To celebrate the release of her debut YA novel The Exact Opposite of Okay, author Laura Steven shares her writing process with us.
Whenever someone asks me about my writing process, I shudder like a poltergeist has passed through my brain. Because even though I’ve written seven novel-shaped manuscripts, I still don’t fully understand how it happens.
It’s like I’m temporarily possessed with a creative demon, who forcibly sits me down at my desk and pushes words through my fingertips until the story is told. Also, this demon requires an almost constant stream of coffee and donuts. Does anyone know how I might arrange an exorcism?
In all seriousness, while writing my last few books – The Exact Opposite Of Okay, its sequel (out March 2019!), and another super secret project – I’ve stumbled on something vaguely resembling a process, which I shall share with you now.
I feel rather like I’m revealing an illegal hack, because my drafting speed increased by a solid 200% once I started using this method, so please use with caution. I cannot be held legally responsible for any writing whiplash sustained while adopting this approach.
- I always outline a project using three-act structure before I start drafting. This may seem unromantic and formulaic, but I have to know the bones of the story are solid first. So far, this has protected me from any major rewrites, because I know the structure and pace is sound.
- Now for the magic part. Before I start writing a scene (not a chapter – a scene), I jot down a few bullet points of the key things that have to happen. The important story beats I have to hit. What does this particular building block need to achieve?
- Next, I write the dialogue of the scene, from beginning to end. Weird, right? But it’s great. I don’t include tags, stage directions, descriptions… nothing but the dialogue. This is a super fast way of getting the bulk of a scene down on paper, with the added bonus that your dialogue flows a million times better.
- Go through and add all the tags, descriptions and stage directions. Flesh out the scene so it actually feels like prose, not a TV script.
- Do one last pass, this time adding introspection from your protagonist – the below surface level stuff, like their internal reactions, their thoughts and hopes and fears. Their doubts.
And, erm, now you have a scene! All the key elements have been taken care of, but by breaking it down into small, individual processes, it feels so much less intimidating than facing a blank page. Thinking, “I just have to write bullet points!” then “I just have to write dialogue!” then “I just have to add speech tags!” etc, feels so manageable. Hey, it works for me.
Love, the demon currently occupying Laura’s brain x
About Laura Steven
As well as mentoring aspiring authors through schemes like Writing In The Margins and Pitch Wars, Laura works for Mslexia, a non-profit organisation supporting women writers.
She has an MA in Creative Writing, and her TV pilot Clickbait – a mockumentary about journalists at a viral news agency – reached the final eight in British Comedy’s 2016 Sitcom Mission. Laura is represented by Suzie Townsend of New Leaf Literary and Media Inc.
About The Exact Opposite of Okay
Izzy O’Neill here! Impoverished orphan, aspiring comedian and Slut Extraordinaire, if the gossip sites are anything to go by . . .
Izzy never expected to be eighteen and internationally reviled. But when explicit photos involving her, a politician’s son and a garden bench are published online, the trolls set out to take her apart. Armed with best friend Ajita and a metric ton of nachos, she tries to laugh it off – but as the daily slut-shaming intensifies, she soon learns the way the world treats teenage girls is not okay. It’s the Exact Opposite of Okay.
Bitingly funny and shockingly relevant, The Exact Opposite of Okay is a bold, brave and necessary read. For readers of The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, Doing It by Hannah Witton and Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo.