Drafting Long, Complex Novels

in honor of the final season of Game of Thrones which just started last night I wanted to share some of my tips for drafting longer more complex books I figured some of you out there might be writing long complex stories this month for camp NaNoWriMo and I know how easy it is to get sidetracked by all of your subplots and characters and world building drafting is a particular hell because there's no way to remember everything as you're writing I'm constantly realizing that I've dropped a subplot or forgotten to mention a certain character for the last 10 chapters or never explained a bit of the magic system or the politics and my book is nowhere near as complex as Game of Thrones I am NOT going to claim that but it is the longest and most complex and most detailed book that I've written so far so I've had to develop some techniques to make it easier on me and I wanted to share those with you today first up you might need to be a little more organized with your plotting than you're used to I'm not saying that you need to go from being a total Pancer to a total plotter one end of the spectrum to the other and maybe it is possible to completely pants a complex long fantasy novel but I've personally found that in writing this book I've had to up my game a little bit when it comes to plotting and outlining and just keeping all of that organized usually I plot but I'm pretty loose with it I'll follow the four-part story structure figure out my main plot points maybe figure out a few smaller events that happen in between those plot points and then I kind of just figure things out as I go I'm also pretty disorganized about it typically so I will have notes all throughout my notebook scattered all around that I have to flip through and find where did I put that one detail about that one scene I'll put things in Google Docs and word Docs and my Evernote notebook it's all over the place and I've had to organize it and consolidate it a little bit better this time obviously what works for me may not work for you but what I've been doing for this book is I have created an Excel spreadsheet where I keep track of all of the scenes or the chapters in my book so for each scene at the very least I have columns for the point-of-view character and the major events I also have spots for any notes about character development or development of any character relationships and super optional just if I have any ideas for that scene I do have some columns for any clues towards the big reveal at the end or any red herrings that I want to plant in that scene and I'm basically filling out that spreadsheet and at least the first couple columns a quarter of the book at a time so I did the first quarter I wrote it then I did the second quarter up until the mid point of the book I'm almost done with that and then I'm going to fill out the scenes for the next 25% the next about 25,000 words I'm not necessarily recommending that you use that same system as mean maybe it will work for you maybe it won't but at the very least you should consider how you can maybe be a little bit more organized plot a little bit more and a little bit more in detail than you're used to just because you've got so much story and a lot of times so many characters to keep track of that it'll just help keep you a little more sane my second tip is I guess kind of a caveat to the first don't worry too much about the details while you're writing that first draft try to mostly focus on your main plot and your main characters get that out of the way so that later you can focus on maneuvering those subplots and all of your secondary and tertiary characters don't worry about that too much in the first draft there are a lot of little details that I want to add into my book that I just can't mentally handle figuring out right now because it will bog me down and keep me from moving forward in the story so what I do whenever I come to a point in a chapter where I know I want to include some little detail maybe it will enhance the world it's like a poem or some mythology or it's a little minor clue that will lead to my big reveal at the end or maybe it's just the name of some tertiary minor character that I don't have time to come up with I put it in brackets so I'll open a bracket and I'll put stable masters name close bracket or maybe it says insert clue here or come up with a clever riddle or whatever it is I just don't have time to figure out and it isn't that important in the first draft I use the brackets because it is a unique piece of formatting that I'm not going to use in any other way in my story it's not something that's going to enter my prose like parentheses might so that way when I go back and do revisions and I'm ready to fill in some of those details I can just search the document for the opening bracket and see what comes up my third piece of advice is to keep some sort of document full of all of your ideas and thoughts about revisions this can be a page in your notebook a note in your notes app on your phone a Google Doc I use an Evernote note to keep track of mine and this is where you make note of things that you notice need to be changed or that you've done wrong that aren't big enough for you to need to go back and fix them right away so notes like don't forget to incorporate this subplot earlier in the book because you forgot to or this character needs to be mentioned more in the middle of the book because they kind of just disappear for a while notes about fixing your timeline or making the character's development stronger put it all in one place so that you don't forget about it later that's one of my biggest issues in writing such a long complex book is that I'm always worried that I'm going to forget about the ideas I had for revisions by the time I finally finish drafting so this makes it so that I don't have to worry I don't have to stress about how should I go back and fix this thing now it's in that one place so that I can address it later speaking of forgetting things because I'm just really forgetful while I draft make a running list of all of the characters that you've mentioned when you have a huge cast of characters you're probably going to forget someone's name or mix up two people's names or name someone two different things within one draft this is actually something that I need to be better about but I do have a list also in my Evernote app of all of the characters that I've named already and sometimes like a short description of who they are I am really bad about keeping it updated though so sometimes I'll mention a character and then pages and pages later I will mention them again and I've already forgotten what I named them it'll also be super helpful if you end up writing a second book because a lot of times long complex fantasy novels are part of a series so that way you won't have to go back and we read the whole book to remember what that one like herbalist name was that you mentioned in chapter 10 and my final tip for you is to remember that revisions are your best friend this kind of encompasses everything I've been talking about but don't worry too much about getting everything perfect the first time I'm trying so hard while I draft not to worry about planning all of those small clues that lead up to the big twist at the end because I can do that later I'm not worrying about incorporating my huge cast of characters and making sure that everyone gets adequate development and personality I can fix that in revisions I'm just concerning myself with getting the main plot getting all of those scenes getting my main character's story onto the page so that I can go back and finesse it and make it this grand perfect great story that I have in my head at least I hope I can eventually do that but I know I can't do it during the drafting process so I'm just trying to let go of that perfectionism and that's it for today those are my tips for writing a long complex book especially if it's one of those big world building fantasy novels that's gonna have multiple sequels it's a messy messy process but I really believe that it's going to be worth it in the end because I'm really excited about this story and this the kind of book I've always wanted to write don't forget to join us this Sunday at 7:30 p.m. Eastern Time we will be doing our book club talking about the seven husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins reads so we hope that you've read the book and that you come and join us to discuss it

3 thoughts on “Drafting Long, Complex Novels

  1. Making notes as we think of things is so important. Thanks for the video!

  2. I use Scrivener. It has a lot of stuff built in that are tailored for this type of project.

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