Until the release of Live that is. (Remember, it’s December 9!) The final book in my Kitsune series. It’s been a long time coming and I know you’re all impatient for it to get here, me too!
It’s something I get asked often, and I mean often. How do I outline. Well, here’s my dirty little secret. I don’t. Not in any traditional sense anyway. Let me explain though…
First I write in Scrivener for Windows. I’m not saying that’s what you need to write with, but it’s what works for me and my style of writing.
I usually start writing with a couple of good characters, some background story in my head (and sometimes written in a notebook somewhere) a starting point and and ending point. So I create my Scrivener file and in the novel section create two “cards” I use each card as a scene in the book. I title each card with something that tells me what happens in the scene “X meets Y” “Car Crash” “Robbery” for example and start writing. As I work things start to pop into my head “A needs to happen before we can get to L point” so I’ll create a card and title it and continue with what I’m doing. I’ll often also leave several blank “New Note” cards at the bottom of the project so all I have to do is title the card and drop it where it belongs in the story.
Later I may decide that I need something in between scenes, and this is where I totally love Scrivener, I can drop a new card in there or take an already written scene from some where else and move it to a new spot in the book, as simple as drag and drop.
Sometimes I’ll be somewhere else, doing something entirely different (picking kids up at school, waiting at sports practice) and I’ll think up several things that need to happen in the book, I’ll make notes, and when I come back add in the cards for those scenes, with enough info that I’ll remember what I need to do when I get to it.
Am I saying this is how you should do it? No. I’m saying this is what works for me, what works for you?
It’s not uncommon for me to come to a point in my story where I’m not sure how someone will react, or what will happen next. But I have a fairly simple solution, one that may even work for you.
I ask questions about the situation. I’ll write the questions down in the notebook for that story. For example: How does __ feel about x. How does __ react to x. What needs to happen before I can get to x. Sometimes the answers start to come to me as I write out the questions… sometimes I have to get away from my desk and do something else, fold laundry, load the dishwasher, lay down for 15 mins and close my eyes, take a shower are some of the more common things I do. I don’t go do these and think about the story, I go do these and clear my mind. It’s the clearing, and not focusing on what the problem is, that let’s my subconscious get to work.
How do you work through the stuck? Let me know what works for you.
One thing I’m often asked is how do I come up with my ideas. Honestly, it’s more difficult to keep track of and remember my different ideas than to come up with them. I’ve recently started writing my ideas out on 3×5 cards and sticking them to the wall. It may not be the most efficient way to do it, but
I was inspired by a pic of one of my favorite authors in her home.
<—- See. This is Laurell K. Hamilton. I love this pic, and have hunted for it for a couple of years.
Anyway, I write my ideas down stick them to the wall, and move on with whatever I’m currently working on. It’s not a perfect system but we’ll see how it works for me.
Here’s a big question, one you kind a need to consider before sitting down to start your story. What’s going to move the story along? Why will people keep reading? Are they going to like the characters and keep reading to find out what happens to them or are they going to get caught up in the situation and need to find out the resolution, even if they may not like the characters? Yes, it is possible to do a combination of both.
Why is this important? Because it tells you from the beginning what type of thing you need to do or focus on.
For example, most romances are character driven, people read to find out what happens to the people, and the people in these stories are likeable. You have to like the people enough to care what happens to them. On the other hand many mysteries are plot driven, it’s all (or mostly) about the events and solving the crime, the people in these are not necessarily likeable. You can have a detective that people don’t like but they’ll still read to find out what really happened to the victim (if you do it right.)
Once you know which element drives your story, you know which to focus on. I’m not saying that both elements don’t need your attention, but if you’ve got a plot driven story, and you focus on the next step in that story, then you won’t have to spend as much energy on your characters. The characters will react (and some of that will come with practice) to the situation naturally, and often you don’t really have to think about it consciously as the story unfolds, things seem to just happen.
Your main character that is.
Could you answer any question posed them? Could you answer an interview of them? If you know them well enough to do that, then you’re on good ground. You know how they’ll react to most situations, even if it’s not a conscious knowledge.
I can tell you from experience, when you know your character well, they will surprise you. Things happen to them and their reactions may not be your reactions but they won’t let you make them do anything else. If you don’t know your character then you my find yourself struggling with how they interact with people, environment and situations.
My advice? Find a questionnaire, it doesn’t have to be a long one a page or two will do, and fill it out for each of your main characters, anyone who plays a decent size role in your story. Personally, I like the ones with off the wall questions like what does she wear on an average day and what would she wear to a wedding? funeral? etc. They make you actually think about your character and his/her personality. Once you’ve answered a page or two of questions about them you start to get a feel for them, and that makes writing about them worlds easier.
Do you have a favorite questionnaire? Feel free to share the links.
There are a billion and a half questions to answer when you start building an alternate reality in which to set a story (or series of them) What does the world look like? What’s the weather like? The terrain? What’s the political system and climate? history?
Most of this won’t go into your story, in fact, unless it’s a long in-depth saga, only a tiny sliver of all this will go into the tale, however, simply knowing it will help immensely in the writing of the story.
Say your main character does something against the law for your world, if you have done proper world building, there’s already some idea of what happens when someone breaks the rules/laws of the world (be that planet, country, city, etc.) You don’t have to stop and figure it out before you can continue the story.
Why am I talking about this now? Because I’m working on my world and character building for NaNoWriMo, which starts in less than a month. It’s not the most fun part of writing, but it can make things so much easier that it’s worth it. (Especially if this works out to be a series like I’m hoping, world build once, use it over and over and over.)
Have you started your NaNo Prep?