Sunday, October 16, 2016

Get to Know Your Novel

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.

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 unless 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.

Well, yes. (gif)

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?


  1. The 6th and 7th are especially important, I think! I love novels where the characters outshine everything else and totally drive the course of the story.
    I used to be a complete pantser, but recently I've found out that just a little planning - even if it's just naming all your chapters and having a vague idea of what will happen in each - goes a super long way. I've been able to make relatively rapid progress on one of my newest WIPs because I followed that approach.

    Ellie | On the Other Side of Reality

    1. I agree! Stories with characters as their core are always the best! A bit of plotting does help. :D I hope your book goes well!

  2. Very good points, Ashley, and excellent use of gifs to back it all up. :)

  3. Love the gifs! And I'm totally on board with the plan-your-novel-before-you-write-it thing, especially when it comes to world building because I've done the whole yeah-let's-make-everything-up-after-you-write-the-thing thing and I'll admit that it's not pretty or very much fun to do. Thanks for the tips, especially with Nano coming up!

    1. It's super difficult to world-build and first draft at the same time. Thank you!

  4. Wonderful post! Thank you for sharing your insight and those perfect gifs. I am going to bookmark it for the next time I am in a slump, which seems to be all the time right now.
    The last gif is always me by the way.

    1. I'm sorry you're in a slump. I'm kinda there with you. But we shall persevere!
      Right? ;)

  5. Loved this. "First impressions, man. So misleading. Just ask Jane Austen." made me LOL. So did your beginning of #6 XD

    So, world-building! GOSH. Wish someone had told me to do it first! When I next write fantasy, things will VERY different to how they were before TCATT ... ! But I totally agree that character is easier to "feel out" as you go. That said, if anyone read the first draft of TCATT (not that anyone ever will, LOL), they would find the characters made no sense at all. It took two years of that first draft before I could start draft 2 actually knowing them. As for LesMisBook and ARA, I already know the characters like the proverbial back of my hand, so I won't need to get to know them beforehand. It's an interesting one. I think the way you get to know them is by writing, though, so that's the difference with LMB and ARA -- I know them BECAUSE I've written a gazillion snippets, unlike in TCATT Days of Yore when I just plunged in. Some people advocate character charts, what's their favourite kind of sandwich etc etc, but I don't think that's as helpful as dropping them in situations and seeing how they react. Or just letting them talk to each other. That is super helpful.

    Basically, what I'm saying is, I am a very writing-based writer. You spoke about brainstorming while washing dishes. Cait apparently imagines every. single. scene in her head before she writes. But I really struggle with that A LOT. Like of COURSE I imagine scenes before writing them, but often I don't know how a scene's gonna go until I actually write it. When I'm at work I'm like "Ok, I'm going to use this time (spent hanging out Christmas gift tags, say, as I was doing yesterday) wisely, I'm gonna plot SitC." But I really struggle to think about it? Like, to actually make progress? I have a brainstorming notebook, and it's only once I've got a pen in hand that the ideas really flow. If I waited to have imagined every scene before I started writing, I'd never write again, pretty much. I think the truth is I'm a pantser at heart and I normally just plunge in and see what happens. XD

    "Some-king-decides-to-invade-the-country-during-the-middle-of-your OTP's-kissing-scene, happens." ~Emily and Ashley look shifty~ ~in the background the tinkling sound of romantic moments BEING BRUTALLY SHATTERED~ XD

    1. AH! I'm so happy that you noticed that! Jane Austen is awesome. :)

      I know, right? World-building is a hard one to just dive in head first with. Three cheers for DROPPING CHARACTERS INTO SITUATIONS to see how they react!! Yes! I feel like a mad scientist using trial and error on my test subjects. Mwhaha! *clears throat* But seriously, why would anyone need a chart (eeeew) to know what kind of sandwich a character likes and their eye color (*runs in fear*)? Eye color is of little import, and if you really want to know what their fave sandwich is, drop them into a sandwich shop and see what they purchase off the menu. XD You'll find out more than just their fave sandwich.

      I like what you say about being a "writing-based writer." I used to brainstorm a lot outside of writing. I still do sometimes, but recently the external world demands a lot of my attention so I really only have time to think about writing when I am writing. It is good to be writing-based though, because even if your writing a snippet that won't make it into the story or writing a brainstorm for world-building, whatever it is, you're still writing. And the way you learn to write better is through writing. So you not only get to know your novel better, but you also keep those writing muscles exercised. Double win!!

      *shuffles feet* Wh-what? The shattering sound? No. That wasn't us. We would never. . . *cough* SHATTER ALL THE ROMANTIC MOMENTS! Yeah!-- I mean, no. Who would do something so dastardly? XD


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