Friday, January 8, 2010

Beginning a New Story

from Emily Bryan . . .

The Chatelaines have put our heads together and come up with some topics we think might interest our readers, many of whom are also aspiring writers. And the first one is How to Begin Writing a New Story.

Now, I've been writing seriously since 2001. My 8th book, STROKE OF GENIUS, will come out May 25th this year. You'd think I'd have this process down to a science, but no. Each cast of characters seems to take a different path to the forefront of my consciousness.

I can tell you one thing that definitely doesn't work for me--NaNoWriMo. I just tossed out 100 pages that were totally unusable. I'm not an organization freak, but I need a bit more structure that just shooting for a word count.

So I'm back to square one, looking for my next hero. Romance is character-driven fiction. I have to start with either the hero or the heroine because it's their story. I need to learn who they are and what they want more than their next breath before I can begin to tell you what happens. I can always devise ways for them not to get what they want for a while which pretty much takes care of plotting. But delivering a fully-actualized, robust character who breathes on his own . . . that has to happen on page one.

So here are the things I need to know about my H/h, even if no one else ever does.

Name ~ That seems like a no-brainer, but a name really sets a tone for a character. Cyril or Jake, which do you think will be the hero?

Physical Characteristics ~ This includes more than rippling muscles, hair and eye color. I furnish my character's closets with weapons and wardrobe as well. Someone said (wish I could tell you who) "It is well that there are no perfect people, for they would not have a friend in the world." Give your characters a few flaws and blind spots.

Family ~ Face it, we are all shaped by those people who first took care of us and taught us the world was a safe place. Or not. Same for a fictional character. A brief family tree, complete with branches for a few weird uncles is not a waste of time for an author. Where your character has come from influences where he's going.

World View ~ We all have a set of filters through which we view the world. They are our religious beliefs, political views, code of ethics, or sense of "ought-ness." Some of the most powerful stories ever written involve characters who've had to totally re-shape their pre-conceived ideas of how the world works.

Defining moment ~ We've all had them. They are forks in the road. Most of our decisions don't carry such weight but there are a few choices in every life that makes us who we are. Know what mile posts have come before for your character and make sure we see at least one defining moment between the pages of your story.

Driving need ~ If I've done all the rest of my homework, this is where the story actually begins. I need to identify the imbalance in my character's life, the whole in his soul that needs filling. This will give me his goal and the premise that will propel me 400 pages. It doesn't matter what the goal is, only that my character cares passionately about it. For example: I've never owned or wanted a BB gun, but I'm pulling for Ralphie all the way in A CHRISTMAS STORY because he wants it with such fervor.

For an example of a beginning, may I humbly suggest you give my FREE online novella a try? I just started this serial adventure January 1st and plan to add to it each month with help from my readers. Enjoy!

I'm always searching for new ways to improve my writing process, so I'm really looking forward to what the other Chatelaines have to share on this topic!

If you're a writer, how do you start your new stories? If you're a reader, can you think of a beginning that really reached out and grabbed your interest?


Colleen Thompson January 8, 2010 at 2:38 PM  

Great topic, Emily.

NaNoMoWri hasn't worked for me, either. The expectation of perpetual forward motion stops me cold, with my "fits 'n starts" methodology.

I recently began a new project, and apparently, my modus operandi involves beginning on the wrong foot a few times, experimenting until at some point, everything clicks into place. The right name's weirdly important and the right opening scenario with a heroine you can relate to on some level. Then you need the exact right hero to challenge her - often, several will show up to "audition."

No matter how many books I write, I find myself floundering to get my feet under me as each new one begins. But at least I now have a clearer sense of what won't work and more trust in my instincts. It's a relief to know that experience helps to some degree.

Barb H January 8, 2010 at 2:45 PM  

Hi Emily,

I like the list of things you need to know about your characters. I identified especially with the one on names.

I couldn't come up with the right name for the heroine in my second manuscript. Tried a couple; settled on one. But it just didn't fit her--didn't 'look' like her. Good name--I like the name. It just wasn't that character.

Finally, after five chapters, I had to stop writing. I again searched medieval names online--went through several sites before I finally found one that just jumped out. It was her. At last. After that, the story seemed to fall into place.

As far as beginning a new story--I'm on only my third, but in each instance, a scene popped into my head (of the hero). The story built around that scene.

Thanks for the post. It's good to see how you all get started.

EmilyBryan January 8, 2010 at 4:04 PM  

Colleen--Oh, you give me hope! I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who needs a few jump starts.

EmilyBryan January 8, 2010 at 4:07 PM  

Barb--I went to a wonderful workshop with Jo Beverley about names. She read the same scene over and over, changing only the character's names and it changed the scene entirely.

Cheryl January 9, 2010 at 1:58 PM  

I hate to utter the "muse" word. I don't believe there are fairies or ethereal spirits hanging around waiting to drop ideas on us like water balloons. Whatever appears on the screen comes from us, and only us. Most of my ideas are subconsciously delivered to me (a.k.a. dead sleep.) Then I play "what if" a lot and figure out the worst thing that could ruin their day then run with it.
I have a weird system for naming the characters, but the story more than anything else determines their final name.
Family history dictates motivation and character flaws.

EmilyBryan January 9, 2010 at 5:48 PM  

Cheryl, I'm with you. There is no Muse. She's only an excuse not to work on our craft.

Amanda McIntyre January 10, 2010 at 9:23 AM  

Wonderful topic! And its the same whether aspiring opr published. A seasoned author once said in a class I took," never rest on your laurels, you are only as good as your next book." Wise words.

It can be daunting certainly, but imagination is a wonderful gift. If I'm stuck in that department, I might visit a museum, watch an movie I've kept telling myself I want to see, take a walk outdoors,or research real historical events or settings.

Art was the inspiration behind my new book coming out in 2010-The Master & the Muses is based loosely on stories of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in London in the mid 19th century.

The reality often becoming greater than fiction, I wanted to focus on the women who modeled for them in a time when such a thing was considered taboo.
Taboos are a wonderful place to start when building a story.

I do like to do a family tree or a "background check" as it were on my characters-to make them come alive for me. If they are for me, chances they will be also for the reader.

To quote from my fav musical of late--You're unlimited! So why don't you try defying gravity?


EmilyBryan January 12, 2010 at 5:43 AM  

Great ideas, Amanda! I love museums. I get the best ideas for my character's wardrobes from period portraits.

Bonnie Vanak January 12, 2010 at 12:16 PM  

NaNoWriMo doesn't usually work for me either, Emily. It's a good way to kick start writing, but I need more structure as well. For those it works for, great!

Nice list on summerizing the h/h.

Cindy Holby

Gerri Russell

Joy Nash

Bonnie Vanak

Emily Bryan

C.L. Wilson

The Chatelaines Graphics© 2008 and © Blog Template 'Felicidade' por EMPORIUM DIGITAL 2008


Back to TOP