Develop, research, compose, revise and edit. These are the five stages of writing a novel as I see it. [Publication is the sixth stage, and will not be addressed here.] I’ve devised a checklist for myself to keep track of my own progress through the process of writing my current novel and thought it might be useful to add here. Some of these strategies could apply equally well to other forms of fiction and even non-fiction. Feel free to copy and use this checklist.
Stage 1: Developing the novel
This stage is the most important as stages 2-5 are dependent on what you do here.
- Working title
- Identify a genre
- Premise. A premise is a short statement of something the writer believes or intends to prove, for example, all you need is love.
- Estimate the length of the book. How many chapters, pages, even scenes will you need to prove/disprove your premise
- Identify the main characters. Name them, describe them, give them life.
- Point of view
- Identify the setting
- Write an outline
Stage 2: Researching for the novel
All novels need to be researched. Here are a few strategies that researchers use that are helpful to fiction writers:
- Make a list of what you already know
- Make a list of things you need to find out – use question form
- Identify potential sources
- Use keywords to do a preliminary search. This will hopefully lead you to more comprehensive source
- Check your facts (don’t rely on one source)
- Synthesis your findings – organise your research
- Evaluate your findings
- Check that you have answered your own questions
Stage 3: Compose the novel
Return to your outline and start writing
- Chapter 1
- Chapter 2
- Chapter 3
- Chapter 4
- and so on
If you like you can break this checklist down even further into scenes
Stage 4: Revise
Revision is a process of looking beneath the skin of the book, at the structure and shape of the novel. During revision you must resist the urge to edit spelling and grammar mistakes. No fixing during this stage. Generally when I’m revising a piece I read it several times looking for a particular aspect each time. Some writers might be daunted by the amount of rereading going on here, but it’s the only way you can get it right.
- You need to approach your manuscript with a fresh and clear mind. Have you had at least a week’s break from it?
- Read your premise and outline and keep them close at hand
- Make a copy of the original manuscript
- Read the manuscript from start to finish. Remember, no fixing and try not to take notes. You are only reading at this point.
- Reread the manuscript looking for problems in the overall structure of the novel. Now you can take notes, but avoid editing – you can mark mistakes, but you must not fix
- Reread the manuscript as many times as you need to, concentrating on different aspects, such as character continuity, chronology, scene transitions, dialogue etc.
- Make the changes you’ve outlined for yourself
- You might also wish to rework the beginning and end at this point
- Read it again. Are you happy?
Stage 5: Editing
The editing stage is similar to revision in that you can read the manuscript several times concentrating on different aspects of editing. During the editing phase you’ll be checking your manuscript for errors in grammar, spelling and the structure of paragraphs.
1. Reread the manuscript and check for the following:
- Overuse of words, ie repetitiveness
- Are the sentences coherent – are there any fragments, run-on sentences?
- Consistency in tense
2. Make the changes you’ve marked
3. Check the layout
4. Do a spellcheck – it should be the last thing you do