[originally written/posted August 31, 2016 on my old site]
The purpose of this article is to share my writing process with readers and fellow writers, so they can “experience” it. I just want you all to have an idea of how much time goes into one scene—and not even a whole scene! From start to finish, minus the distractions of getting caught in conversation, the writing and editing of this partial scene and article took four solid hours, and I will probably go back at some point to tweak a thing or two.
Part of my process in fabricating, which also happens during the editing process, is writing out my thoughts on what needs to go into a scene. Word for word, I write what I’m thinking. I do this because the next minute, I could go off thinking about something else, or talking with someone who just walked up to me, or checking my email, and when I come back to my work, I don’t know where I left off, let alone what I was thinking I needed to do. Scatterbrained, I know, but adorably so.
Even as I write this article on distraction, I am being distracted from a “note to self” I was writing in my novel, stopped mid-sentence because I just couldn’t let this go. (You’ll get to read it in a few paragraphs.)
In the process of editing, which has been going on for a few months (or a year? I don’t remember, and I know I’m taking way too long, but it’s going to be good, damnit!), I’ve learned that I can often spot what needs to be changed, all by myself. And I’m not just talking about punctuation, spelling, and grammar. Those are great, but a novel needs much more care and attention than just those things.
In the following, you’ll probably notice that I don’t worry much about capitalization in my notes. It better facilitates stream-of-consciousness writing, and it helps to differentiate it from the rest of the writing, so even if I forget the end parenthesis, or if I forget to bold the note, I’ll know it was just a note and that it shouldn’t be left in for beta readers to see. On the other hand, when I write longhand on paper, I often properly capitalize my notes—unless they’re short, contained within parentheses.
To illustrate my method, here’s an example of a scene summary that suffers from telling rather than showing, which today I have written notes on and expanded into a scene, rather than a scene of its own:
*[problem paragraph] Throughout that Candle (day), she had seen farmers in their pants and loose robes, either crossing the road to another field or in wagons hauling their crops into town. She had also seen a couple of merchants, ostentatious in their richly-ornamented robes, one of which was riding a horse pulling a wagon toward the capital. Though she worried that a traveler might catch her and march her back home, she stood tall and tried to appear confident. It worked; they minded their own business and left her alone.
*[notes to self, typed] (should add something that happens on the road… to make her start wondering if it’s safe to travel the road. hopefully expound on previous paragraph to show how… [and this is where I stopped to write the article]
some conflict between her and an overbearing merchant; perhaps farmers would be used to straying children, or too tired to care? it would contribute to the culture of children being important if a Gifted merchant took a serious interest in her safety…
back to the first note: it would be a precursor to her willingness to leave the road later.
with the farmers, she stands tall. with the merchants who look like royalty, she can’t help but feel cowed. maybe that look gives way to one questioning why she’s walking about alone.
too much telling, not enough showing.)
*[notes to self, written longhand]
Purposes: —to add more conflict to the first day of the journey;
—to make her begin to be leery/afraid of the road, somewhat willing to abandon it early… (any more and it’d be a spoiler);
—to show, not tell;
—to provide more world-building, the feeling of other people living their lives in addition to the main character, and not so empty.
The merchant… is he someone she’ll run into again in a later book? Could he work for the king and queen? Could he be a future adversary, or the parent of a future adversary? Saiphoh’s father?! Could she recognize him, and vice versa? if so, he’d know she shouldn’t be out on her own… (spoilers… to summarize, there are several lines of “if… then…”, some “it’d be nice if…”, summary of her current headspace and goals,
ensure I’ve mentioned earlier, talking about teasing, that Saiphoh was involved.
*[in-process notes on what to edit] Throughout that Candle, she had seen (change to currently happening, or sum up what she’s seen already, and then there’s this one…)
(exotic goods? who does he get them from? does he have a magic carpet? even if he did, it wouldn’t let him carry much. is he a miner of precious gems from a certain mtn of DMR?)
… she found that she had frozen in the road/kept walking forward on autopilot (just describing it in the first words that come to mind, even if they don’t match the era; listing all my options, to be molded into more specific and better fitting words and phrases when I come up with them upon rereading what I’ve written along with the context:) —> and she realized that she had frozen in the middle road (after I went back and found that she had already stopped, just hadn’t noticed, too distracted with what was ahead).
and the text read [name of business/type] —> and the sign read Precious Gems for Precious Women. (after I wrote ahead and decided what type of business was being run)
*[end result, EXCERPT from Chapter 5]
By the time the sun had reached its highest point, she had come across several feckless farmers in their loose robes and loose pants, most of them working in their fields or crossing between fields. In one field, farmers were planting seeds in long ruts of dirt. In another, they were watering fields, having opened up a channel from the canal, running under the road. The water made the air moist, muggy, no longer nippy.
She had walked casually, and most did not give her a second look, probably used to their children running free in the summer. In fact, quite a few children were working with their parents in the fields. If Haylee had been born into a family of farmers, she would be doing the same. Her mother only sometimes took her to work with her, but preferred to leave her with Nanuh. And when she was with Nanuh, she helped her make bracelets. She felt a pang of guilt at avoiding her responsibilities, but she reminded herself that what she was doing was far more important.
She was jolted out of her thoughts when a gifted merchant came into view; she could tell he was gifted because of his short hair and richly-ornamented robes, and that he was a merchant because he rode a horse and pulled an ostentatiously-decorated cart. It was large and boxy, and the sign read Precious Gems for Precious Women. It sounded familiar, but Haylee thought nothing more of it until she saw, poking out from behind the merchant, black hair in a side-tail, attached to a girly face with kohl painted heavily around the eyes.
She stopped dead. It couldn’t be Saiphoh, could it? She wouldn’t be out and about with her father, getting dirty on the road, but then, if they were headed to Panoi-shi, she would probably kill her father if he didn’t take her with him. She loved the capital, and bragged about it all the time in school, how she got to go often in the summer because her father was a trusted merchant of precious gems mined from the southernmost mountain of Dragon Mountain Range. He owned an outpost there, and was certified by a respected jeweler—whose name escaped Haylee—as consistently not showing fake gems.
All of that went to support the idea that her nemesis was riding toward her. It was happening.
She had frozen in the middle of the road, leaving any chance for escape gone with the last clump of trees quite a few steps behind her, and the next too far ahead. Turning tail would attract attention, and her best chance at escaping detection was hoping Saiphoh and her father would not recognize her.
In case they did recognize her, she activated her lying bracelet, then dropped her head. She walked forward, trying to act naturally, but she could feel the tension in her limbs and the heat in her cheeks. Surely they would at least notice something was wrong.
Her heart raced wildly, way worse than when she was about to lie to her father. There was one difference between her father and Saiphoh: her nemesis wouldn’t hesitate to attack her.
END OF EXCERPT
And I’ll stop there, so as to not give away what happens next! If you’d like, let me know how your process differs from mine. Everyone’s different, so let’s celebrate diversity! If you have a different process as a writer, feel free to share in the comments below!
(Update, another note on capitalization: At the time that I wrote this article, I was capitalizing foreign words. Based on feedback, I eventually decided to lower the case.)
C. E. R. Ellwood