Episode 4: Tools of the Trade


There are as many methods for constructing long fiction, it seems, as there are writers. What I present for your consideration here is how I do it. Take what you will, mix it all up with what others prefer, and see what suits you best. For example, I do all of my work in Google Docs so that I can access the information anywhere, but there are dozens of writing programs, websites, and books that may work better for you.

Environment: This may not seem like an important aspect, but I have found that my concentration suffers if my surroundings are not ideal. Yes, I am probably picky, but I like the area to be quiet, a good temperature, and with no radio or TV within 500 feet. Inside or outside doesn’t seem to matter.

Basic plot: Prior to writing my outline, my first step is to write a very general plot premise. This might include only the basics of what I think will happen. Perhaps like this:

  • Charles finds mysterious chalice.
  • Chalice gives him strange insight.
  • Charles finds himself in at the center of an international struggle for power.
  • Chalice is stolen.
  • Charles gets it back, saves humanity, celebrates, gets married, etc.

Characterization: Once I have my basic overview, I work on the characters I think will be in the story. In fact, this is probably the most tedious part of my writing, since I tend to be very thorough, but the benefits are too great to be ignored. Obviously, this gives me consistency with appearance; however, the greatest help is in the background, characteristics, and anti-stereotyping aspects. It is much easier to rely on stereotypes when you’re writing if you don’t have your characters laid out first. Also, I tend to have two or three character drafts before I start writing in earnest.

Settings: This one is more optional, but one thing that helps me focus is to establish the main settings for the novel. In general, I may only describe three or four locales, but knowing what the characters see and why they care about the place is good—even if you don’t include it in the work itself. On this, I usually have two drafts.

Things to remember: Some writing software takes care of this for you, but since I don’t want to shell out money for something I can do myself, I keep my own cheat sheet. When I’m doing the prep work and writing the novel itself and something important pops up (e.g., the character was in the military or he took a camera with him on his trip), I make sure to keep that handy. This helps eliminate inconsistencies and general bloopers.

Research: Even when writing fiction (or especially, depending on your point of view), research is usually imperative. In fact, research lends itself to plot ideas, character traits, and authenticity. It depends on the type of novel or story as to how much research I do, but the Internet and the library make this less painful than it might seem. And—I admit it—I’m a research geek, so I enjoy this part.

Take these ideas or don’t—just look for the method that works for you.

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