Saturday, May 12, 2012

Don't Panic! Tips on Getting Started

Latest writing post will deal with a crisis I myself am facing at the moment: rewriting.

Here's the story...when I was thirteen and had no clue what the heck I was doing, I wrote a novel. A full-length, three-hundred page novel that ate up a year of my time on the first draft, and now I've seen the light and realized needs work. Like, a lot of work. As in, start over at the beginning and do the whole thing differently. What was my first thought upon this realization?

Yep, that pretty much covers it.

This means I've got to re-imagine the characters, re-evaluate their motives, re-structure the plot, pretty much re-do every last thing as if the first draft never even existed to begin with, all while avoiding the same traps I fell into the last time. Get why I'm nervous?

Let's pretend draft one never happened. Let's pretend this is a brand-new story that only just fell into my head. This will give us a chance to discuss prep work and help me calm down before actually working. This at least is how I start off, and as I've said before, the time you spend thinking the book over before you write it is just as important--if not more important--than the book-writing itself. Don't flip, though. This just means that if you take your time preparing, you won't lose your cool later on, and you won't find yourself doing a Macaulay up there. :)

Where do I start? With the characters! I dream up and concoct who is going to be waltzing around this brand-new universe of mine, spending plenty of time on names in particular. I'll probably do a post on that in the future, so I won't go into it at the moment. The advantage of a redo is that I already know who I'll be spending my time with, I just have to get to know them better. That means interviews, peeps! Protagonist, antagonist, supporting cast, all of them! At the moment, I'm in the middle of Interview #6 out of twelve. Why so many? See my post on character interviews. These guys are going to be my constant companions for a good while, after all, and I don't work so well with strangers.

Once the interviews are covered, I stop to pay special attention to my main character. He or she is going to need a character arc for the story to be any kind of interesting, which is why I really have to be careful with him or her. This is also where the theme of the book starts to emerge. Here's the questions to consider, as cut-and-pasted from one of my writing groups on GoodReads:

• What’s the main character’s internal conflict? (For most novels, this is a question that gets answered very early, since it will drive the entirety of the story.)
• Which of the main character’s views will change as a result of the story’s events? How and why? (This is where you’ll find the underlying force of your theme. Your character’s views will define his actions, and his actions will define the story.)
• How will the main character demonstrate his respective views and attitudes at the beginning and the end of the story? (This is an extension of the previous question, but it is vital because its answer will demonstrate the changes to the reader.)
• Is there any particular symbology that can reinforce the theme and the character’s attitude toward it? (Like theme itself, symbology is often overstated and therefore generally better when culled organically from your own unconscious mind. For example, sometimes you’ll find yourself using a particular color or image to represent something; if the symbol proves effective, you can later go back and strengthen it throughout the story.)
• How can I use the subtext (the unstated) to exemplify the theme, so that I won’t have to spell it out for the reader in so many words? (When it comes to theme, the unstated is almost always more powerful than the direct. Often, in real life, when we find ourselves learning lessons and changing views, we can’t immediately define the changes in precise language. And neither should your character.)

After I've got the characters sorted out, it's time to think about the plot. I don't follow specific, exacting outlines anymore (that's what led to trouble with draft one!), but I keep the big picture in my head at all times so I know where I'm headed and don't just fumble around in the dark. That's not good, either. I might get some ideas for specific scenes I want to work in there, and the most I do then is jot down a few notes and maybe a snippet or two of dialogue. I don't do much more than that, because seven times out of ten the scene never makes it into the book and it absolutely never gets in there exactly as I first imagined it. By the time I get to it, the story has already moved in another direction and for the sake of coherency, it's necessary to fiddle with the details so it won't stick out like a sore thumb.

Next up on the to-do list: make a playlist. With the general plot and maybe a few scenes in mind, I look for a handful of songs that evoke the moods I might need to tap into down the road. As the plot changes, the playlist will change too. Maybe I need to drop a song that's tied to a mood I won't need. Maybe I need a new song to reflect a new mood. Sticking to a specific soundtrack is just like sticking to a specific outline: the story comes out forced and unnatural...which leads to a huge overhaul years later.

Finally, it's time to write the first chapter. I consider this a prep step as well, because the first chapter sets the tone for everything to follow. It's a nerve-wracking process, but it can also be the most enjoyable. Just think--this is the first step on the journey, and you have no idea where the road will take you! How exciting! An easy way to look at it is to consider the first chapter as a stand-alone story in itself. It should be able to work on its own, but fold neatly into the rest of the book. It's a great way to hook a reader, trust me!

Well, I think that's enough B.S. out of me for today. If you happen to start writing anything in the future, maybe this will help you out a bit! T.T.F.N.! Ta-Ta For Now!

Your pal,

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