Monday, August 01, 2016

Ideas, Outlines, and NaNo: Part 1

There are only three months left to prepare for the November NaNo.
Sometimes I can look at that and think 'No problem; I've got one outline and all I need to do is whip up one or two more and I'm set.'
Then there are days like today.
Outline?  You mean come up with story things?  Plot?  Characters?  World building?
The truth is that I usually love all the pre-work to writing a novel, NaNo or otherwise.  It's just that, like all other writers in the world, I cannot always simply come up with something by wishing it.  I have to play around with ideas.  Jab them a few times and see if everything looks interesting enough to read, let alone write. 
Mostly, though, I need characters.
For me, a story is how a character reacts to a set of circumstances.  Sounds reasonable enough.  In fact, most of my novel ideas start as a scene of a character reacting to something. I build outward -- backward and forward -- from there to see if there is a story behind the circumstances.  Picture a young man locked up in a dark room -- that's the sort of thing I see that grows into a novel.  Who is this person and how did he get there?  Who is behind what is happening and what brought them together to this trouble?  Does he deserve to be here?  Does he have friends he has hopes of getting free?  Is this a failed attempt to free other friends?  Or is it failed? What if he drew all the attention to him so that others could be rescued?  Does he hope they'll come for him, too?
In order to understand any of this scene, I have to look at the larger picture and find out who he is, whom he knows, what the trouble is, who is the enemy, what is the world like, etc.  Up until now, I might not even have decided on a genre.  A scene like that could be a contemporary adventure, fantasy or science fiction without any trouble.  It isn't until I start thinking about the events before or after that I can settle on a genre.
Usually, this idea lives in my head for a good amount of time before I commit it to even notes.  Does the character keep 'talking' to me?  Does the story call to me?  Do I sometimes find myself staring into the dark at night, seeing a few more steps?  If I do, then this is a story that is strong enough to commit myself to writing.
Most of you probably know that I finish every manuscript I start.  This is a personal rule, and it has helped me write over 100 novels and twice as many shorter works.  It has made me face story-related problems and fix them rather than tossing something aside and going for the next shiny instead.  Once I started fixing problems, rather than throwing them aside, my depth of writing ability grew.
Because of this rule, I am careful about what I start.  I might jot down a few notes and put those aside without ever doing more with them.  Sometimes, if I'm lucky, those notes will suddenly fit in with another story idea that I have already tossed aside in notes, and it suddenly becomes a real story.  No matter what, the story has to call to me.  It can't be a sudden idea (except for some short stories and flash fiction) that pops up and appeals to me for an hour or two before it dies.  The story has to take hold in my mind and start blooming.  Usually, about the time I finish with some draft of another work (first draft, second draft -- whatever), I'll start making notes on a new work.  If I'm editing, I'll write notes then, too.  I always have at least scrap paper nearby.  I write massive notes on all sorts of things having to do with the new world, and I don't worry if they're all going to work. It's important to let your mind wander and to jot down anything that looks interesting.  This will help you come up with unusual things.  Make notes on people, places, world building, background, history, science and/or magic.  All the time I will still have that scene in my brain that introduced me to the first character and the trouble.  Now I have all my various notes scattered over computer, paper, tablet.  It's time to start getting organized.
I'll cover that next week in Part Two of these rambles.

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