When I was a little girl, I used to pick up books and wonder about where they had come from. Who drew the pictures? Who wrote the story? What were those people like? What was the process like? My dad worked in a print shop at a Bible institute for a short time when I was about nine. I was amazed by the presses and the processes. When we moved to Montana, he worked in various print shops for several years. I joined him during high school and in-between trips to Russia, working in both pre- and post-press operations. The beauty of the process never got old.
There is something intriguing about seeing a book move from an idea to a manuscript to a printed product. But it’s not just the product that’s so special. It’s the fact that the product can bring smiles, make us laugh or make us cry, give us insight into the past as well as the present, teach us something we’ve never known before, remind us of things we’ve forgotten…and can even change our lives.
Obviously, I don’t have a printing press in my living room, but I thought since I’m starting out on a new book, this would be the perfect time to share the rest of the process with others who, like me, have ever picked up a book and wondered, “Where did this come from?” Creating a book is more than just writing a story. It is a craft, which requires as much creativity and WORK as any other craft or trade. I hope through this journey to share with you the joy and labor of writing, the process of turning a manuscript into a book, and the beauty of the finished product. I hope you’ll come along!
Where a Book Begins
Once the general idea comes and the initial thinking and mental plotting is done, where do you go from there? The answer can vary depending on what sort of book you’re writing. It also varies based on what approach the author finds most helpful. Some authors, especially those writing non-fiction, might start with a mind-map or point-by-point outline. Other authors use storyboards, outlines, sticky notes, or any one of a host of other techniques.
When I first started writing, I outlined by scene, and then wrote an expanded outline, which had a minimum of a paragraph under each scene heading. This created pages and pages and pages of outline and was cumbersome to use.
A few years ago, while tutoring, I found a new method, which I have come to love. It puts the basics of the entire book all on one line, while at the same time showing the story arc (stasis, inciting event, growing action, climax, and final stasis). Like this:
But, as you can see from the picture, the overall plot of the new book required three story arc lines: one for Jess, one for Marc, and one for Wesley! Something could get missed that way. I wanted something that would pull all three together, so I combined the three into a handwritten, vertical timeline:
Then I went back (for the 3rd time) and looked over the parts of the book that have already been written. (The Barren Fields, Fruitful Gardens series was originally one book…it was really long!) I discovered that the book couldn’t be left in the same order that I had already plotted, and that I might need to be able to move a few things around as I write. My handwritten timeline was three pages long and not flexible enough. It was also still incomplete. So, I set up a document in Pages and recreated the timeline using moveable text boxes. Each color represents a specific character or group of characters:
But, as you can see from the picture, I realized there was a thread missing from ALL three of my attempts. I also realized that I needed to do a little Montana research. I found some old maps online and began plotting. Unfortunately, the maps I found weren’t very accurate, so I went back to my original plan based on my own knowledge of state geography. After a lot of thought and prayer, I carefully penciled in the remaining thread, and then added a new set of colored text boxes to the Pages document:
Finally, on my fourth attempt, the outline is complete!
Some people ask if an outline is necessary. In my opinion—absolutely! An outline is a road map. You can detour along the way, but you always have a way to get back on track, to make sure you make it from start to finish.
So that is where the journey begins. In the next blog, I’ll share about where the writing starts. Not the physical location, but the process. It’s pretty cool. Enjoy the journey!
Are you a writer? What plotting/outlining methods and tools do you use? Share in the Comments below!