The first step is the most random one, and the end result may or may not have anything in common with the planted seed. It can be based on a character (what if a woman ‘woke up’ dead, insistant on finding her killer), on a myth (I love the legends of the Scottish warriors!), on a situation (a killer is after the main character!), or even a reaction (I hate how the huge majority of sexually submissive men in pop culture are written as freaks, and that the ‘initiation into BDSM’ is to a large extent a more-or-less emotionless man coercing a sexually inexperienced woman into submission).
After I have that initial idea, I discuss it. At first with my partner, just prodding it to see if it’s workable. The first idea I mentioned above I discarded, because it needed to be written in 1st person (a Noir story). The second is my current work-in-progress (WIP), the third is another book in the series that my WIP is in, and the fourth I started but discarded because I want to wait until I’ve finished some of my other stories.
Framework for the plot
Once I have enough to work on it at all–character ideas, at least one of the big things that’ll happen–I sit down and start with a very loose outline. With this article as a base, I figure out the broad strokes of where things are leading.
This doesn’t work for everyone, I know that. One reason it does for me is that most of the plot points are separate from the characters: they’re initiated by an external agent.
By broad strokes I mean something like this:
- Hook: (To be figured out)
- Inciting event: Her parents (before story starts)
- Key event: She meets her new flirt object
- 1st plot point: The first threatening letter is sent
- Reaction: Denial that there’s something wrong/pretending it’s a prank
- Midpoint: She finds out that it isn’t her ex who’s sending them
- Action: Suspicion/fear about her new beau being behind it, gathering evidence
- 3rd plot point: She realises that the person who sent the letters is the same person that killed her parents
- Climax: They go after the killer and win
As you can see, that’s not really stating much, but it gives a few important places I need to get to while writing.
One way that I explore what will happen (especially if there’s several point of views) is to sit down with the characters and let them tell me (aka, free-writing as one particular character (minor or major) in 1st person past tense). This gives me something to go on, generally gets my creative juices flowing and–most importantly–gives me a feel for their voices.
How long these stories are depends on the part the character plays. They often explain backstory as well, and why they (re)acted the way they did, so for a major character between 2-4 pages. For a minor character, generally 1-2 pages.
By giving the minor character a voice as well, it helps me characterize them in better ways. To get to know them as well, which gives them more life.
First draft time!
With the outline in mind, I start working on writing, scene by scene. Scene by scene, rather than chapter by chapter? Yes. I don’t organize into chapters until very late in the draft, maybe even not until the second draft. A change in point of view is always a change in scene, so’s a serious change in locale or time.
I write this with the knowledge that I always skip scenes that should’ve been there, not because I don’t want to write them, but because I’m so much ‘in the zone’ that I don’t consider that the readers won’t be.
Re-working the outline
With a finished first draft in hand, I use the above site on structuring to check if the outline is still true. If not, I’ll adjust it.
In my latest WIP I found myself juggling three major storylines and two minor, so I outlined each storyline by itself, matching the points up to the earliest in time (1st plotpoint), latest in time (climax) and lowest point, with the midpoint still undecided–probably a combination of them.
This is also the time for me to map out the character arcs. K.M. Weiland has a really good series on how to write good character arcs. However, as she has quite a few posts on quite a few topics, I reproduced links to her character arc posts, as well as the questions you’re recommended to pose to yourself about your character’s arc.
In the example of the above mentioned WIP, one of the major storylines is a character arc, as the character is recovering from trauma. The two minor tie into the other point of view characters’ arcs, empowering them.
Keeping the outline in mind, I go through the scenes and read things as if I hadn’t seen them before. That’s when I’ll note huge chunks that are missing (such as character development, relationship development, or the lack of mentioning of the gun in Act I). I’ll add empty scenes (or even full chapters) in my Scrivener outline, with a note on what I need to go through.
If I see scenes that are not useful at all, I’ll move the text to a specific ‘dump folder’ outside the draft, to not remove anything written. That actually ended up very useful during NaNoWriMo, as I started a scene, decided it wasn’t useful, and then moved on. Later, that beginning of a scene came very much in handy.
I have already covered my self-editing process, though that article will need to be revised in the view of this current one, as they cover the same territory in places. I will do that at a later point!