tale by the time the bath is ready. My bath does admittedly run rather slowly. It takes about fifteen to twenty minutes to reach an acceptable depth. I can edit, but not change the actual story, any time after that.

When I write for the short story challenge I basically do the same thing. Although, to be honest, in this case, I don’t start writing till I have the idea. But that idea, based on the prompt, is usually as simple as ‘blinding sunshine’. The prompt in that case being, ‘Coming Undone’. Then, I sit down and start writing. I seem to instinctively write short stories in the first person. I’m working on that.

The only tale in this short story challenge I didn’t do that with was one entitled ‘A White Lie’. As it was based on Scott’s expedition to the South Pole, I wanted to make sure I had all my facts right first. It was fascinating.

Novels, however, are a different herd of elephants, although I often approach the first chapter in a similar way. A thought, the spark of inspiration and then the ‘let’s see where this leads’ and off I go. Occasionally, these can begin as Running the Bathwater Stories, but if I like the ideas that start to flow once the writing begins, I may find I have a whole novel sprouting in my head. Or at least the possibility of one. So, I keep going. When I’ve finished the first, or in some cases the first three chapters, and I’m convinced this may be something worth pursuing, I stop and go back to the beginning.
I write a list of all the characters I’ve thought of so far, doing character sheets for all the important ones.
I open an Excel spreadsheet and begin to plot the book. I try to figure out the ending as soon as I can. I didn’t do that with my second novel, ‘The Device Hunter’, and it threw me off kilter for about a year. I had to rewrite the entire second half of the book. So now, I have a hard and fast rule; Know thy ending first.
Then I begin the research. I end up with thick files full of facts, useful in ways I may not have originally intended.
Once I have enough to work with though, I carry on writing the book, doing whatever extra research is needed along the way.

For both short stories and novels, I try to apply other rules to myself:
Every word counts. Only use as many as necessary. No fluffing around.
Stop using so many commas. A failing of mine.
The last line must be memorable and leave people thirsty.
The first line must be a goodie, hook the reader in. Can it carry more weight, show location and character? Can it hint at theme? Can it give a taste of the ending of the whole book without giving the ending away? Can you use the first two lines as a double whammy?

The first lines of that ‘Coming Undone’ short story…

He seriously missed mirrors. And occasionally, Carly Simon.

 

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AUTHOR BIO

I was born in Zambia and went on a round the world cruise with my family when I was four years’ old. We moved to Zimbabwe where I grew up and set on my own round the world adventure a few years after I left art college. I’ve been in South Africa for the last thirteen years and although I’ve travelled haven’t managed to get more than two countries in at one time.

At college, I trained as a designer and after a few years segued into advertising. When I came ‘down south’, I moved into television production. I had always wanted to ‘make movies’, but that didn’t seem to be a door that would open for me. Writing TV proposals for international broadcasters however, did open a door. One I hadn’t realised I’d been camping outside of all my life – writing fiction.

I decided I needed to devote myself to writing. In order to do that I am now a freelance website creator and copywriter. The theory being that working from home, and for myself, will allow me to plan my days so that I have more time to write my books.

 

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Amazon page: https://www.amazon.com/Elaine-Dodge/e/B00H2EK45S/

Website: www.elainedodge.weebly.com

Running the Bathwater Stories: http://elainedodge.weebly.com/runningthebathwaterstories

Short Story Challenge: http://elainedodge.weebly.com/12-short-stories-in-12-months