When I write a novel, I always end up with a lot of back story. These are details that are important for me to know, but not meant for the actual novel. It’s more a way for me to mentally talk my way through the first draft.
I think of my manuscript as a garden of words, and by the time the novel is complete, it will have been weeded, dug up, and replanted many times.
Every author has their own style, their own way of getting the story down on paper. My style is not the usual way, but it works for me.
The way I do a first draft is this: First, I put together an outline listing all the characters and plot points. Second, I write the ending and then write the scenes for the large events and turning points. Once those are in place, I start at the beginning and write the story in a linear form, connecting the large events and finally meeting up with the end.
Along the way, my story evolves. A lot of fluff gets added in because I need to sort the story out in my head and writing it down is the way I do that. This fluff is all written in a passive, telling voice, and is part of my road map for creating the first draft–it was put down in that fashion so I would remember it later when I came back to rewrite the scene and turn it into an action sequence or cut it entirely.
I’ll give you an example of a telling sequence from Julian Lackland’s story, which is set in Waldeyn, Huw the Bard’s world. It was written down in this way so I would have a mental picture:
“In Port Lanque, the harbor itself was accessible only by one broad cobbled street, Quay Street, snaking down the steep cliffs to the piers. This wide boulevard ran through the center of town, twisting and turning in a sharp descent down to the piers, and had been kept in good repair by the pirates as it was the only way to move carts and drays down to the ships for off-loading loot. At the very top of Quay Street, in the worst part of town, an immense, rundown palace loomed. Now less than a filthy slum, it was once the home of generations of kings.”
Little or none of that passage will make it into the final manuscript because it doesn’t advance the plot. It was originally written to set the scene in MY mind. But I didn’t throw it away–I kept it in my file of outtakes along with some useful conversations further down the page that may come in handy in a different story:
“You’re wearing a dress, madam, not a crown. How can I be sure you’re the real king?” King Harry eyed the pirate. “You could be any old thief claiming to know how to sail a ship. I happen to like this ship, and I’m not disposed to give her away to some random old man in a dress.”
That above passage is why I say you shouldn’t be married to your prose. I love the scene and the conversation, and the action that follows, but the plot thread it is part of does not advance Julian Lackland’s story. However, I intend to turn it into a short story set in Waldeyn.
By the time I finish a manuscript, I will have written the beginning three different ways, some names will have changed, and relationships will have evolved. But the major plot points and the ending will usually be the same as I had originally envisioned. I say ‘usually’ because that was not the case for Valley of Sorrows. I ended up completely rewriting the end of that manuscript.
I can’t say it often enough: never delete any passage that you have cut from your manuscript. Save it in a separate file labeled ‘outtakes,’ because you may need that information later, or you may be able to turn that work into a short story.
A lot of authors use Scrivener for this, and it seems to work for them. I find it simpler to just copy and paste the work into a new file and save it in my outtakes for that particular novel. That way it’s out there in my dropbox or google drive and available no matter where I go or what happens to my computer.
Short stories are the bread-and-butter of many authors. You get paid a small sum for them, and your author name is published in one more place. The small story you toss out there could attract new fans to your other work.
Our work starts out full of passion and promise. Like a garden, it can grow wildly out of control. When you can’t see the flowers for the weeds, the garden must be cut back and pruned. The wild weed-words must be pulled in order for the reader to enjoy the real story.
Sometimes those weeds produce beautiful flowers when you get them into a different garden.