Jay Lake (jaylake) wrote,
Jay Lake
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How to Write a Novel, Part 2 -- Novel bubbles and book soup

I recently promised a post on "novel bubbles" and "book soup." I suppose this is part 2 of my recent contribution to the "how to write a novel" meme. After my detour this weekend into the unbearable lightness of ego, a/k/a writerly insecurities on parade, I figure I'm ready to tackle this.

If you remember my post on the cloakroom of ideas from last spring, this more or less takes off from there. Essentially, when I first began writing, and all the years from that point until I first began selling professionally1, I had a single-threaded story engine in my head. One idea at a time, process and finish. I could set stuff up in partial draft and come back to it later, but the crack was always visible. I've always had the cloakroom model (though the reification of the metaphor is a relatively recent development), so there was always a queue. In my earliest days, I couldn't read anything while I was working on a story -- one plot engine in my head.

Well, these days I have a multithreaded plot engine. One thread reads, two or three threads can juggle short stories, and one thread handles novels. The cloakroom of ideas feeds into all the writing threads. I still prefer not to switch around amid first drafts, due to issues of voice, tone and consistency, but I can do it when I need to. However, the single-threaded novel-sized plot engine has spawned a series of subordinate processes I call "novel bubbles."

Basically, novel bubbles are discrete universes and continuities which I've got going in my head. They're more developed than the semirandom images in the cloakroom, and they're part of the process of committing a book. They represent the coherent idea of a book, from the pre-outline-but-thinking-about-it stage to final galleys. I call them bubbles because they are discrete from one another, have a surface skin that shields them from bleeding over into other things, and they bounce around.

There are a lot of them in my head right now, from Mainspring, Madness of Flowers, Stemwinder, Black Tulip, Original Destiny, Manifest Sin, Green Crossing, The Murasaki Doctrine, Death of a Starship, Other Me, etc. In the terms laid out in my ego post referenced above, these belong to my writing heart. Once the galleys have been proofed and the book is out of my hands -- Rocket Science, Trial of Flowers -- the bubble is gone and it's just a book, property of my marketing head. But while they're still bubbling, these suckers bob around in there and compete for attention. Part of learning to be a pro is finding the time and discpline to stick with what needs to be done, rather than chasing the latest shiny thing.

"Book soup" is a specific stage of novel bubble -- the aforementioned pre-outline-but-thinking-about-it. This comes right after the idea hook emerged from the cloakroom, but before I can put it to paper. It can involved research reading, free reading, yakking, editorial or agent conferences, and it's where the ingredients for the book fall into the pot. Stemwinder worked this way -- I spent a lot of time kicking it around with bibliothec, met with casacorona at Wiscon to discuss what the book might be, and eventually generated a coherent, usable outline just before WorldCon.

So the various roughly sequential stages of novel creation, all of them falling within the purview of the novel bubble, might be framed this way:

  • Cloakroom of ideas
  • Book soup
  • Outline
  • First draft
  • First readers
  • Revise as necessary
  • Turn in to publisher
  • Publisher revision cycles (editorial comments, copy edit, galley)
.

There's always justinelavaworm's spreadsheet, and I know other folks have listed steps such as drink, dither or take long walks, but I think that pretty much covers it for me. I know I've talked about outlining recently, as well as the actual drafting and revision processes in some detail as I've discussed Trial of FlowersClarkesworld | Amazon ] and Madness of Flowers this year while writing them. You'll see it again on Stemwinder starting in a couple of weeks.

As always, I am interested in your thoughts.




1 Bonus points to anyone who can identify my one published genre story prior to 2001. It appeared in a high-end zine in the first part of the 1990's, and I found three copies of that zine here at Rancho Lake this weekend whilst cleaning the Augean stables. Heck, I'll send a personally-inscribed copy of Trial of Flowers to the first person who comes up with that title...if anyone does.
Tags: books, personal, process, writing
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