Using my last full length story Silver Daddy Jingle Bells, as an example, I’m going to describe how I write. The details of what needs fixing in edits, exactly how long it takes for each stage, all vary by each book. But overall the main ‘process’ of my writing has settled down to being quite consistent.
As with anything to do with writing, this is what works for me, I’m not saying this is how you should write.
I have friends who write into the mist, without outlining a single word, allowing the characters to come to them as they write. I know others who write and edit as they go along, so when they write the end, they’re at the end of my Stage 4.
1 – The Idea and Characters
I start with an idea – this is usually a character, or a situation, or a question about something. For Silver Daddy Jingle Bells, I was talking to an author friend about their Christmas 2020 story, which included a rent boy. She said, ‘It’s rough, and edgy, so it’s not like Pretty Woman.’ Which set off my brain wondering if I could write a gay romance with that fairy tale, perfect Cinderella vibe I love so much about Pretty Woman. That, plus current events where a famous TV presenter came out as gay earlier this year, and I had the germ of an idea.
I think about the main characters H1 and H2. Consider which tropes I’d like to include in this story. This one included among others: opposites attract, rent boy, celebrity, age gap…I write 3-4 lines about H1, and the same about H2. Age, build, hair colour, a little about their past, their current situation. I add to this as I write, but I like to have the essentials thought out before I start writing.
I like to use the Emotional Wound Thesaurus to give the characters’ backstory some teeth and make it clear how that influenced how they behave now. For romance I find it helps to be clear on their emotional conflict and what is keeping them from being with the other main character. Because if it’s all perfect and easy at the start, they meet, get together and the story ends after one chapter.
Matt, the rent boy had been homeless, from when his parents threw him out after he came out. So he has trust issues, uses sex to get what he wants, hasn’t known real care-taking, love in his life.
Grant, the celebrity has lived in the public eye for most of his life, is used to performing and pretending who he is, even when he’s not on TV, has been the provider and head of his perfect family for decades. But he’s lonely from being divorced, doesn’t know who he is without his family.
I pick a picture so I can ‘see’ H1 and H2. I find it really helps when I’m imagining what they’ll do throughout the story. This can be from the internet, real life, or somewhere else.
I think about another few secondary characters, and how they relate to H1 and H2, make brief notes about them, but not necessarily including their emotional wounds or emotional conflicts, because the story isn’t about them, it’s about H1 and H2’s journey towards their happy ever after.
2 – Outlining
I like to outline, but not in as much detail as I used to. I outline one or two scenes, write them, then outline the next few. I find this makes the story grow organically as I get to know the characters. If I have ideas about out of sequence scenes or themes to include, I note them on Post Its and stick them onto another piece of paper.
I’ve found Romancing the Beat invaluable for outlining. It includes the 4 acts of a romance novel, within these are ‘beats’ or elements you can include. There’s no set order, no set length for any part. Although act 1 comes before act 2 etc. I use these ‘beats’ when outlining. My outlines are brief, and I list whose point of view each section is from.
As an example, and it won’t be a spoiler because the first few chapters are available to download as a sample anyway, here’s what I wrote in the outline for the first few scenes:
Leaving a client’s hotel doesn’t want to shower
an older guy who used him
thinks of £
Arrives home w flatmate 2 discuss rent £ owed
landlord came earlier re eviction
Can’t be homeless now b/c H1 spent last Xmas on the streets
Bone tired and dirty – showers – gets msg on rent boy app for client
(In the final draft, after the other parts of this process, which I’ll come onto, this 58 words became chapter 1, which is 3780 words.)
After a day of smiling – finished filming talent show – and pretending, he speaks w his ex-wife re he’s seeing the kids for NYE, and she’s got them for Xmas.
The itch of alcohol reappears. He resists, hotel room and surfs porn instead.
Another itch reappears – an ad for men for the night
finds a clean, young guy + books him
(In the final draft, this 62 words became 2600 words of Chapter 2, before the point of view flips back to Matt.)
I always outline in coloured ink – a whole page of black ink bores me and I don’t want to write the story. Alternating colours by who’s POV we’re in seems to maintain the excitement to write it. I also absolutely can not outline on computer. If I start doing that I end up writing the story.
3 – First Draft
With my character bio to one side of my keyboard, and the outline to the other, I write my first draft. I alternate outlining and drafting, right through until I reach the end of the story. No going back, no tinkering with edits, nothing. Right. To. The. End. (I find that otherwise I end up tinkering endlessly with the first 3 chapters and never reach the end of telling the story.)
I write in order, one scene after the other. I rarely change the order of what I’ve written. Although in another story I had chapter 3 as All The Backstory. Which wasn’t a good idea, so I broke it down and wove it among the first 4 chapters. But usually, the order in which I write it is the order it ends up in the final story.
First Drafting Liam leaves Future Editing Liam notes in square brackets for things to fix or research. I don’t want to stop and look something up on the internet while I’m writing on a device that I’m using specifically because it doesn't connect to the internet. In this story First Drafting Liam’s notes included:
- Black trunk underwear [what are they called? Research this]
- [surname] I always add in these in later edits
- 45 pages in [add in earlier that the landlord doesn’t fix things…]
- [disability research this] in a discussion Matt has about a previous client who had a disability, I wasn’t sure what this would be but knew that the point of the discussion was to show how Matt cares about his clients, their needs, whoever they are
- [name] minor character names, I add in later
- [change this at the start, so it’s Drew’s fault more than Matthew’s] in relation to the flat, landlord, rent etc
My first draft is always just the bare bones of the story. It usually has very little setting or description, I am literally just telling myself the story. I include the internal dialogue, plus external dialogue and actions, but that’s about it.
I write in ‘rounds’ of 50 mins, with music to block out background noise, using Monica, my trusty Alphasmart Neo because it doesn’t connect to the internet.
The first draft was 54,000 words which took about a month, ranging from 0 to 6 ‘rounds’ per day. In total it was 37 x 50 min rounds, plus 20 mins. This doesn’t include the outlining time, or the character biographies, as described above, which was about another 4-6 hours.
4 - Self editing
This starts with reading the whole story, as an e-book, from start to finish. I make electronic annotated notes on the e-book and these focus on big content edit issues. Reading it as an e-book helps me stop tinkering with spelling and makes my brain focus on reading it ‘as a book.’ I do not worry about typos, punctuation etc at this stage. These notes on the e-book version of the story included:
- Point of view wobbles where I’d shifted out of one character’s head and inadvertently into another, while in the same scene.
- Consistency with characters’ motivations, back story etc. Issues with the romance or pacing being too slow or too fast.
- Timeline problems.
- No Christmas. At. All.
I return to the story and fix these big picture content edit issues. The biggest issue in Silver Daddy Jingle Bells was that for a Christmas story, it contained almost no Christmas. No snow, no presents, no tinsel, no Christmas trees, nothing. So at this stage, I wrote extra words which included layering in Christmas to the existing parts, plus writing new Christmassy scenes. These extra scenes, of course, I wrote out of order, but I wrote the new ones starting from the beginning, moving through the story, until the end. So the relationship development flowed along with the order in which I wrote these new scenes.
At this stage I’m layering and weaving in to fix these content issues, resolving inconsistencies etc.
Then I go through the story again and fix the original [First Drafting Liam’s square bracket fixes] which are usually smaller and simpler than the big picture content edit stuff I’ve just done. I do internet research in a batch, with a list of things to look up, before stepping away from the internet.
Then I have another edit through, which this time is a line edit – making sure that I’ve used the best phrase for that thing I’m describing. Looking out for repeated words near one another. I search for my crux words: particularly, rather, just, started to, began to, nodded, looked, that.
At this point I also fix typos and spelling mistakes. Note, I’ve not looked at these before this point, because otherwise I find I’m worrying about a semicolon rather than whether H1’s conflict is believable or not. Or I’m checking whether it should be ‘rent boy’, or ‘rentboy’ rather than if the character’s family history has believably led him to becoming a rentboy and his hang ups with relationships. They’re both important things, but the latter is much more important to most readers’ enjoyment of a book.
And then, and only then, I do one read through for proofreading. I do this from the back of the book to the front. Obviously I read from top to bottom of each page, but by reading backwards it helps me not become distracted and lost in the story and the emotions and conflicts within, and focus on the actual words on the page.
This self editing stage took 11 days, but part of that I was on a writing retreat in Rhodes, so this would more typically tend to take up to another month. This stage took a total of 33 hours and 20mins. It added 22,000 words too.
The end 4
And then it goes to my editor. Where we’ll do at least 3 rounds of edits together. This took about 3 weeks and added another 2,000 words. Once my editor’s finished, I’ll read it again for another final proof read and to check anything’s been missed while it was covered in track changes.
There follows the book typesetting and publishing process, which is a whole different post.
I hope this has been useful and interesting for those who are interested in how I write my stories.
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Love and light,