Sometimes people would ask me how I write my novels. Do I carefully write an outline before I write the first word of the novel or do I simply write down whatever was running through my head? Do I have a plot inside my head or does the plot take shape only when I write the book? The answer is that when I decide to write a novel have a plot in mind, but I never write down that plot. The plot is usually incomplete, I only have an idea of what the major characters in it are and some of the major plot point, but the vast majority of the details are not planned out in advance.
Plots for my novels usually come from two different sources, first are events that actually happened in my life and second plots from books, movies or television shows I’ve seen in the past. I do not directly copy those plots, but tweak those plots slightly in such a way that radically changes them. For example, what would happen if every animal in the world is intelligent except for humans, and other animals eat humans for food? Maybe this is not a good example, but you get the idea.
The next thing I do, when I have a basic idea of what the plot is like, is to imagine a movie trailer based on the plot. Taking the intelligent animal example, I imagine a city full of animals walking around in clothes. Everything looks very colorful and happy, and the narrator speaks in a very cheerful tone as he introduces the main character of the movie, an otter wearing glasses. Suddenly there’s an ominous music, the tone and mood of the trailer turns dark as the announcer explains that the main character will discover some dark secret about the world he lives in. Then the otter in glasses runs through a series of dark tunnels while dramatic music plays in the background.
Imagining the plot as a movie trailer does three different things. First, it helps me to develop the setting of the novel. Second, it helps me develop the characters for the novel. Up until this point I only have a plot, but seeing the plot as a trailer I can see the types of characters I would need for the novel, and helps me fill in details about their appearance and personality. Third, it helps me develop the plot in greater detail, especially the important turning point of the plot. Seeing a novel as a movie trailer helps me put in key points in the plot that would be needed to tell the story.
This is the point I start writing my book. Using my imagination, I basically turn the movie trailer into a full-length movie inside my head. I imagine myself as the main character in the movie trailer I created inside my head. What would it be like to be a character living in such a world? How would it be like to interact with the characters I created? How would I move the plot forward with my actions? How do I get the characters to move from one point in the plot to another? That would be usually enough to come up with a story from the rough plot I created. At this point much of the writing is done by-the-seat-of-my-pants. Sure, there is some kind of plot in mind, but most of the things that happen are not carefully planned out.
Unfortunately, it is also at this stage that I run into problems. Because there is very little planning that goes into writing my novels, I often find my plot being derailed because I thought of something direction I thought would be more interesting than the original plot. Sometimes it results in a stroke of genius, but other times it results in going down a rabbit hole that is difficult to get out of. Very rarely does the novel ends the way I originally intended it to, most of the time I simply end the novel when my stamina runs out and I couldn’t stand writing the same novel any longer.
Finally, the novel I have written is usually rough, and needs some rewriting in order to make it readable. This is a part of writing that I haven’t master yet, and that’s why I’m stuck writing my novel. Hopefully the next year I will finally figure it out and publish my first novel.
All of the above is a very rough description of how I write a novel. I do not always follow my own method, and sometimes use other methods. Sometimes I would sit down without a plot in mind and start writing. Other times I would do much more planning. In addition, when I said I imagine my novel as a movie trailer, I do not literally do this. But before writing a novel, I do visualize scenes from my novel as though they were from a movie, and that aids me in fleshing out the details of the plot, as well as the characters I will write in my books. Since I am much more familiar with television and movies than books, this is the way I think when I write.
I do not consider my “method” for writing novels a real “method.” It is simply the way I write naturally. I do not recommend that anybody emulate my method, although I would not deter anyone from using it. Many people have developed different methodologies for writing books, and novels in particular. Some elements from those methods can be useful, but ultimately writing a novel cannot be broken down into a formal methodology the same way a science experiment can be. To me, writing a novel is a form of dreaming. In a dream, your mind constantly thinks up of new events in a very free-flowing way. You do not put any conscious effort into making up events, your mind is simply able to improvise and come up with the next thing that happens. The miracle of it all is that the series of events make sense and forms a coherent narrative, despite the fact that it is an unconscious process. The challenge in writing a novel is to put yourself in the same state of mind you are when you are dreaming. Once you find a method of doing that, writing a novel will come easily to you.