The writing process part two
Putting your thoughts together
Two weeks ago, we covered a few ways in which you can start getting ideas for a novel using; webbing, lists, world-building, and situational. Whichever method you used to get the process started is up to you and as I said these were just a small few of ways you could use to come up with ideas. There are a plethora of methods you can incorporate, mixing and matching to find what works best for you. This week we are going to cover my way of putting the ideas together.
As I stated two weeks ago when I wrote Black Thorn, I learned a valuable lesson on how not to write a novel. I took the advice of everyone around me, every blogger I could find, and every author I adored. While most of the information I found was helpful in one way or another, there was no right fit, because writing is personal. Everyone will develop their method of doing it. However, there are some things I learned while working on Black Thorn that I think can help a lot of you.
So, you have an excellent idea for a revolutionary new novel. Congratulations, now how do we put it together? I use an outline; I want a general idea of how things are going to go from A to Z. It doesn’t mean that the story will follow it entirely, or even end the way I think it will. Once you create your world and you spend a could months every day in it, those characters you created will start to do things that surprise you, and if you’re lucky, they’ll steer the course of the story creating events and situations you never imagined.
Since I started using outlining to organize my thoughts things, seem to work much faster. First, I write down my little blurb of an idea. This can be as short as a few sentences or if a page but remember this is just the initial spark to get things started. I tend to try and keep it no more than just a few paragraphs long. I’m not telling the story here; I’m just covering the idea.
Once I have that sorted out and either written down on paper or typed up and printed out (I’m a huge believer in having physical copies of everything.) I then go into setting. This is where I use my world building strengths. I make myself a cup of coffee, sit back, and think. What world makes the most sense for the story I’m trying to tell? Do I need to start it in a mystical forest village? How about aboard a massive space shuttle that’s speeding towards another galaxy? I personally like to stick with what I know; I start with imaging my favorite spots in Colorado (my home state.) and Utah. I image the forest, the mountains, and the deep cool lakes, and what they’d be like if none of us were around. Now that I have a general idea for where I’m placing my story, I try and think of when. For me, I like the post-apocalyptic stories. Give me an earth that has only a couple hundred thousand humans on it, and I’ll take it from there. Filling my lands with elves, dwarves, and every other fantasy creature I like, so long as it fits within my story. I jot down enough notes so that I can see my setting when I glance over them. If things need to be taken out or added later, that’s fine because this is just the initial setting outline. How much or how little of the setting notes I use in the story is up to me. So long as it works with the story and the reader can clearly see the place in their mind. If we can do that, then we will be just fine.
After I have enough notes on the setting, I move my attention to the characters. I probably spend a little too much time on this, but I think it’s important to be able to have as close to real characters as possible. Not that any of my characters are based solely on people I know. I try and steer very clear of writing about friends or family, but some aspects of their personality can add life to the character. I do have one or two characters that, after reading my first draft, friends have asked to be put in and if the cast isn’t full, then I do. In Black Thorn, there are a couple of characters that are semi-based on real people. These people asked to be placed in the story with the understanding that they would not be main characters or even secondary characters and that they will probably be killed off. I do that for two reasons. First, it makes them happy seeing themselves in my work even briefly. Second, killing the character off relieves me of the responsibility of managing that character. This is because if they keep popping up in the story, then sooner or later the character will do something that the person that its based from will not like. So, to avoid that its best to either not write about real people or if you must, get their written permission, and then kill them off quickly in your story. In all the short stories I have ever written (and there’s been a lot of them.) I have always followed this rule. The exception is of course (isn’t there always one.) in Black Thorn. My best friend came to me after the first draft was written and asked to be a part of the story. At first, I created a secondary character roughly based on his personality, but as the character evolved, I realized that I couldn’t kill him off and he has become a large part of the second book. But we digress, back to the topic at hand. I start each character page with the basic bio. Name, nickname, age, gender, body type, weight, height, you know the basics. Then I write down anything that’s important to the personality of the character. Be it an event that happened in the past, or something of that nature. I do this for each main character, secondary character, and even some of the background characters. After that’s done, I typically have around fifty or so pages that are just hand-written notes on everyone that pops up in the story and if I start to feel that the stage is too crowded, then I will either edit someone out from the beginning or kill them off in the middle. In the end, though most of my stories have only revolved around one or two people.
So, we have the setting, the characters, what’s next? Well, now it’s time we start coming up with the actual story. Here is where I take my blurb and begin my timeline. It’s essentially the flow of action chart that most of us learned in freshmen English. I plan the opening, the rising action, the climax, the falling action, and resolution in that order. Then if say I need to add another peak, like say a battle scene then I do. Remember this is all just notes, and the fantastic thing about writing is there’s an eraser or a delete key for what doesn’t work. This structure becomes the foundation of my outline, and I keep building it up. Then after I am satisfied with the basic form, happy with the events that are detailed, and have a general idea of how things will play out I take a couple of pieces of paper and start separating out what happens in each chapter. Again, things don’t always end up the way I think they’re going to, but it’s a great place to start.
When I have everything just so, that’s when the real work begins. I begin to write my story, scene by scene, cutting and pasting them together until my story flows naturally. This works well for me; it might work for you but remember you will have to find your own way of writing. What I have here is just another stepping stone for you to take in creating your own novel.