When I'm laying down a new novel, my thoughts generally have been gestating for a long period. As we've kind of established with my Upcoming Projects, not much new gets added to these. I've been toying with the sequels to the Faithful for about two months now (since OWFI), but little has been put on paper, other than the initial flurry of thoughts. Since then, it pops up every few days, where I twirl it around, take time on the dance floor, getting to know it, but then it steps off and I'm free to work on something else.
By the time I actually sit down with it, it's a completely different beast.
My first "outline" for The Faithful featured skyscrapers crashing down while my main character sweeps in to save his mortal enemy, but disappears before his enemy knows that he was saved. You know, epic, sweeping, stupid ideas like that. To be fair, the novel had three variations before it that had little to no fantasy elements. When I finally came up with the fantasy concept, I went crazy worldbuilding. The document that features it all is a 27-page primer that includes relationships that never manifested in the finished product, a society that is completely pious and knows the gods are real, having insane parades and displays in the streets, and a running document of every "feature" of each character, so that I could keep eye color, hair style, clothing, etc. straight. I wouldn't call it a massive undertaking, but most of the ideas just simply don't work in any real way with the completed manuscript.
Each novel starts out this way for me. As I've probably gone over, my wife complains at how much I agonize over every little detail. I will spend three days fretting over the best way to complete the scene and what makes the most sense given the world and rules that they live in and play by... only to say "Fuck it." at the end of that time and go with whatever feels best (and is internally consistent).
I've run into an issue previously (once again with my problem child, The Faithful) where I couldn't write a scene because it "didn't feel like I should do that" only to have it cause a disaster when I got to editing and found that scene lacking. The resulting scene changed the entire arc of the plot, including who and what was chasing my character, even the fate of characters that existed at one point. Each subsequent draft went further and further from that ill-fated first journey, killing different characters each version. At this point, I could string them all together to create one hell of a "Choose Your Own Adventure" novel. At some point, I might even release those other (not as good) versions, just to give an idea of how editing can lead you down varied paths.
For the longest time, I kept each and individual pen mark, as well as the multiple versions of the novels. I used to do that with the my short stories, a format I've all but abandoned as the years have stretched on. I've never been good with shorts. They've always felt more like a scene, rather than a complete story. That's how I write most of my chapters now: they're complete scenes, but more of a tapestry. Perhaps that's why I'm able to tear them apart and rearrange them so liberally.
At the end of the day, however, the novel will produce itself. I have my tones, my inflections, that go into the writing. But whatever plans I have produced only have the barest resemblance of their original stories. Maybe that's a flaw in my writing, in my process, that I come up with a tendril and it becomes something completely different, transformed. So you writers, you artists, out there, what is your process like? Do you throw it together like I do or is it a pre-thought out affair that you know 90% of it and it stays that way? Let me know.
Top image by Emmanuel Shiu