Plotting out plot

Joe’s Post #168

So, when I find something interesting, I like to share it.

Sometimes that’s like, “hey look at this weird growth on my butt, what do you think that is?”

Sometimes it’s something I find on the internet.

So check this out. A new way of looking at plotting. It comes from Oz and Ends by J.L Bell. 

A cool way to look at plotting

A cool way to look at plotting

Now the cool thing I like about this, is it looks at making the hero’s life hell in a whole different way and can be used for pretty much any part of your book. It’s sort of a rinse and repeat for writers.

heros journeySo why did this speak to me? Well, there are a ton of books and articles on how to plot. I’m sure you’ve seen some of them, the most famous being the Hero’s Journey.

But nowhere have I seen something that gets your mind thinking like this one did. It’s basically character meets conflict to create plot.

Now, sure, it doesn’t tell you how to put in backstory or when to introduce important pieces of information vital to the story, but try running that ‘plotting made simple’ template through your story and see what happens.

Or take a look at this from Jody Sparks.

Plotting by Jody Sparks

Plotting by Jody Sparks

 

Also, if you have some free time, check out Robert J Saywer’s latest post. Here. It’s a great read about the craft of world building and writing.

And that’s it from me. No wise words of wisdom from me about how to write, but please check out these other bloggers/writers. They’re awesome.

Joe

Twist your plot. Can your characters escape?

Karalee’s Post #133

twisterOne can spend a lifetime surfing the web and hanging out on social media. I’m choosing to cut back (I can actually choose how to spend all of my time) and I’m spending those minutes that often stretch into hours being more productive by reading books and working on my new business.

But every once in awhile a gem pops out from Facebook or Twitter. It happened today when I scrolled through my FB feed and I paused on a UTube that a friend posted. For some reason I clicked on it. Thanks Randy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sBoyS4wHPTc&sns=em

This tickled my murder mystery writing funny bone. The site is called Spy Escape & Evasion and subjects like this are good to jump-start your imagination and “what if…”

A few examples from this site are:

  • airplane survival secrets
  • how to become a human lie detector
  • how to escape handcuffs
  • how to escape zip ties
  • how to pick locks
  • how to disappear
  • how to escape rope
  • stun flashlight

Of course once you become immersed in discovery and contemplating how you might use new ideas in different ways in your fiction writing, you can spend all day surfing again.

Outliers

 

The internet easily becomes a circular web, catching the curious, the bored, the procrastinators, the blocked, the (put any excuse here….). It’s easy to go back to the first line in this blog:

One can spend a lifetime surfing the web and hanging out on social media.

The trick is to break the circle, use the internet with purpose and focus – and then get off.

 

Become an Outlier.

Can you?

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Perspective Photos:

grouse ice rink

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy writing!

Are you a fussy reader?

Joe’s Post #144

I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ve become a fussy reader. Really fussy. All those voices that I have in my head when I do my own writing come out when I read other authors.

Hey, at least I’m expanding my self-loathing out into the universe. That’s a good thing, right?

So, here is a list of things that turn me off, because, you know, everyone wants to know what turns me off.

  • A bad opening. And by ‘bad’, I mean ‘boring’. I don’t need an explosion or a car chase or someone whacking some poor girl with a belt. I need something or someone to care about. Even beautiful language can only hold my attention for a page or two. What stuns me, though, is no matter what they say at workshops or conferences or retreats, books get published that suck at the very beginning.
  • You hide too much from me. I like to be teased, sure, like anyone, but when someone writes, “they saw the guy, then something happened,’ that books gets put down. I need details. I need specifics. I don’t need to be jerked around. Hello, Baldacci, I’m talking to you. I love your books, but every so often, you almost phone it in.
  • Too much narration. Ok, this is new, but I’ve found that the books I love to read have more than one character talking to his or herself. Too much narration, even in the first person, and I become like a man on an island desperately seeking some form of conversation. Even in Cast Away, Tom Hanks talked to a ball for Christsake.
  • No voice. Ok, like this is a lot harder to define, but a great voice will propel me far into the story, while a common voice, the one with correct sentence structure, rigidly proper punctuation and a bland delivery will be like some bureaucrat going on and on and on and on and at some point I fall asleep and start to drool.
  • Too much backstory. Oh, lordy, this one is a killer for me. Sometimes I’ll get hooked into a story and then whammo, I’m forced to read about who begat who and who begat them before that and how the world was created. Ugh.
  • Too much swearing. Ok, I totally know that makes me f*ing sound like some sort of uber PG a**hole, but sh*t, sometimes it’s like an author thinks voice is all about using them cuss words. Not that I’m against swearing, not at all, but the overuse of foul language seems like a copout to me.

GRROne thing I love, both in movies and in a book is a good surprise.

I’m jaded. I’ll admit that. I’m picky.

But if you can surprise me, then you’ve got me. For 2 hours, in the case of a movie, or for a week in the case of a book. Sixth Sense surprised the hell out of me, and it’s one of my most favourite movies. GRR Martin continues to surprise me and I’ll tackle each and every one of his 1000 page tomes with ravenous glee.

But screw something up, published or not, I won’t want to read ya.

So what things turn you off a book? The cover? Book length? Spelling errors (someone more common these days, much to my horror.)

Let us know.

Oh and who’s going to Surrey International Writer’s Conference this year?

Is productivity only measured in words?

Karalee’s Post #93

siwc2014For the next four days our 5Writer member Silk will be attending the Surrey International Writer’s Convention for her annual mixing with authors, agents and fellow writers. This year Silk has a bent for learning more about publishing and social media as well as attending lectures on the craft of writing . And of course, much information is exchanged among the attendees after hours in the bar and at dinner.

Joe will join her on Friday to do much of the same and  I’m sure they will fill us in on their experiences next week.

In the meantime I will encourage them to tweet #surrey2014 about exciting news or such and I may join them for a drink one evening. The conference will be exciting and tweets are already rolling:

Hallie siwc2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

sean cranbury siwc1

 

 

 

 

 

 

kc dyer siwc2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sean Cranbury, author and presenter has shared his work re social media if you want to check it out.

I’m not attending as I’ve dedicated my time and funds to the Writer’s Digest course I’m taking: 12 Weeks to a First Draft. That brings me to a quick discussion on productivity.

 

 According to the MW dictionary, the word PRODUCTIVE means:

: doing or achieving a lot : working hard and getting good results

: producing or able to produce something especially in large amounts

: causing or resulting in something

 

To me writers inevitably measure their productivity in their word count. Is productivity only measured in words?

Undoubtedly that is what matters in the finale since words are what our end product is. But before The End is achieved, there is so much behind the scenes work going on before, during and after our first and subsequent drafts until the book is ready for publishing.

My course has me looking at many aspects that go into making a great story. It’s not simple characters, settings and plots, but rather layers of depth that create a complex story with compelling characters and plot lines. That means a lot of time spent on ‘What if’s’ and looking (deconstructing) other books to see how other authors achieved their goals for an unforgettable story.

This week my mind-mapping  has continued and expanded to include sub-plots and how my protagonist and antagonist can become more emotionally complex, which also makes the main plot more complicated too.

I am having LOTS OF FUN and making great progress in my story. To me I have been very productive this week, albeit much of my work hasn’t directly added to my word count. It’s work that is very important, the backstage work that Silk talked about in her last post. This has to be mastered too in this craft of writing that we have chosen to do.

So this week my productivity has been:

  • most of my mind-mapping has been completed
  • character development, setting and plot lines are being layered in
  • Word count: words cut 760; words added 1600; total in first draft 2500
  • Hours in my office: 30
  • Times I journaled my progress: 0. I suck at this and need to follow-through even if only to see if it helps. I won’t know if I don’t try it.
  • Pies eaten: 1/4 pumpkin. My favorite and there’s so many pumpkins right now….
  • episodes of Orange is the New Black watched: 0

If anyone is preparing for NaNoMo and want good advice, read Jami Gold’s blog on this topic. She talks about tracking two types of  arcs: a story/plot arc and a character/emotion arc. I found this blog also helpful in developing my own story and not only for the one month go-for-it for NaNoMo.

Happy writing!

Commit to write and set your goals

Karalee’s Post #91

It’s wonderful to refocus and aim high. Yes, everyone in our writing group has agreed to each have a book written, edited and ready to self-publish within the next year.

To me our 5Writers group has expanded from being a critique group to an all-encompassing writing support group. We’ve challenged each other to write our manuscripts, continue and expand on our social networking as 5Writers, plus learn as much as we can about self-publishing and all that it entails. And, we will all support one another in all of these aspects along the way.

5 heads are better than one, right?

freytag's pyramid

I work best to deadlines and taking courses on learning about the craft of writing seems to light a fire under my butt and often kick-starts my ideas.

I can easily flip between feeling confident in my writing to wondering WTF am I doing? So, improving my writing skills definitely feeds my self-confidence to be able to write well enough to publish an awesome book!

Before our two day writing group retreat I had already started an online course by Dean Wesley Smith  called “Character Voice and Setting”. It is excellent and I enjoy how Dean uses videos to teach so it’s close to being in a classroom and taking your own notes. The assignments are in-depth too and put into practice the concepts taught.

12 weeks to draft

The other course I’m signed up for is through Writer’s Digest University called 12 Weeks to a First Draft  by Mark Spenser. This course is perfect timing for me as I’m pushed to figure out my plot-line, develop my characters and setting, and put into instant use the techniques I learned through Dean’s course.

I feel stoked and my FUN FACTOR is back to get my book written. My goal is to get the first draft outlined, researched and at least half written by Christmas. There, I said it.

To make it happen I need to commit to time and productivity goals so here goes:

  1. Spend a minimum of 3 hours in my office per day or 21 hours/week.
  2. Produce at least 500 words/day over and above research/outlining/blogging, etc. starting next week so I have this first week to do initial plotting.
  3. Keep up my regular exercise routine for my health.
  4. Meditate daily. I’ve found this has become essential to help keep my energy and mood balanced.
  5. Journal my progress daily. I haven’t done this before and I think this may open my eyes to how I work best and help my productivity for future books too.
  6. Of course, my dogs and family need some daily attention too!

dogs at beach

I feel that all 5Writers left our retreat pumped to rise to our new writing challenge. In the last year our group has become even more geographically spread apart and the feasibly of getting together more than a couple of times a year seems difficult. To help us stay connected and give us a regular venue for progress and feedback, we’ve decided to have a Monday morning group check-in via email. I love this idea and we started this week. Already it’s a great addition to our group dynamics.

Sometimes the simple ideas are the best! And who doesn’t like Monday morning coffee?

Does your writing group keep connected in-between meetings? If so, how?

Happy writing!

Basically, you have to write

Karalee’s Post #90

ecard3

 

Our writing group is busy preparing for our fall two day retreat meeting starting tomorrow. We do have a long to-do list and it does have a lot to do with writing fiction.

 

On the other hand, we need to stay focused in order to make sure the list doesn’t remain in the to-do category.

ecard1

 

I’ve recently gone back to the basics in outlining a new manuscript and already feel a bit stuck.

 

 

If you believe in karma, meant-to-be concepts or in sheer luck, it does happen at times.

I follow a blog by C.S. Lakin called Live Write Thrive and she sent a title today called ‘Ramping Tension to the Max in Your Novel’. Now I don’t know if you experience this phenomenon, but when I’m stuck, or on the verge of understanding a concept, or need to learn about something in particular, often the solution arises from unexpected places. Sometimes it is downright eerie, but maybe every so often my stars align or something.

So when Live Write Thrive popped up in my inbox today it must have been meant to be. Not only does it address the topic of tension, and the concept suddenly became clearer to me, she also gave a her checklist at the end of the blog to go through in designing and writing your novel.

All in one place! My lucky day, but then, I was ready to delve into the whole topic and much deeper than before as my learning continues.

Her checklists are as follows and each are definitely worth a close read:

  • concept with a kicker
  • protagonist with a goal
  • conflict with high stakes
  • theme with a heart
  • plots and subplots in a string of scenes
  • secondary characters with their own needs
  • setting with a purpose

ecard2

I’ve discovered that learning about writing also teaches yourself much about, well, yourself. Me, I have a whole book in my head at once, but have difficulty talking it through out loud as well as having my story flow like a movie on the page.

 

So thank-you this week C.S. Lakin, I will definitely work through your checklists!

Last week I touched on the release of Kindle Unlimited. This week in the blog Build Book Buzz  readers are encouraged that when they download with Kindle Unlimited to read 10% of each book. Why? If they don’t then the author doesn’t get paid.

Just another little point for us aspiring authors to understand in the self-publishing world.

Happy writing!

 

Lost for Words

Illustration: Christian Tate

Illustration: Christian Tate

Helga’s Post # 80:  Few things in life are as frustrating as having to abandon what you love most and yield to what has to be done. The necessities. The drudgeries. The self-imposed tasks of feeding the monster called ‘improving your life’.

Like shelving writing for something as mundane and trifling as selling the house in which we have lived for a quarter of a century. By the time it’s finally ready to be listed I feel like a robot. My office is gone, converted into a bedroom to show buyers there is enough room for an extra kid in the family, should they wish to expand. Trying to double-guess a décor that the average prospective buyer finds alluring feels demeaning, but apparently necessary if you want to sell. As a result, our house has become a stranger. Or, I admit, maybe we are the strangers that don’t fit the mold. In any case, the house is no longer ours, at least in appearance. Twenty-five years of familiarity suddenly a thing of the past. It feels a bit like breaking up a long-standing relationship.

But really, when it comes right down to it, it’s just a place. Four walls and a roof. A tiny spot on a map. When we leave we will take with us those things most dear, our music, paintings, and things collected over the years imbued with memories of places visited and of special events.

And then there is the garden. That’s a little more challenging to part with (although the upkeep is becoming more cumbersome each year). As I have done since we moved here, I get enjoyment from tending to the countless shrubs and perennials planted over the years. I know everyone of them – the rhododendrons, azaleas, weigela , and the tiny fragrant alpines in my rock garden. I know exactly when each comes into bloom, year after year, and which ones will follow. They are like constant and loyal friends. I will definitely miss them. Perhaps another, smaller garden is in our future.

All to say, with these somewhat unnerving and time-consuming events I had to relegate my writing to the proverbial backseat. Am I making excuses for not having written a single word of the new novel that the 5 writers have decided to embark upon?

Before you nod, read on. My neglect only applies to the ‘act’ of writing. While no actual words have yet filled the first blank page, my mind was active and often went into overdrive. There are many hours during a sleepless night that can produce amazing results for planning a new novel. The difficult task is deciding which of the many ideas born at three AM or thereabouts will stand the test of dawn. While I haven’t ‘produced’ a tangible product just yet, meaning I have nothing to hand out at our group’s meeting next week, I did the groundwork. I spent countless hours pondering potential stories and plots, comparing, discarding and in the end selecting a few that spoke to me most loudly in the wee hours of the night.

Isn’t that part of writing? In fact it’s one of the most crucial parts of writing a novel. “To write well is to think clearly. That’s why it’s so hard,” Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author David McCullough once said.

As writers, we’re likely both devoted to our craft and eternally frustrated by it – and that holds true for even the most talented writers, according to a recent article in the Huffington Post, titled ‘How To Think Like A Writer’. We could all use guidance from the greats on how to hone our powers of thinking and get those creative juices flowing, the article claims. Here are some tips, tricks, quirks and habits – some quite tongue in cheek – that might inspire us to think like a writer:

Study the greats.

Hunter S. Thompson was known to transcribe Ernest Hemingway’s novels in full, just to absorb the words — he typed out The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms in the hopes of absorbing as much wisdom as possible from his literary idol.

Observe everything.

Practice the art of observation daily and everywhere — perhaps a writer’s greatest asset. “Read, observe, listen intensely — as if your life depended upon it,” says Joyce Carol Oates.

didion_pic

Joan Didion 1970 (Julian Wasser/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)

Daydream.

Daydreaming may get a bad rap — but it can help connect you to what you think and feel, the source of all good (and bad) writing. As Joan Didion once pondered, “Was it only by dreaming or writing that I could find out what I thought?”

Write from your own truth.

Gabriel García Márquez used to advise young writers, based on his own experience, to write what they know. “If I had to give a young writer some advice I would say to write about something that has happened to him; it’s always easy to tell whether a writer is writing about something that has happened to him or something he has read or been told.”

Make writing your top priority. Henry Miller

Henry Miller wrote in his 10 commandments for writing that the serious writer must put his craft above all else. “Write first and always,” he advised. “Painting, music, friends, cinema, all these come afterwards.”

Find your creative inspiration, wherever it may be.

Gertrude Stein once said of the writing process, “It will come if it is there and if you will let it come.” Novelist Patricia Highsmith took a stiff drink before writing to reduce her energy, and subsisted on a diet consisting only of bacon, fried eggs, and cereal. Friedrich Schiller, writer, philosopher (1759–1805) kept a drawer full of rotting apples in his workroom, saying that the smell urged him to write.Patricia-Highsmith-in-1962-Talented-Mr.-Ripley-US-1st-Edition

Know what you’re getting yourself into.

Want to live the writer’s life? Great. But make sure you’re not just infatuated with an imagined ideal of your artsy existence. Margaret Atwood wrote in The Guardian: ‘You most likely need a thesaurus, a rudimentary grammar book, and a grip on reality. This latter means: there’s no free lunch. Writing is work. It’s also gambling. You don’t get a pension plan. Other people can help you a bit, but ­essentially you’re on your own. ­Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don’t whine.’

Take it one day, or sentence, at a time.

When a writing assignment or grand idea is sitting in front of you waiting to be put into words, it’s easy to become overwhelmed with the scope of the undertaking. But like any great work of fiction or non-fiction, there’s only one way for it to be done: One word, sentence, and paragraph at a time.

Just do it.

Stephen King knows a thing or two about being a prolific writer. And it pretty much all boils down to this: “Read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.”

And do it with joy.

As Joyce Carol Oates advised in rules number 1 and 10 on her list of rules for writers “Write your heart out.”

And that’s exactly what I am planning to do in the months to come.

Pages written this month:            0

Plots created in my mind:            >100

Plots narrowed down:                  ~10

The thrill of outlining – part 3

Karalee’s Post #65

outlining courseMy outlining course through Writer’s Digest University finished this week and I am well on the way to having a story I’m excited to spend the next few months writing. I I still want to do more characterization, especially of my antagonist. I also want to up the stakes in a few places for both my antagonist and protagonist and add them into my outline.

The outlining course began with my basic story idea, then moved to a premise sentence that introduced my story situation, the protagonist and antagonist, and the major objective. This process automatically encouraged my brainstorming process, all those ‘what if’s’ that I love (and I think most writers do) that push my creative spirit in any and all directions, some of which are outlandish, crazy, weird, and that might just work if this and that happens….. During this creative time, this course encouraged me to also try to think about my theme as well as character motives and conflicts. Looking back, this was something I hadn’t concentrated on as much before, and it was very helpful in coming up with bigger moments  with more at stake than I may have otherwise done. (Part 1)

Part 2 was exploring one’s characters and settings. All major characters need to be explored in depth. Whether you make a formal outline or not, writers need to know their characters as though they are “real” family, friends, or enemies. We need to know why they do what they do. This means, what has happened in their lives to make them think and act the way they do? This process is extensive and time consuming, but also a great time saver when it comes to writing scenes. For me,knowing my characters also adds to the pleasure of being “in my character’s head” while I am writing.

Settings must also seem real and knowing and feeling a country or a city takes more understanding than an office, kitchen or bedroom. Helga’s last post explores this topic well.

So what is left for Part 3?

outline endThis is where you take all the brainstorming ideas, the characters and settings and story lines, and organize them into possible scenes while still jotting down other ideas that may come to mind as you do this. I think of this like sorting “dots” into the picture that will come to light once they are all connected. This is the Extended Outline and depending on your writing style, it may be quite extensive to include ideas that both work or don’t seem to, or merely simple one-liners as a reminder for when you write the scene later.

At this point all your brainstorming ideas are recorded in whatever detail works for you. Most of us don’t want to trash any ideas as there could be gold to be mined later if we are stuck, but it may be quite onerous to wade through everything during your story writing. To help streamline the process, it is helpful to sort through everything at this point (especially since it is fresh) to make an Abbreviated Outline that is easy to follow as you write your scenes.

For me, this outlining process has been very helpful and definitely worth my time and effort. I am starting out eager to write my story with a much better feel for my story and theme, my characters and settings, and their conflicts and growth.

I don’t feel that my creative forces have been stifled at all since I’m keeping an open mind to the probability that some characters may try and take over and others may come on stage that haven’t shown themselves yet. I will let them do what they feel they need to, but since I have a good idea of where my story needs to go, if characters go too far in an unworkable directions, not too much time and effort will be given to them.

Happy writing!

Group dynamics

Karalee’s Post #64

This Friday our group is coming together loaded with ideas and outlines and ready to brainstorm. Coffee will flow almost as fast as our mouths, and lunch provided by Helga (thank-you!!!) will be quick so we can continue with our meeting.

It’s no small feat to get five people together to review five entire outlines of each one of our books, or at least a multitude of thoughts about a book idea in some organized fashion. We haven’t seen each other since last fall either, so we have some catch-up chatting time to fit in too. 

In effect in all probability the timer will have to come out again.

We’re not a group of down-to-the-last-second and you’re cut off kiddo, and then on to the next writer, but we are respectful of each other and are cognizant of everyone having their equal time on stage.

And what a stage it will be. It’s like being invited to a large party where you only know four people yet you anticipate being introduced to all the others and feel compelled to remember their names.

And no, name tags won’t help.

Some of the guests will be nasty people that you can spot a mile away and others that are so sneaky you think they are okay, but you have no idea what their motives are so you don’t really trust them. Others will be genuinely nice and some not-so-nice, but you put up with them because you like their friends or family. Then there are the strong-willed people that want to be in the spotlight and take over the show and you feel compelled to stand up to them and fight for your own space.

Now those ones need to have a timer on them too.

If we had a whole weekend wouldn’t it be fun to let our characters loose to mingle and see what story they come up with? We could add stress and conflict by not providing coffee, not allowing them to sleep, playing the music loud, burning the popcorn, throwing in a few weapons, turning the heat up high and locking the doors.

Of course we would call in the cops when chaos breaks out.

What fun we could have!

Happy writing!

The thrill of outlining – part 2

Karalee’s Post #62

I haven’t told my fellow 5Writers often enough that they are an inspiration to me, that they help me keep my life in perspective as they share their perspectives, and how important our group’s encouragement and sharing of information is a powerful source of positive energy that helps to keep me on my writing journey.

So, thank-you fellow 5Writers!

This blog came to be because over a year ago our group came to the conclusion that monthly critique meetings weren’t servicing our goals the way we had intended. Submitting 7500 words each was still a significant amount of critiquing for everyone, but was jerky progress at best in completing our individual novels in good time. For that reason we decided to challenge ourselves to work toward larger goals and come together as a group less frequently. Our blog was born as a surrogate meeting place and a way to share with our followers how our group works together.

All I can say is thank goodness for social media. As writers we hear that it is so important to be connected nowadays in order to market ourselves, but I feel it is also a very important medium to allow individual groups to stay connected. Writing doesn’t have to be a lonely occupation.

At present our goal is to come together this month and share our outlines for our next manuscript. To that end, I will continue my blog on that topic.

Outlining Part 2. The Middle.

outlining middlePart 1 addressed the overall story premise and jotting down four or five big moments in the plot line. If you really don’t write anything down you can keep all the information in your head instead, although I still consider this as a form of outlining as well. Actually, it’s a great exercise for the brain too and can possibly deter Alzheimer’s, but my brain doesn’t hold information for me like that.

I need to record things in order to remember details that must be consistent throughout my story. Brainstorming ideas can come from all directions and connect my characters and settings in ways that I hadn’t considered before and I easily forget the paths if I don’t write them down and I’d rather not miss the opportunity to make a good story great.

I also need reminders in front of me regarding key factors in the story that help keep me focused. As my story develops what I will tack to my wall is:

  • my story premise
  • protagonist and antagonist motives and desires (often what a character wants to do but can’t at this moment)
  • goal of the story
  • conflicts – major and minor
  • theme

More than likely when you are thinking about your story premise and big moments you will also  be thinking about what type of characters will play out the action.

This brings us to the next part of outlining.

The Middle

Characterization

This section is also super creative. You get to conjure up your characters using your own life experiences as well as drawing from a plethora of references available. These range from watching movies & documentaries, news stories, books on character development, applying enneagrams or personality or psychological profiles, researching history and cultures, taking relevant courses, visit your settings and experience them, people watching, and talking to strangers, teachers, and colleagues, etc.

At the same time you develop your characters, the settings they grew up in, moved away to, and live in now will also be coming to light as they are part of what makes up your characters too. 

While you start to understand who your characters are and note down your ideas (or log them in your brain), your story line is also burbling away as you envision what your characters are doing or need to do. Scenes start to emerge more clearly, filling in holes between your major big moments.

Some of these big moments might also shift and change, which is the beauty of thinking through your story before wasting huge chunks of time writing something that doesn’t work.

For me, drawing a big bubble map at this point helps me with my timeline and who is where doing what to whom. You may use a notebook split into sections, a writing software or a simple word document. Pictures are helpful as well both for settings and characters.

During all of this exciting and creative thinking and exploring time, you may be asking yourself where to start your opening chapter. I know this is always a huge issue for me when I start a new manuscript. The inciting incident must be established, but it doesn’t have to be at the starting gate. A key event must also happen that pushes your protagonist onto a path of no return. Before this course I wasn’t aware of the two as separate entities as they had worked together for me.

  • The inciting event is something that happens that “changes the world” in your story.
  • the key event brings the protagonist through to the “new world.”
  • the two can be the same event or separate. For example, if they are separate, the inciting event could be a major fire that destroys a neighborhood while the key event could be what brings your protagonist on scene, such as the discovery of an underground bunker full of stolen paintings. And of course, the antagonist will become involved as well through the stolen paintings in some way.

Your mind will keep throwing out ideas from all directions so I recommend to keep noting them down to be sorted at a later time.

Now back to characterization.

Your character’s history is really what has made him/her the person he/she is today. This means you need to know your character’s life over and above the details of DOB, physical characteristics, and where her/she was born and lived.

The rest is what is called backstory and is what makes your characters do interesting things for interesting reasons. It is through backstory that you discover your characters’ motivations, desires, internal conflicts, etc.

Backstory includes:

  • family, friends, colleagues, lovers – and how they have influenced your characters. What major incidents happened in your characters’ lives in childhood and onwards (good to note at milestone times) that shaped their motivations, desires, fears, strengths, weaknesses, etc.
  • time in history – present, past, future (understand the setting)
  • cultural influences. For example, understanding the culture is a good jumping point to go against the norm in a believable way and add conflict.
  • present profession and jobs leading up to what the characters do now
  • hobbies/interests
  • travel experiences
  • life-altering experiences – sickness, traumas, abuses, extreme weather events, but also acts of kindness, etc. too

The overall purpose of backstory is:

  • to weave in connection points in order for your reader to relate to your characters in some way either positively or negatively. It allows readers to understand where your character is coming from (motives, desires, fears, strengths) when he/she takes action, whether the action is as expected or unexpected. Here the cliche “show don’t tell” is helpful and information often can be given through dialogue rather than through narrative dumping. (this has been a hard lesson for me to learn.)
  • a source of inner conflict in your story
  • understand your characters arcs and how they can change in a believable way in your story

outline novel bookIn her book Outlining you Novel Map Your Way to Success, KM Weiland suggests a couple of ways to develop your characters:

  1. Start at the inciting event and work backwards to answer why your protagonist and antagonist would be affected and why will they do what they do in your story?
  2. Interview your character and ask oodles of questions such as those given in her book and her free online book Crafting Unforgettable Characters: A Hands-On Introduction to Bringing Your Characters to Life.

Her website is helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/resourses/free-e-book.

Have fun developing interesting and memorable characters.

Happy outlining!