Katy Cannon reveals all!
Every book I write is different, and everyone requires different methods, varying amounts of time and brings with it new exciting moments and changeable levels of frustration!
Still, whether I realise it at the time or not, looking back they all go through the same ten basic stages.
1: Getting Excited About My Story
Long before I actually start writing anything, I like to spend some time getting excited about my story. I take my time thinking about the story I want to tell, and why, the themes I want to include, the way I want to tell it. I need to know why this story matters to me enough to spend months living with it, finding the right way to write it. This is also the point where, for my two YA novels (Love, Lies & Lemon Pies and Secrets, Schemes & Sewing Machines), I decided to include recipes and then sewing projects as part of the story itself.
2: Getting To Know My Characters
I like to build a story around my characters, so the first thing I need to do is get to know them. This isn’t a list of characteristics – eye colour, star sign, etc. Instead, I think about what they want most in the world, why they want it, what happened in their past to make it so important, what’s stopping them having it – that sort of thing. I need to get to the heart of them, find out what makes them tick, because that is what will really drive the story.
3: Finding The Threads Of My Story
My YA novels run to around 60,000 words. That’s a lot of story – and it involves more than just a single plot. There are sub plots and secondary characters to weave around the main character’s journey through the story. So first, I figure out the focus thread – the main story I want to tell. Then I think about the supporting threads, the sub plots, and how they relate to the main story. Everything has to have a reason to be there, and resonate with the main story. (This bit always takes ages.)
4: Writing My Outline
Once I have my story threads, I start weaving them together in an outline. I start with the fixed points – things that have to happen in the main story in a certain order, or at certain times. Then I start adding in the subplot events at the points where they have the most impact on the main story. The hardest part is always making sure that everything happens in a logical order, and I don’t end up with any ten day weeks or a month with eight Tuesdays.
5: Starting The Book
Once I have everything in order, it’s time to start writing. This is usually when all my planning goes awry and I start making changes! Still, if I have a good grounding on my characters, my themes and my story threads, it usually weaves together okay for at least the first half…
…Which is when I inevitably end up doing some rethinking. A story always changes in the telling, and around halfway is usually a good point for me to take a break, look over what I have already and figure out what I still need. By this point I can usually see my way clear to the end of the book, so I spend a little time checking and updating my plans for the rest of the story, to make sure I tie up all my story threads in a neat bow.
7: Finishing The Book
And then I just have to finish writing it! The second half of the book always seems to go faster than the first half, for me. But that might just be because of impending deadlines by this point…
But a finished first draft isn’t at all the same thing as a finished book. I try to take a couple of weeks away from the book, deadlines permitting, before I do a thorough revision. I read through the book from start to finish, making notes as I go on things that don’t make sense or just don’t work, things that I want to change, continuity errors, that sort of thing. Sometimes this involves huge changes – cutting scenes or even characters, losing or adding subplots – sometimes they’re smaller. But they’re always important. Often, especially if I can’t quite see my way through the fog of the first draft, I get my agent to read it and tell me what isn’t working before I start making changes!
That’s still not the end. Once I’ve made the story as strong as I can, it goes over to my editor – who always, always finds ways to make it a thousand times better. Usually ways I’d never have thought of, but still make me go, “Of course! Why didn’t I think of that?” So then it’s back to the book to make her changes, which can also be huge or small. If they’re really big, it might take a couple of times of going back and forth before we’re both happy with the finished product.
10: Letting It Go…
And then the book is out of my hands. Oh, there are copy edits, and last minute questions, and blog posts to write and galleys to check, but then it’s time to start on the next book. And to do that, I have to let go of the old one. Which means going right back to the beginning and finding a new story to get excited about!