All this month, we’re talking about various ways to write a novel. If you’ve missed previous posts, here are the links.
- How to Write a Novel – Introduction
- How to Write a Novel – The Strict Pantser
- How to Write a Novel – The Strict Pre-Planner
There are as many different ways to write novels as there are people who want to write novels. The plain truth is that there is no Right Way that works for everybody all the time. If that’s what you’re looking for, you can save yourself a lot of time and stop looking.
But there are a few basic methods that encompass most writing methods. They are pantsing (no planning at all) and extensive pre-planning.
Most writers are somewhere between those two ends of the spectrum. This week, our own Danielle Lincoln Hanna’s hybrid method is the topic for discussion.
The Lincoln Hanna Method
Danielle’s method is both simple and complex. As with every other story writing method, she begins with a story idea.
She spends as much as a few years thinking about the idea. Trying out different things for plot and character arcs, getting to know the characters, and discovering the main events. She wanders her way through this process first by slipping into her characters’ skins, acting out their stories, letting them take her wherever they will; then through writing what seem to be some of the most critical scenes and turning points.
She learns character names, mannerisms, backstory, and arc.
She discovers what they want and what keeps them from getting it; how they interact, and what they’ll need to learn or do in order to achieve their goals by the end of the story.
This part of the process is highly intuitive and can be meandering. There may be—and often is—brainstorming involved, but the process of discovery is more like walking through fog. Characters and plot lines gradually take shape day by day, week by week.
By the time she’s ready to write the novel, she’s lived with the characters and their story for so long that she has a good idea of how the story unfolds. She also has several major scenes already written, providing a sort of loose outline of where the story needs to go. For reference, she may draft a one-page outline of the story.
When serious writing begins, she writes her novels thread by thread. She selects a thread to write and writes either until she’s written through to the end or until she doesn’t know what happens next.
In her upcoming book Mailboat, for instance, Tommy and Bailey’s struggle over whether or not to accept each other as family is a major subplot. Danielle developed that thread as completely as possible, beginning to end, before moving to the next thread.
A lot of these first threads include scenes she knows well, because she’s played them through her mind so many times. At the very least, she knows what she has to write to bridge the gaps between scenes.
Writing the initial threads can be smooth sailing, especially if the scenes are familiar and the character reactions are clear and understood.
But there are usually threads that get ignored during the early parts of the process and when it comes to writing those threads, the waters can get murky.
With Mailboat, for example, Danielle didn’t spend much time thinking about the story threads for the villains, so when it came to writing them, she had to write by the seat of her pants, trusting her instincts to fill in the gaps where there was little or no pre-planning.
“When I sit down to write, I may have no idea what’s going to happen in the next few pages until I’ve written it,” she says. “But since I have the framework of all the material I’ve already written, I at least have a little bit of direction.”
Weaving It All Together
Lastly, she goes through the novel again to make sure all the threads mesh correctly. This includes ordering scenes and making sure all the necessary transitions are in place.
After that, it’s all about fine-tuning, revising, and editing. But that’s a story for another day!
That’s how Danielle writes a novel.
Next week I’ll conclude the How To Write A Novel clinic by describing my method of novel writing. Like Danielle, I use a hybrid blend of pantsing and pre-planning. That’s all I’ll say about it now other than a hint.
It starts small and expands!
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