Saturday, March 19, 2016

Stage 1 - Floundering

I was planning to write about my writing process this month. Not the writing process, but my writing process. I was going to try to describe the steps it takes for me to get from idea to book.

The problem I ran into was that I found I had a lot to say about each step. Too much. I couldn’t decide how to describe the steps concisely. Then I realized that I didn’t have a problem at all. What I actually had was a brilliant idea. Each step was enough for a separate post. Why not write about each step individually? Why not give myself a several months long break from the struggle to come up with a blog topic? Oh, yeah. I like this idea.

So these are the topics… uh… the different stages I identified in my writing process.

1 – Floundering
2 – Insomnia
3 – Pain
4 – Acceptance
5 – Help
6 – Hope

Stage 1 is Floundering. This is the part where I think I’d like to write a book, but I haven’t figured out the story yet. I’m still asking myself a ton of questions. Some of these might include:

- Who is this story about?
- What do I like about the main character(s)?
- Is there any reason this shouldn’t be a love story?
- What does she look like?
- What makes him attractive?
- What family do they have?
- How many of these family members do I have to name?
- Am I going to have to read the phone book again to find last names?
- Do we even still have a phone book?
- Is Sparkly Alligator a better name for a band than Sparkly Crocodile?
- What sort of timeline do I need to tell this story?
- Am I writing in 1st person or 3rd?
- How can I fictionalize that tree beer incident?

Let’s explore a few of those questions. Yes, sometimes I use last names I find in a phone book, though that isn’t the only source. For first names, I frequently turn to baby name lists. I figure out what year a character would have been born, then look up the top baby names for that year.

I can usually imagine a character on my own. I have occasionally resorted to people watching for help. There are never people I know in a book, but a few times I observed people at the grocery story, the park or church. I asked myself how I would describe the people I saw until I found an interesting facial feature or distinctive mannerism that fit a potential character.

For a love story, the plot usually begins with one important question. Do the hero and heroine already know each other? If they don’t, figuring out how they meet and get together drives the story. If they do know each other, there is probably a reason they aren’t already dating. A good chunk of the plot will include resolving that issue.

Once I have a general feel for the story I plan to write I begin to scribble various notes, everything from details on specific events or subplots to random sentences that might make good lines somewhere in the book. It’s all eventually arranged into at least a basic outline before I start writing.

I believe this is where I went wrong in the past. Before I finished my first book, I spent several years starting and subsequently abandoning projects. I know now that I was so determined to write that I didn’t let myself spend enough time discerning what to write. This doesn’t mean I can’t change my mind later. I’m still stubborn about keeping the outline flexible. A lot of the planning stays in my head, which is why the next stage is called Insomnia. But I’ll get to that next month.