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Sunday, 30 June 2013

A-2-B [Part III]

How Other Writers Do It

Well, we've heard from Alex Rosa about her journey in discovering the IDENTITY of her story, and Briony Heneberry and Josh Vitalie on how they get from A to B when they have a story to construct.

I've told you guys a little bit about my own process, too.

This post is going to wrap up the A-2-B section, and prepare you for another part: character development.

What has character development to do with story construction, aside from being the vehicles by which the plot travels?

Well, often, a writer does not begin with the pesky premise. Sometimes, a writer begins with a person.

Getting Personal

Author of some quality Dr Who Fan Fiction (FF), Cheryl Rosecrans, got the idea for her spin off Dr Who novel Broken from personal experience with a PTSD sufferer. She felt that this was a storyline that fitted with a certain part of the Doctor's untold story, and that was something she needed to write.

Cheryl will be joining us for a guest spot later, explaining how she developed another character who fits into the Whovian world, and the difficulties of being faithful to pre-existing characters and worlds.

She says about her process:

I dream the nexus of the story and write the basic first chapters. When I rewrite or even just basic editing the story fills out. The characters develop on their own. A minor one simply won't shut up until I fill it out. Adela started out a very minor character but her role has grown through the first few chapters and is now a major part of the story. Characters I thought would be important are not. The trouble comes when I meet up with an event that just won't form in my head. I haven't learned how to solve that yet.
She is not alone.

Mari Adkins, author of the adult Harlan Vampire series and YA Destiny series, like Alex Rosa struggled with the identity of her books; it turns out that she writes "Southern Gothic", and maybe if you're lucky she'll tell us a bit more about that genre later on. If you're a vampire fiction fan, then The Casquette Girls by Alys Arden falls into the same category. But I digress.

Mari also says that she gets the characters first, then the world-building. She lives for the world-building, much like me - so expect the world-building to follow hot on the heels of the character development series!

Maya Starling, winner of the 2012 Watty Award for Non-Teen Fiction, has a similar approach. Her highly popular Dragon series is free to read on wattpad,along with her new ongoing story Vengeance Upturned. Maya says,

I'm more of a just write type. I get an idea about a character first and build a story around them (for short stories) or what I did with my books, I had a plot idea, added the characters and built the world as I wrote it.

Whether you get the idea for the characters first or last, or whether it changes from idea to idea, characters are pretty key to constructing any story.

It is important that they are vehicles for the plot, but also for what the story says - not just what happens, but what it's about.

They must be three-dimensional, realistic even if they are fantastic, and the plot cannot function without them.

Who are they? What are they like? If you manipulate the circumstances, what will they do? How will it change them? How will it shape them? How will they change the circumstances and/or the other characters?

No one is a list of things that make up a good citizen, possessing all of the traits of fairytale princess goodness, because, unless you are deliberately writing an abstract, didactic fairytale, no one is an archetype.

It is the flaws in a character that give them their unique edge, and the truth is that even strengths can be manipulated into weaknesses under the right circumstances. Heroes are predictable because they are inclined to the heroic, and rescue attempts can lead to situations where self-sacrifice is the only option. Yet protagonists may also be cowardly, proud, struggling with addiction, lonely, prejudiced, bigoted, blinkered, vengeful, have a fierce temper, guilt-ridden and haunted by the past, or be inclined towards selfishness. It's only in the overcoming of these traits that they triumph, or in the exploitation of these traits that conflict arises.

When you have the conflict, you have the key to the plot.

Without conflict, there is nothing to capture interest.

As we've already seen, once the premise or conflict has been established, there are many ways of developing this and getting from A to B. But if the characters don't develop as the plot follows through, then you don't have a story at all.

Stay tuned for my character spotlights on characters I have created, and guest posts by other writers.

Next up: 

Spotlight on Samantha, the leading lady of the N Chronicles by John Murray McKay, coming soon to all good e-bookstores near you this December!

Sunday, 23 June 2013

A-2-B [Part II]

SPOTLIGHT: J. Vitalie on Story Construction

Josh Vitalie, aka TheRake and author of New World Underground, is one of my favourite SciFi writers. He is as yet unpublished, but I think that you'll agree that is the market's great loss.

Vitalie's novel is one of intense emotional drama, wonderfully three-dimensional characters - even the minor characters who are written out after a chapter or so are fleshed out with meticulous care - and gritty realism. All in all, this is one dystopian thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

Here's what people thought of the novel's twists and turns:

... Yes, alright. It's good. We get the message. Now calm down, shocked montage.
Especially you, shocked montage cat.

I thought that his frank explanation of his process was brilliant, so I've reproduced it in its entirety here. 

J. Vitalie's A-2-B

As you know, I work on one singular expansive epic, so my process is probably very specific to the story more than to writing in general but here it goes.

I start with the world and the characters. I then write biographies for every character, plotting out every major life event and how it affected them on a personal level to make them the people they are when the story begins. A list of strengths and flaws for each character is useful. Knowing this stuff allows me to fully understand what kinds of decisions and reactions they will have to things within the story, and what kind of personal journey they need to take.

All of this in place, I plot like a mad man. A beginning, middle, and end are imperative so I begin there. Then I create the main plot, outlining every twist, mystery and major event that moves the overall story from beginning to middle to end seamlessly. Then I detail plot, I plot every character’s personal inner journey, beginning middle and end, from point A to point B. Then I outline subplots and minor story arcs that move the major plot forward at all times. This generally leaves me with stacks and stacks of notes, outlines, and post-its.

Then it’s time, as Briony said, to figure out the needs to accomplish the plots, that includes all conflicts and resolutions. I figure out the needs first, then the wants. I never ask what I, as the writer, want for them, I ask what they need or want. My characters need certain things to push them forward, and they want certain things, which also motivates them through a story to do certain things. I write all of this down and go back and rewrite an outline to include all of these things, like putting together a mosaic of mini-stories that power the main plot machine.

I then work backwards from end to beginning to find out where the best beginning should be and mark it, though I typically write unused scenes leading up to the beginning that never see the light of day, but that’s just for me to feel where their headspace is when the story begins. I then take the plot elements and arrange them like a puzzle so that I can create mystery elements, and reveal little tidbits and clues at certain points in the story. I then alter plot point to become more of an evolutionary arc for the characters, using the laws of cause and effect to fill in gaps. Then it is back to write a full outline including all of the information I’ve accumulated.

I go over the outline again, rearrange things as needed, move characters around, figure out where everyone needs to be and how their needs/wants got them there. Once I have a very spider webbed painting on my wall of my entire story, including things readers may or may not ever see or know, I write. If I have a problem, I go back and consult all of the information, like research.

For me, personally, writing in a non-linear fashion (writing scenes out of order) is just something I won’t do. Character headspace is important, and I can’t get a grasp on the nuanced emotions of a character in a certain point of the story if I write them out of order. For me to write effectively, it’s more beneficial for me to follow the chronology in the same manner as the reader. The reason is to avoid any plot holes that might develop, and it keeps characters from ever acting out of character, and it solidifies continuity in my mind more than random scenes being pieced together. For me, the puzzle is already big enough; I don’t need to make it bigger.

oh..quick addition and important credo that I should have emphasized: despite all always leave room to let your story and characters surprise you.

New World Underground

Click the picture to start reading!

New World Underground: Season 1
"We are fighting against misery, but we are also fighting against alienation" - Che Guevara

The Red Wars ended nearly twenty years ago, ushering in an era of Imperialist tyranny that spread throughout the world like wildfire. The war might have been lost, but for a handful of hopeless faces from the gutters, hope was not. The Resistance movement continues to fight against a global Empire that would see them executed as terrorists.

With Execution Day fast approaching, the Resistance prepares to rescue an old friend from beheading, but first they must recruit the help of a bad-tempered, fugitive smuggler from the slums to complete the mission.

When Execution Day arrives, Kate Brennan must decide if she will become the leader she was always meant to be, or if she will walk away and leave the world to its fate.

Meanwhile, the mysterious Yozumi Takahiro is hunting down and murdering senior executives of the Empire’s officially contracted mega-conglomerate, Bryman Corp, in her quest for survival. With the help of a Bryman Corp ally, Yozumi discovers a new path to ultimate power. 

 The battle lines will be drawn and the sides will be chosen as the war to save the human race begins.

This story is adult-oriented and deals with extremely mature subject matter of adult social themes, explicit sexuality, graphic violence, drug abuse, and adult language. It is intended for a mature audience. No part of this work may be reproduced or copied without express permission of the author. © 2011 Josh Vitalie. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, 14 June 2013


What do You Do with an Idea?

Following on from Alex Rosa’s post on finding her story’s identity (What Does ChickLit Mean to You?), I gathered other writers’ views on what they do with the initial idea for a story once they have it.

The initial plot idea – the premise – is sometimes an indefinable thing. You can’t always pin it down and say, “This is where my story began”, because sometimes it’s as intangible as a feeling or an emotional response to something you’ve heard, seen or remembered. However, just because that starts out as the reason to write, it doesn’t mean that your story will stick to that initial premise. When you come to try and define your story in ten words for a publisher, you may be surprised as to how far it has evolved.

I like to get the premise in my head, then I let it settle for a while. I may not write anything for days. When I do write, I always do it longhand – the old fashioned pen and paper way. I write all over the page, linking ideas, scribbling stuff out, and letting my imagination run free. Will it all go in? Who knows. But I end up with characters, the setting, the research I need to do based on said characters and setting, the basic plot, and various other miscellaneous aspects. I may leave it for a bit, lose everything I’ve written down, and then return to the plot later. If I can’t remember how to get from A-to-B then clearly my first thoughts weren’t all that great to start with. So I’ll plan something else that’s more memorable and makes more sense. If I can’t think of it off the top of my head, then it won’t stand out for anyone else either.

Eventually, I start to write when I feel that sense of enthusiasm rise in me for that particular plot. I only write (and can only write) when I feel tugged into the setting, or the need to immerse myself in that world with those characters. This means that sometimes I can’t write anything for days, weeks or months. That’s not a bad thing. I find that if I force it, what comes out is not my best work. It’s rushed, and often what I call my ‘thin’ writing. Very little depth, poor sentence construction, and just doesn’t read as well as it could do.

Sometimes, of course, I have to force it in order to get over the block that’s in my head. That can either result in tangents that make the story better, or the need to bash out a completely different story for a while, or something that I need to go back and heavily edit before it’s halfway decent.

I’ve asked around to see how others do it: this is what I’ve come up with so far.

Briony Heneberry has this to say: 

Stories are about journeys; they don't need to be physical ones, they can just as easily be about travelling from one thought to another, but they do require movement.

In the initial stages of planning a story, once I’ve settled on a concept, I decide upon a point of origin and a final destination, not necessarily in that order. Sometimes the climax or the resolution is actually more visceral than where it all began, and I can work retroactively to decide upon a starting point that will maximise the impact of the journey to the end.
It’s important to have a place of origin and a definite destination before you worry about the ‘how and what’ of going from one to the other; after all, you wouldn’t/couldn’t plan flights for your world trip before you knew what your ‘to and froms’ were.

There are many ways to plot the course of a story from one end to the other. Sometimes detailing an entire section using dot points is helpful, but a linear approach can feel a bit restrictive.

I like ask myself what NEEDS to happen in a story, for the character(s) to successfully complete their voyage. I may detail this as physical actions, such as going somewhere, talking to someone, reading a book, or as hurdles/achievements.
Putting these on sticky notes and pasting them to a blank wall somewhere, or a fridge, not only makes the planning process visible in its entirety, it also allows for easy sequencing.
After the NEEDS are taken care of, I plan the WANTS. These are things like, ‘the story doesn’t necessarily need a love interest, but I want one’. Scanning the sticky-note timeline, I can easily find the best/most logical place for the introduction of the love interest, and/or move things around to make it work without compromising the effectiveness of the story’s needs.

The beauty of planning in this way, is that you do not need to write in chronological order. With a full plan and all your bases covered, if you get bored writing a certain scene, or just aren’t in the zone, you can jump to any other scene in your timeline and write there; then it’s just a matter of going back and stitching the scenes together.

I'll compare approaches from a few other writers in my next post. Stay tuned!

What is yours?