Monday, September 24, 2012

The Spiral Model of Writing

I was speaking to someone about software development and they mentioned the spiral model to me.  I'd never head of it before, but the moment he explained it, I realized that it was how I write stories.

So the spiral model essentially has 4 stages:

1. Determine Objectives
2. Identify and resolve risks
3. Development and Test
4. Plan the next Iteration

This is an ongoing spiral that continues until the software is released.

Writing a book is extremely similar.

1. Determine the Objectives
2. Identify and resolve the problems
3. Draft and review
4. Plan the next revision

When I write a book, this is essentially how it goes. Each time I go around the spiral, I follow these steps, though I'd never verbalized them before.  Even now, as I prepare to embark on a final round of revisions for a story, I do this.

1.  I sit down and determine what my goals are for this round.  Is it to smooth out some issues? Fix a larger problem? Remove a character?  Having a list of goals and plans is essential to a revision (less essential to a first draft, but even then I have notes about what my goal for the story is.

2.  I look at my objectives and attempt to identify any issues that may arise as a result.  If I'm cutting a character, I need to look at that character's whole arc and see what ramifications eliminating him will have.  Then I have to figure out how to resolve those issues.

3.  When I'm ready, I actually do the writing.  I make the changes and, when done, read through to make sure they work and make sense.

4.  Finally, I read through the whole thing again and identify new problems, planning for the next revision.  This is where I identify any new things that bother me or don't work.  Maybe a character that had been in the background before really pops in this version and I want to consider giving them more page time.

The process begins all over again.

Writing may be a creative thing, but there are logical parts to it as well.  A well thought out plan of action can mean the difference between having to write ten drafts and having to write five.

In some ways, I don't think my books are ever finished.  But the difference between software and books is that when I publish a book, I can't go back and change it with an update.  That means I'd better make every turn around the spiral count.


  1. I always resisted before more methodical about it, but I have to admit: it helps.

  2. I'm not horribly methodical...especially not in the early stages, but you don't have to be. When I set out to start writing a draft, I hardly know more than a beginning, an ending, and a vague idea of what I want to accomplish. Usually all I write down are a couple of sentences about the story. But that's stage 1. And each time I go around the spiral, the story gets more fleshed out and I have a better idea of what I'm writing about.

    I didn't even know that this was my process until I was sitting in an interview and my new boss introduced me to this model for software development. Now I look at it and realize it's so simple.


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