On January 26th, I sat down and wrote 1,000 words for the first time in something like two months. (There has been a staggering lack of writing at my house lately.) It was a first person narrative that began with:
“I’m no hero, all right? Let’s get that straight up front.”
As of today, 15 days later, I have an entirely outlined and characterized novel plan. This is how I did it.
The initial narrative took several days to get out of my system, so I went with it, following the narrator right into the middle of his current situation. I would revise the beginning to reflect things I was learning as I wrote the continuation. I shoved “show don’t tell” under my chair and let him tell me about each of his companions, until I felt like I knew them all. (I did all of the preliminary writing in a simple text-edit program so I could easily bounce back and forth between Bianca (my main computer) and Cheese (my baby hackbook).) I took the file with me everywhere for a few days, and worked on it in all of my spare time.
For several days after that, I characterized. (Maker bless the StoryMill for giving me one place to keep track of everything) I made an entry for each character, then jotted ideas and asked questions and bounced from one character to the others as I learned how they all interacted with each other, and why. The characters told me their stories, and I took notes.
Then came the outline, which was a relatively simple matter of piecing together all the quilt-square-stories my characters had told me into one ‘big picture’ of a story. The only challenge this time was puzzling out the right order in which to tell four separate stories until they could unite into one.
With the piecing came more learning, and some of the stories shifted or grew or became less important. I made notes along the way in each of the character’s records … going so far as to use strikethrough text for older ideas instead of deleting them outright, so I could see what I had scrapped in case I needed it again. I determined how many key events occurred during the scope of the tale.
At this point came the numbers – I need the numbers, they act as a boundaries to keep me from going on and on and on like some reincarnation of a famously verbose author (who shall remain nameless even though the fact that he is still being published after his demise is something of an annoyance to me, being that one printing run of his book could theoretically wipe out an entire rainforest in Bolivia.)
Anyway. I picked 65,000 as a starting point for my first draft (not too short, but with room to grow later when things require more explanation and detail.) I determined that the story could best be told in 10 chapters. Behold, each chapter now has a temporary goal of 6,500 words.
I created the 10 chapters, and named them to give myself a reminder of what happens in each one. From the chapter overviews, I determined the scenes – what events occur in what order to convey the story of the bigger picture? Sometimes there were two scenes, sometimes there were four. I entered them into the program as well, giving them names that helped me remember what happens within them, and assigning them to the appropriate chapter. I applied the numbers again, to give myself a framework for how many words each scene in each chapter should have.
At this point, I took an afternoon and made scene notes … one scene at a time, I made the notation: “In which …” and described the action that would be taking place in that scene when I wrote it. This is my map, the road marker I look back on when I am tempted to tangent in a wonderfully written side-story which is completely irrelevant and that I would only have to cut later.
Yesterday I was back to characterizing, since a few of them had come forward while I was making scene notes and requested some changes, or suggested some motivational aids. That was when I got to the nitty-gritty – the physical appearance, the life goal/motivation, the internal agendas, etc.
I also started the list of the things I need — as I encounter something in my descriptions that is incomplete, I make a note of it and keep going, so as not to slow myself down on the details that don’t really matter and can be dealt with later. Currently this list is begging for a world map, names for towns and countries and Inns, and a real name for a guy I am referring to as “Nameless Guy” in every section of notes – before “Nameless Guy” sticks and I have to name him that – keep an eye out for a guy named Inconnu or some form thereof. It’s french for “nameless”. (Thank you Babel Fish!)
I should be starting the actual writing today or tomorrow.
And that’s how it happened.
The problem I am having, however, is the guilt. I have this terrible feeling that working on a long piece, a novel-length work, is nothing but selfish indulgence. Only short pieces are going to make it out into the world and keep my name in the pond … so how can I justify taking the time to write something no one will ever read because the publishing world is a dank, scary place and I don’t have a map or a sherpa? *sigh*
(previously published at Blogging in the Dark)