So today, how about a post with sustenance? Unfortunately, I've been working on the Oddball trilogy for six years. :P It's sad, I know. But the upside is that I've a lot of experience with the characters and the world of the story. So what if you don't have six years of history between you and your cast? What can you do before you dive into the first draft?
I've compiled a list of prewriting suggestions to get to know your novel because everyone knows that introductions are always the worst. [First impressions, man. So misleading.
Just ask Jane Austen.] And hey! It NaNoWri is next month [if you do that sorta thing]. I'm actually giving you some tips on time for once.
1) Find inspiration
I know. It's completely unheard of, isn't it? Who would've thunk? One day, it just knocked me on the head. Hey! I need to find inspiration for this story!
*cough* So considering that 1) this point is fairly self-explanatory, perhaps even instinctual and 2) too obvious to bother listing
so why am I wasting my time, I'll not elaborate here. I usually just make a pinterest board for my WIP, but I'd love to hear what everyone else does.
2) Be a studious reader
Of course, being a good writer is being a good reader, we all know this. Gosh, Ashley! Stop being so obvious!
But how will reading help you get to know your own novel? Be on the look out for the tone of different books, the techniques they use to accomplish that tone, the style of the writing and how it enhances [or perhaps detracts from] the story.
Considering that, think about what tone you're going for and what style will best suit your story. What are some of the techniques you can pick from books with a similar tone or style. Plus, if you have a specific setting, like WWII France, present-day Japan, or a character with maybe a mental illness, or say their blind, books with the same setting or with characters who deal with similar issues are great for research.
Reading as researching is the best.
Reading as researching is the best.
3) Brainstorming goes a long way.
When brainstorming, you can be completely immersed in creating and exploring. You want to navigate this book like a pro. People do different things when they brainstorm. They exercise, go for walks, wash the dishes, whatever. Some people can brainstorm while they're working. Writing has always helped me brainstorm. As I get the ideas down, the writing keeps my brain flowing and, while I'm at it, all the ideas get written down so I don't forget them later.
4) Write, write, and write some more.
This is more like an extension of #3. When I say write, I don't just mean the stuff that's actually going into your book [yeah, but do that too]. Do writing exercises just to get to know your characters and the story more. Write scenes that happen before the story begins, after it ends, scenes that won't be featured in your book. Write from the viewpoint of a non-POV character to see what your characters look like from someone else' perspective. Write a scene in first person instead of third person. Simply have fun and experiment. What if you were to spend a day with one of the characters? What would you do, what would you talk about? Know so much more than the readers will ever know.
5) Rule your universe.
Trust me when I say developing the world of the story before writing the first draft goes a long way. Most of the problems I run into while first drafting can be fixed with more world-building. Developing the world after writing as opposed to before writing is the difference between driving in a foreign country where you can't read the street signs and driving in your hometown where you know exactly where that hole-in-the-wall coffee shop is and exactly when you need to leave to be there on time; you might even have the cycle of the street lights memorized. [Don't look at me like that. I'm from a small town.]
I'm not necessarily saying that you need to make a literal map u
nless that helps you. Know the different cultures inside out. Why they do what they do. Where they live. The climate. The change of the seasons. The folklore. The disposition of the people and what they think about other people. Everyone's favorite place to go. The bad side of town. The history. Not all of this will go into the book, and please do not dump it all in there, but it will help you navigate the world of the story. It's your metaphor map.
I write fantasy and. . . weird stuff. So sorry if the above world-building advise has fantasy overtones. But even if you write about the here and now, you still need to know the world of your story. It may be more familiar to your audience, but even real places have different atmospheres. Your characters might hang out at their favorite snow cone shack or maybe they enjoy hiking. Whatever. Just be sure you know the number of the fastest pizza delivery service. WHAT ELSE WILL YOUR CHARACTERS LIVE ON?! You gotta feed the cast.
6) Characters are key.
This jumps off from #4, but for some reason I thought that it'd be nice to give you a break in between and throw world-building in your face. *cough* I like to keep you on your toes.
Actually, in the prewriting stage, I think knowing the world of the story is more important than knowing your characters. You can get to know your characters as you first draft [first draft is totally a verb], but the worldbuilding is harder to "feel out" as you write? Or it is for me at least.
I rarely come up with brilliant world development. . . stuff while in the midst of writing. [If anyone does though, raise your hand because I think you're totally cool for being capable of that.]
So enough about my weird conundrums. Similar to but not the same as world-building, knowing your characters will help a lot. Knowing them inside out helps enormously. If you know them and how they will change through the course of the story, then you have direction for your story.
I have the urge to turn this into a Characters Create Your Plot post. But, no, it's too much. I'll sum up.
If the story is about your character [quite a revolutionary idea, that] then your character's choices are what take your story from point A to point B. If you know what motivates your character, you have a clearly idea of what choices they'll make when you throw them into whatever situation you plan to torture them with.
So find out what motivates them. What do they want? What makes them tick? What is their history before the story? Most importantly, what do they care about, what do they love, and what makes them angry, what do they fear? So, you know, apply #3 and #4 to characters [and world-building].
7) When in doubt, do a little plotting.
But, Ashley, you just wrote a marginally ranty point #6 in favor of characters over plot.
I wrote in favor of character and plot merging into one. Plot and Character are not either/or things. They go together. While I for one think, that character and plot should drive together seamlessly, they are still different things. And, yes, plot is still important.
Besides, there are outside forces that effect your characters' lives. Because that's life. You had to stay late at work because somebody didn't show up to relieve you because they had something else going on in their lives. You have no idea what, but it happens. A car wreck happens. An earthquake happens. Some-king-decides-to-invade-the-country-during-the-middle-of-your OTP's-kissing-scene, happens. Unexpected plot points happen all the time in our lives, and sometimes there's no foreshadowing from our perspective.
So yeah, plot too. But don't ask for my advice on plot. I'm still trying to figure how to merge character and plot properly. Although, I do try to make some kind of plan.
Where do you go for inspiration? How do you prepare before you write a novel? Or do you dive in head first? And, hey! Do you have any nifty plotting tips for me?