Tuesday, January 26, 2010


How to describe what I've been up to in the last week?

Basically, I'm rebooting the project. As noted before, I've let my personal timeline push me into starting to draft too soon. All I really have is a situation -- not a story. The advance work needs more attention. (For the process I want to follow anyway. I know there's a school of thought that says just start writing and work out the problems as they emerge. That's basically how I did my first book. But I'm inclined to plan this one more before trying to draft it.)

One thing I did that actually took a lot of time was to outline a particular book that is both a favorite and a model for this particular project in some ways. Chapter by chapter, I wrote out what was going on in it and every once in awhile paused to make notes on what I was learning that I could apply.

One result was I developed a kind of schematic to help me brainstorm some plot and character development and to ensure that more (if not enough) is going on in the story. It helps me create complication in a way that is integrated. I'm sure this idea has been articulated in similar language a million times before, but this is what dawned on me and that I'm using to guide me for the time being.

Think of it as a triangle, which I won't try to draw here. Three points.

A. PERSONAL/PRIVATE story elements -- goals and obstacles having to do with home and family.

B. PUBLIC story elements -- goals and obstacles having to do with career, work or the outside world.

C. CHARACTER elements -- strengths and weaknesses of the character/s.

Each of these interact and push and pull one another. The desire for success publicly is complicated by the desires having to do with home which are complicated by the character's qualities, which change in response to the ups and downs of reaching for their goals, etc.

These should generate some number of conflicts, some of which are external to the character and some of which are internal to the character.

So, basically I'm going through each of my main characters and doing a lot of brainstorming and story development on each of these points. Sometimes that leads to drafting in the book's voice for a little while, but I don't really take that seriously yet. I just regard it all as note-taking.

I don't know how long this is going to take. I just try to do my best to treat it seriously for a few hours every day, and hopefully I'll have a good story I believe enough in to write soon.

Now, there is a danger of planning it so much that I'm bored with it. I saw a quote from Margaret Atwood recently where she talks about never knowing the endings of her books and never planning them out, because if she had all that ready, she wouldn't be interested in writing it anymore. Maybe the process I'm working on is too controlling. But I'm trying to compensate for another weakness, which is the difficulty of developing plot. I don't want to end up with a draft with no plot, so this is how I'm going about things.

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