I bet it took longer than six months for Tolkien to get this map right!
And where did he learn to write like that?
Oh, yeah. He invented a few languages and the most fully developed fantasy world ever.
I've been slaving on my WIP for a year and 8 months. I will say that at the beginning of that process, my understanding of structure, voice, POV etc. was limited to what I learned in high school. My high school english teachers were amazing, but still, there's a huge learning curve. Things like passive voice and the really real rules for commas were a mystery to me. Don't tell, but I still overcomma after the word 'but'.
My WIP started out at as fodder for that box under the bed that every writer is required to have. Mine might end up in a box under my bed, on top of my old charcoal sketches of cow skulls (classic art class stuff!), but it's mostly better now.
My idea changed. Characters got older. The stakes got higher with every rewrite (still happening!). I renamed half the characters. Ok, all of them if you go back to my very first attempts. Everything has changed from my initial concept, except for the essence of my protagonist and her character arc. I just had to figure out how what situations would cause her to grow how I knew she could.
This took a long time. Not the ten years it took Susanna Clarke to write Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, but it's felt really long and a bit circuitous.
I don't want the next book to take so long. Please, please, please, Second Story, don't be so hard to pin down.
I've been told that the secret to that is Outlining *enter heavenly choir*. Check out this awesome post on plotting over at Teresa Frohock's blog. She organized in a way that I can only dream of and a fabulous writer and friend. I fully expect to see her books in stores in the next 2 years.
I've been told (no link, this was at a writer's conference) that research is the key, that if you do your character sketch and research your setting, that the story will unfold like a beautiful flower. Okay, perhaps that's an exaggeration, but that was the general idea.
It's been said that using personality profiles, interviewing your characters, and drawing pictures of them will help you to know them better.
I've even heard of a novelist who starts every book by drawing a detailed map and fitting the story to the map.
I'm not sure which of these ways will work for me. Right now I'm trying research, and my brain is boiling.
How do you develop a niggling idea into a full plot?