Don’t Stop The Flow: 4 Tips For Writing The Guts Before The Skin

Don’t Stop the Flow

Don’t Stop Innovating.

I’m not one of those writers who agonizes over every detail as they go through a book, producing a book only every year or two at most. I’ve developed a system that works for me, and might be able to work for you, to get you through those sluggish times so you can actually produce a novel and do so within a time frame that works for you. Here’s 4 tips for writing the guts of a novel before you stretch the skin over the top.

1. Write Dialogue First. By this, I don’t mean writing just the dialogue, I mean writing just enough stage direction so when you go back through, the scene is still in your head. I might start a chapter with a few paragraphs of text and then jump into dialogue between two or more characters, which could go on for pages. Why? For me, it’s easier to see the scene if I have dialogue that flows. What I find happens when I struggle over the details in mid-thought-stream is the dialogue becomes choppy and unnatural. I want to write the conversation as though I’m hearing it in my head as it’s happening. Once that’s accomplished, it’s time to head to the second step.
2. What Are They Doing? When I go back through, usually the same day, I start describing the things the characters are doing while they are talking, or the intonation they use when they speak. I find it’s important to give the reader enough to go on that they could see the scene as though it were a movie. That said, I find myself leaving a lot of things up to the reader. The reason is because when someone reads a text that might be a little vague, their mind fills in the blanks. I do this because then each reader has their own vision of events in their head and it makes the story more personal for them. Some things are important to describe outright, like a character’s physical appearance or a pivotal scene. Physical appearance is also something I add during this stage.
3. The Five Senses. One of the later things I add is the five senses: sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell. These things bring the scene to life and make it easier for the reader to be transported to the world you’ve created. I add it later than the rest because I don’t want to continuously use one sense over and over and I find it easier to insert later rather than remember as I go through.
4. Nuance. There’s a fourth thing that a lot of writers seem to forget, and that’s nuance. This is where I put in character quirks, the things that make that character who they are. Maybe a character has a dark past and he’s constantly remembering the things he’s done. Maybe a character drinks or smokes too much or is concerned about their weight. Looking back on a story I find I have a better perspective into where these small mentions need to be inserted to have the best effect given what’s happening in the story. You don’t want these small quirks to become too common or it will annoy the reader. For instance, mentioning that a character is from a certain town fifteen times in a novel is probably too many, but one to three times might be reasonable. The key here is that if you look at your completed story as a whole, you can understand where these words and phrases need to go.
The overall writing process for me is more like a 3D printer than anything else. I continue to add layer after layer until adding more wouldn’t add to the story or plays out a story I want to address later (in the case of a series). Is this way right for everyone? Definitely not. I doubt it’s even right for a lot of people. It is, however, right for my brain, which craves closure. By finishing my rough draft of a novel rather quickly (in about a month to a month and a half), I can go back over each chapter, using the notes I made as I went along, and know that I’m on track. It feels infinitely better to me to know that I have a novel-length work completed and I’m only editing it rather than struggling to make it through to the end. Writing is a psychological activity. It doesn’t come easily to most people. Getting in the right frame of mind can mean the difference between publishing or shelving a work.
The bottom line: Don’t Stop The Flow. Don’t stop writing. Write every day, even if it’s only a page or a lonely paragraph. You’ll find there’s time to agonize over the details later.
How does my way of writing compare to your way? Sound off in the comments below, I’d love to hear about it. For making it this far, feel free to download one of my short stories, my gift to you.