A content writer and marketing specialist I'm friends with asked me how I create my novels?
Well, my mind instantly spun over all the writing, developing, researching and editing I do to eventually have a finished story. She went on to explain, these are the bricks authors use to create the foundation, structure and content of their novels. It is a HUGE amount of work. Most of us do it aside from writing the actual manuscript. In a one-on-one meeting with a reader or a workshop or class, there is no way a writer could explain everything we do, how we do it or what it takes to get it done. Budding new writers with dreams of becoming best-selling novelists don't even listen to this advice if we give it. They can't see past the stars in their eyes to comprehend the detailed work involved. I know this because at one time I believed if I had enough talent, this work wasn't necessary. I'd just know how to create a fabulous novel because I possessed a fabulous story idea.
However, I learned through trial, error and beating my head against more than one computer screen.
A novel is a building! It starts from the ground up. If I'm too busy picking out carpets, curtains, paintings and crown molding. I'm left with a jumbled collection of pretty words, mismatched images and disjointed plots. Therefore, as I spelled out for my friend what goes into the building before the novel, I came up with a collection of what I've learned over the last few years.
This by no means is what I need to know in totality or even close, its simply my tools in my belt so far. If you can add or clean up my tool box, please leave a comment and let me know how I can improve.
The Tool Chest-
1- Develop a large world- Where, when and what the setting looks like, smells like and feels like to the characters. Once again this will be vastly different
from romance to Sci-phi. The large world needs research done on everything from Continent, country, county, state, city, neighborhoods, local businesses
and hot spots and geography. Roads, bridges, train tracks or not, public transportation, farms or cities. Once again a large view must be built before
you can insert your characters into the larger world. Some authors do this first and then write the characters. Others write the characters and then develop
the specific setting. In a series a large world view is needed to plot the entire series from beginning to end.
2-Small World- This includes family dynamics, friends, neighbors, and pets or important connections outside of the small world or even the large world.
This helps with the development of the characters as they relate to each other. Her past vs. his. His betrayals vs hers. Are they different but have things
in common? Are his instincts going to work against her? are his friends going to become obstacles instead of allies? Is her job going to interfere with
his goals for himself and for the two of them. Some of this is necessary to create conflict in the story so the author needs to create small world characters
who the reader will love and can also create obstacles for them self and the protagonists.
3-Character Mug shot- This is a very basic physical description of each character. Yes, each character. Everyone from the pizza delivery
boy to the antagonist. we need details. Scars, acne, hair (curly? Straight? bleached? natural with dyed roots?" eyes (shape, color,wrinkled around the
edges, close together, wide or narrow) You get the idea. Make the questions as specific and detailed as you can.
4-Character personality- This needs to be a series of questions about the inner workings of each, yes each, character. Do they like animals? Which ones?
Are they allergic to anything? What? What happens? What is their worst fear? What is their fondest dream? What is their religious beliefs? Who is their
best friend/worst enemy? Do they like/use/hate/drugs and alcohol? What are their addictions? What is their deepest secrets? You need about fifteen questions
that make the author dig down to know this character intimately.
5- Wound or Flaw- Every character has a wound, usually created sometime during adolescence. It can have started earlier in their development but there
needs to be an incident that formed the wound and therefore their belief system. I use an exercise where I write a short story, anywhere from 1K to 3 K
words focused on this wounding incident at the age of sixteen. Once you know your characters pain you also learn their drive, their flaws when making decisions,
their fears which hold them back and the source of their determination to overcome. This will create an arc for the overall story and the characters arc
6-Synopsis- The best shortcut to a story's beginning and ending is a synopsis. Using one paragraph for each Chapter, describe the story without detailing
scenes or characters. It is a break down. Part of this activity can also include breaking your story down to two sentences or less as a pitch line and
describing the story in 140 characters or less for a tweet as a marketing technique. Another handy exercise is to write a query letter that introduces
your important characters, the conflict and then the stakes. This should be no more than 3 paragraphs. All of these are in progress throughout the creation
of the book. you change your synopsis when you get an idea for a scene and it works better. You adjust your lines as you tighten your story. each exercise
only eliminates what the author thinks is important but the reader doesn't need to know.
My creative process works much in this way but I don't follow all of the steps in any certain order. Part of mine has to do with how the story sounds to
me when my computer reads it aloud. I will also get ideas about something from conversation, workshops or a file I have called 'bad writing' where I just
write a scene I don't like in a different way until I stumble on something that I like. I also use music, eavesdropping and descriptions of interesting places or people from the sighted individuals around me. What ever sparks your creative juices is what works for you. Go with it. There is an instinct inside of us, an instinct when we read our own work and can tell its not what we wanted which will cause a sort of discomfort in your mind. Go with that instinct as well. Every time I have Beta readers do a critique for me, they will point out problems to me. My response will inevitable be..."Yeah, I kind of knew that."
Beta Readers and Critique partners are the best way to get around your own ego to the problems that are in your way.
Don't ever be afraid to get feedback, or criticism. It will only make you better. You don't have to agree or run yourself down if your feedback was harsh. Listen to what they're trying to tell you without defending your own work. Readers will attack, but if you become better... then they taught you how to make a ramshackle building a truly beautiful Novel!
In the meantime keep writing and reading!