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How to start a novel

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by skip.knox, Jul 9, 2019.

  1. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    >feel myself intuitively moving
    That's the key phrase that jumped out at me. At some point you're still building the foundation, getting it RIGHT. At some other point, you're writing. Moving from the one to the other is more intuitive than objective. Have I got that right?

    I've been trying to pay attention to how I do it, and I'm saddened to report we may be in the same boat. You know, the HMS Intuitive. I outline, research, structure, make notes. I jot down snippets, write exploratory scenes, and somewhere along the line I look around and realize that, apparently, I've begun the book.

    I have no real objection to the HMS Intuitive, but the damn thing does have an uncanny ability to sneak up on a fellow.
    Demesnedenoir likes this.
  2. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    This isn't quite a necro-thread. It's only mostly dead.

    I'm hard at work in the planning on The Falconer. I realized I needed some way to know where I was, more or less, in that process. I'm developing characters, working on plot, thinking about theme, browsing pictures for settings, but where was I last Monday on any one of these?


    So I came up with this. I can invent a metric for each item (50% done, etc.), even if I do move the goal post often. I can also leave notes to myself: here's where you were last Monday on thinking about symbols that relate to your theme. That sort of thing. The goal is to have a single document I can consult at the start of each writing day (ok, planning day) that will allow me to gain some momentum rather than wandering with Willy and Nilly. So here's the list I made, in case anyone else might find it useful. You pantsers are dismissed for this exercise.

    For reference, the "link to specific document" in each part is an internal link in Scrivener, but you Wordies can make similar links. (poor dears <g>)

    Beats (acts, turning points, pinch points, etc.) (each needs characters and settings and maybe theme)
    Scene list (can be viewed as a more detailed version of Beats)
    Each should include a target number of words and a link to specific document

    Name and nicknames, titles
    Role (relationship to other characters, plus role in story; e.g., comic relief)
    Backstory (how this character came to the point in the story where they first appear)
    Link to all scenes where they appear
    Needs and wants

    Name and alternative names
    Description (sights, sounds, smells; these should be my own descriptions—at least one)
    Background (flora, fauna, geography)
    Pictures (more important settings require more images)
    Season, weather
    Link to document(s) where this setting appears

    General statement of theme
    Scenes that relate or state the theme
    Settings that can relate to the theme
    Symbols or objects that can relate to the theme
    Link to specific document(s) where these appear

    Questions and comments are weclome
    Heliotrope likes this.
  3. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

    I do a similar thing, but I have a running draft that I start with first... I use One Note for my planning. My planning process goes like this:

    Summary (me telling myself what I already know about the story). Goal is to try to make sure it is a character driven as possible (character calling the shots) but it is usually filled with holes and questions I have to brainstorm/flesh out later.

    So I will start with my summary, which will look something like this:

    Glass Gods

    Character (name? man? woman? age?) is an inventor? Related to an inventor? Somehow has access to a new technology to develop an energy source that is not radioactive (currently the energy sources is radioactive glass mined in very dangerous mines and is highly volatile).

    She needs the funding to develop this tech (not sure what that is yet. Brainstorm Tech) and she (oh! It's a she!) seeks out investors. (Who? Flesh out two or three examples of people she would go to). She has no buyers.

    Her brother? is an employee at the mine and is organizing a workplace safety rally? Labor relations rally? Better pay rally? The rally goes sour and people get violent. *why? Make this personal.

    The brother is arrested. MC needs bail money? Money for a lawyer? What would her choices be? Think of three or four possible choices:

    1) Leave the tech for a while and get a job doing something else (what?)
    2) Don't help her brother. He got himself into this mess. She has her own life to lead.
    3) Use investor's money to pay for a lawyer... but then how does she pay them back?
    4) Steal money? Meh.

    Etc, etc, etc.

    As I go, I open up a new page in One Note for each of the questions I have re: the story as I go. I'll have categories for each, like characters, tech, world building, theme, symbols/metaphors etc.

    Last edited: Sep 11, 2019
    skip.knox likes this.
  4. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Auror

    How I started Solineus, the fourth book (or 2.5) in Sundering the Gods...

    Solineus needs to get to the other end of the mountains while making as many allies as possible to find Y... but he doesn’t know what Y is... It’s a bit like algebra.

    He has to go through these kingdoms to get there. This could be one part The Odyssey and one part Josey Wales and one part buddy cop.. who the hells knows? (Yes, I’ve written hells so many time I now think that and say it) And throw in a McGuffin.

    Hmm. Good. Crack the Whip! Yeeha!

    Go man go!

    Know the ending, have fun getting there.

    Of course, being part of a series, all the foundation is basically laid, but! I had no frigging idea what was going to happen going from point A to B and it was a blast. The biggest issue was too many things that could happen, and I didn’t want a full 100k plus novel.
    skip.knox and Heliotrope like this.
  5. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    The outline I gave in my previous post seems to be working well for me. Here's just one benefit.

    I have sections in Scrivener called Plot, Setting, Characters, Theme. In Plot I have what was titled Scene List. In there I have things like Sicily,e Lipari Islands, Gaeta, Genoa, Mantova, and so on. Over in Setting I have files for Sicily, Lipari Islands, Gaeta, etc.

    Hm, sez I, being a clever sort, it appears the one is much like the other. Aha! Once again I triumphantly realize the painfully obvious: I don't have a scene list, I have a list of settings. That's not a plot. It's not even scenes.

    I'm now pulling out descriptions and background from the Scene List and putting that info over in Setting where it belongs. This allows me to look at the scenes the way they should, as units of action and reaction, decisions and consequences.

    Oh sure, maybe *you* never chase your own tail and always have scene/sequel nicely arranged. If so, good on ya, mate. This humble pupil needs as many study aids as he can lay hands on. Getting all the pieces of the puzzle laid out on the table is helping me. Even if I don't know what all the pieces look like, or if I even have them all yet.
    Heliotrope and Demesnedenoir like this.
  6. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Auror

    So long as the dog doesn’t eat the final piece to the puzzle and you have to wait for it to come out.
  7. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    The dog eats the final piece ...

    Plot twist!
    Demesnedenoir and Chessie2 like this.
  8. Yora

    Yora Sage

    They say everyone has stories. Apparently, I don't.

    I can never come up with any plot that could be justified to be stretched out to novel length.
  9. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    Another benefit: character development.

    I have three main characters. Once I laid out my Plan, I quickly saw that while I had a good idea of who was in the circle around Frederick, I had only place-holders for Maddig and nothing much at all for poor Odo. This drew my attention to figuring out who would be friends with each of these three, what role they might play. That, in turn, added more color to the MCs themselves.er s

    I also have four levels of characters now, each of which having its own level of development. The MCs require the most background and building. Secondary characters require some, but probably less backstory. I'm still playing that by ear. Tertiary characters are ones who appear but then disappear. They die or leave. These need only enough to figure out their role and motives. Finally, there's the spear-carriers. These need little more than a name or brief description.

    For each level I'll have a character sheet. Not because character sheets so great, but they do let me see at a glance that while I know what Character A looks like, I haven't done that for Character B. It lets me see that while I have a dozen friends listed for this MC, I have none for that. And so on. Overall, it's another way for me to decide whether I've done enough on the character development front and can start writing, or whether more work is needed.

    So, yeah. Still working, for me.

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