My Ten-step Drafting Process

What constitutes an effective novel-crafting method varies from person to person. Some folks are plotters, mapping every detail of their project before putting words to paper. Others are pansters, winging their writing as they go. Still more writers fall somewhere between those two ends of the spectrum. There’s no one right way to write a novel, but I’m happy to share the ten-step drafting method that works best for me.

I struggle with lengthy manuscripts, so over the years I’ve found the careful planning of my projects helps keep me under my word count limit. These are the basic steps I take in birthing a book baby draft.

1.) Craft a one-sentence premise for the project. This is the foundational element of the entire story.

2.) Plot the three act structure and create a skeletal outline.

3.) Craft character arcs and make style sheets for main characters, defining their vernacular, unique ticks, and other elements that help distinguish their voice.

4.) Use the skeletal outline to write a simple synopsis. I find it much easier to write a synopsis early on as I’m not invested in the story’s non-essentials. In other words, I can still see the forest for the trees.

5.) If this is a trade project, I’ll write the query. This allows me to build the story around the commercial elements I believe will help sell the book in a saturated market. I’ll design the elevator pitch now, too.

6.) Plot an in-dept, bullet point project outline.

7.) Break the above outline into chapters.

8.) Plot the basic elements of each chapter, highlighting tension and character agency. I use spiraled notecards for this task.

9.) Now that I have a pretty solid road map for the story, I go back to the beginning of my chapter outlines and note what I want to foreshadow and where to use symbolism.

10.) Start drafting. Before I write a scene, I’ve visually played it out in my head. I usually do this while running or biking. When I sit down to write, I’m only transcribing what I’ve already watched in my mind.


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