Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Planning a Story

Story Planning.

Okay, so you have your idea. You have your characters in your head.

Now you need to know what they will be doing.

Pantser or Planner?

You can be as rigorous or as relaxed in your planning as you like.  Some writers prefer not to plan at all. They prefer to write the story as it comes into their head. 'Pantsers', they're called.

Advantages of Planning:

  • You keep focused on your story
  • You avoid having to do extensive, time-consuming re-writes
  • You know what will happen in advance, so your story will have cohesion.
  • You can get bored, because there's nothing unexpected going on.

Advantages of Pantser-ism: 

  • Your story will be spontaneous. If you, the author, doesn't know what will happen next, you can be sure your readers won't, either.
  • Your story may be more original.
  • Your characters are free to do what comes naturally to them.

Techniques for Planning:

  1. Storyboard, chapter by chapter or scene by scene
  2. Outline (using bullet points) chapters.
  3. Diagram the plot against the narrative arc (the tension that rises and fall throughout the story).

My Technique:

Personally, I plan in a very rough way.

I draw pictures of the main story events (With my left, non-dominant hand because apparently this makes the right side of my brain work harder. I don't really believe this is actually the case, but its kind of fun. Although the pictures really suck).

I end up with a series of pictures. I call these 'Plot Points'. These are crucial moments or important scenes. Then I write the text to get to these Points.

In A Necklace of Souls, the biggest Plot Point was the ending - where Dana, my heroine, has to fight black-clad soldiers in a forest.

This works for me.

So, my conclusion: There is no right or wrong way. 

Monday, 17 February 2014

Character Building Part Two

This post continues on from last week - Developing Character.

So, you have your idea -  the basic story you want to tell. (Note, it's not planned out in detail yet. That comes much later).

You have a feeling for who will act in your little drama. That's the characters.  This post is about developing them further.

Developing Characters Can be a Spooky Experience.

This process can take a day, a week or a month, depending on how much time you have and how intensely you have fallen in love with your concept. For A Necklace of Souls it took about two years! Now, I've cut it back to about two months.

Image from Wikimedia Commons

It takes this long because in order to tell a story believably, you need to have deep, rich, authentic characters. And it takes time for me to believe in them enough to write as though they're real.

You will know when your characters have become real to you. Because, quite suddenly and unexpectedly, a character will do something you had not planned. 

For me, it happened when one character touched another on the shoulder. I had to stop and think, now why did she do that? And then I realised: they were in a relationship! Which I had not written into the plot, dammit. Readers won't pick this action as significant. But I did. It scared the hell out of me.

Three Techniques for Getting into a Character's Head:

  • I draw him/her, over and over. This helps me to anchor him/her in my brain. I'm a really bad artist, so I am NOT going to post an image for you to laugh at. 
  • Some people draw the face, cut out the eyes, put it over their heads, like a mask. So they wear their character's face, speak in his/her voice. Wearing the face, look into a mirror. As your character questions about them, their life. (This is kind of weird, but surprisingly effective.)
  • Cut out photos, put them into a notebook. You can use a Pinterest board, too. Just be aware that sometimes other people's images can dilute the effectiveness of your own imagination.  Here's a Pinterest board I set up for my novel: Images for A Necklace of Souls

There are lots of other techniques - these are just the ones that work for me.

Techniques for Remembering Character Information:
Some writers are quite organised and use spreadsheets, card index files, software. 

Personally, I find this too clinical, although I'd like to try the software. This would be particularly useful with the side characters, the once who dance on and off the stage in supporting roles, because I don't want to remember all their stuff - it's just too much. 

But for the main characters, I hold them all in my head. They're part of me.

My head is becoming crowded.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Character Building

Characters are Core to Plot

This post is about how I build character. Other folk use different techniques, but this is what works for me.

Building a Character, building a world.

In my last post I talked about how ideas are generated. In my novel, A Necklace of Souls, my idea was a girl, fighting in a forest.

But an idea does not a novel make. 

First I needed to know about her. What's her name? Why was she there? What does she look like? My character had no name, but I knew she was slim, lithe, athletic, strong. She could use a sword and a knife. In my dream, she was trying to go somewhere, but some men were trying to stop her. 

Which led to more questions: Why were they trying to stop her? Who were they? Did she have help? What made her want to go through this forest?

Character, motivation, conflict. The basis for a novel.

Techniques for Character Building:

  • Give a character parts of your own personality - I hate sewing, so in my novel Dana has a real aversion to embroidery.
  • Deliberately make a character opposite to you - Owen Marshall explores character traits he doesn't have. For example, what is it like to be an angry man?
  • Think of someone who's made a strong impression on you - for example, a scary teacher. By exaggerating these traits you can develop quite interesting characters. (Character building can be a good way to get even!)

Multiple Personality Disorder:

I need to know my characters REALLY well, not just what they look like but: where they went to school and who their best friends are and what food do they like to eat and do they like sitting still or are they always active are they confident within themselves and if not, why not?

How do other people see them, are they annoying or do they make lots of friends? Are they good with technology or does it bore them. Is there even technology where they live? Have they suffered loss in their lives? How did it change them? What are their parents like? What is their house like? Do they like mess or order? Do they like animals? What do they smell like, first thing in the morning? Are clothes important to them or not? What do they want most in the world? What is their favourite time of day? Do they really really hate something? What, or who? How do they respond to conflict?

Once I've done this for one character - I repeat the process for every major character. Until they each have their own distinctive voice.

Sometimes, in the middle of this character building stuff its like: I have multiple personality disorder.

But it's kind of fun, too.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

The Idea

All Writing Starts with an Idea. 

If you're very lucky, the idea strikes hard, in the middle of the night. And you wake and scribble down a story and bang, that's it, you're ready to go. Like me, when I had a dream of a girl, fighting in a forest. (You can read more about my dream, and what it led to here)

There might be a 'what-if' moment:
  • What if a whole planet is sentient? 
  • What if the world was just a computer programme? 
  • What if a necklace could destroy it's wearer's heart? 
Sometimes there's a feeling of 'tell-me-more'. Alexander McCall Smith developed Precious Ramotswe after meeting an extraordinary woman.

If you're short of material, idea generators are available on line or in writing magazines. Tumblr has a few, such as WriteWorld  and there are plenty of images on Pinterest

Your idea becomes the premise of your novel. It's the 5 minute plot summary, the elevator pitch.

You can do a lot with a premise; you can elaborate it into several paragraphs, into a short story, into a novel. Randy Ingermanson has an interesting technique called the Snowflake Method. I've played with this concept, and while I quite like it (see my post on Planning Your Novel) I haven't yet extended it from basic premise into full blown plan.

Just remember, that an intriguing idea is only that. You need characters and conflict to make a novel.  Also, you need patience.

Finally, some people advise to check there's a market for your idea before developing it into a novel.

Personally, I think: Markets are fickle. Write what you like.