Blogging about not writing was becoming so disgusting that I think it forced me to have a fantastic writing week. I’m on a roll people, except for when the Candy Crush monster comes to town. if you play, you understand. If you don’t play, don’t start. Just Say No.
I mentioned in a different post that I’m creating a revision chart. It was a writing-avoidance exercise, but now I think it’s going to be a really powerful road map as I write my first novel. Just goes to show, nothing is a waste of time.
We’ve already covered that I panic and don’t write. To avoid the give-up scenario in which I fail at all things creative and end up face down in a plate of mashed potatoes and gravy, I’m creating a writing/revision system I’m calling my Writing Road Map. My hope is that it will give me direction when I get lost…like a map…of…roads. #ovi
This post is about the first step, which I’m calling:
Layer -0: Prewriting that business.
I owe this knowledge to the talented Sheila O’Connor. She showed my advanced fiction class the revision circle that she uses (of which I will be stealing many ideas from in the posts to come.) She devotes a quarter of her circle to prewriting, which helps her determine the ground situation (her term). Layer -0 is all about figuring out the ground situation as you begin your novel.
Ground situation defined: the troubles, good things, relationships, emotions, victories, issues, etc. that your characters already faced before the real story starts (before the “why now” of your story).
Here are a few examples of the ground situation in book 1 of Harry Potter:
1. The day-to-day activities of the Dursley’s per-Harry: they wanted things and had issues before he arrived
2. The rule and death of Lord Voldemort: the backstory of what sets Harry’s story in motion
3. Harry’s loneliness at school and home: his emotional state before Hagrid says, “You’re a wizard, Harry.”
This is really obvious when I look at a published book, but I was missing it in my own writing. I didn’t get that the ground situation affects the story, but isn’t part of the story. Harry is affected by his lonely childhood (ground situation), but the story is about how he overcomes Voldemort. The result of my confusion was
A. Characters who didn’t really want anything or had foggy motivations for doing what they were doing, or
B. Lots of flashback scenes that didn’t advance the story but I felt were important because those moments shaped my character into who he or she was.
I needed to do my prewriting to figure out what my characters wanted and why (and many other things), and I needed to understand that that prewriting would only serve the purpose of helping me understand the characters and the story better but stay out of the novel (or be given in summary or implication).
Now, pre-writing is my favorite because it doesn’t have to sound pretty. It states the facts, plain and simple, like stage directions, and it’s all about imagination.
Pre-writing Tips and Techniques:
- Create a list of questions and use them to interview your characters. Here is a good list to work from. You can create your own questions based in the events that take place in your novel.
- Draw maps of your settings, room layouts, etc. I’m terrible at drawing, so mine are rather crude, but it’s so helpful when your character is on Main Street and you need him to walk to the hardware store, but you can’t remember where you said that store was.
- Find pictures online of your characters and settings. I’m not very good at describing people unless I can look at a picture. This will also help with consistency in detail. Click here to see my boards.
- As far as the actual plot is concerned, answer questions like these: why now? What led up to this moment? What is the worst thing that can happen? What is the best? What time of year is it, and how does that affect my plot? Find a million more questions here. Skip the ones that don’t relate or stress you out.
- Create a timeline of the events in your novel that you already know of and add to it as the story reveals itself to you. This is sort of like an outline, but don’t feel like you have to outline the whole novel before you begin the actual writing of scenes. Do as much as you can.
- Make a separate ground situation timeline of your characters’ significant moments that take place outside the time of your novel. I have a few deaths in my current novel that happened before the story started, so I had to make a timeline to figure out how old my main characters were when these deaths occurred.
- Use lists, bullet points, and headings to organize the information you write as you work through these suggestions so that it’s easy to skim. My prewriting documents get very long and go to random places. Then, when I can’t remember what kind of pet I gave my main character’s little sister, I can’t find that information in the piles of words I created when I was on a roll. So stay organized. You think you’ll remember all the details. You won’t.
- Above all, be playful. Remember, you’re just inventing. You can always change it or throw it out.
My biggest trap with prewriting is that I get stuck here and don’t want to move on to the actual writing of scenes. I think this happens because I suddenly have all this great info about my characters and story but have no idea how to harness it all into a novel. More on that in my next post about THE WRITING MAP. Dun Dun dahhhhhhh.
Do you have a system for writing/revision? Does this sound brilliant/horrible to you?
General Disclaimer: None of this has been proven to actually produce a novel. Also, this system might not be your system. Maybe you hate systems. Maybe you think they point to THE MAN. And who wants HIM around?!?! Feel free to troll the comments section with your disapproval. Or maybe you’re like, “System? I want one!” And you’ll make your own that is totally different. I’d love to here about it! Or you may adopt my system as your own and go on to become the next J.K. Rowling. In that case, you owe me at least $5 to $5 million (% owed based on rate of success divided by the sum total of my awesomeness over yours).