Monday, October 15, 2012

To begin

I don't know if you happened to see this or not, but I recently finished the 1st Draft of my latest Work in Progress (or WIP to all y'all in the know, y'know?). You can read all about it here at my blog, if you're interested. Go on, go check it out. I'll wait... No problem... I don't mind.

Doop-a-do... ppppphhhhbbbbbtttt...

Still looking? No, no. No rush. I said: we'll wait. Don't worry. I just want everyone caught up, is all. Nooooo pressure. Hmm-hmmm-hmmmmm... Hey. Hey, everybody else who's waiting... you guys saw this right?

Never. Stops. Being. Funny.

Okay, everybody back? Great, good to see ya'. And just FYI, feel free to swing back by my blog any time. It's open and free to all.

So yeah. Like I said, the 1st Draft of my current WIP is done, but I'm not quite ready to dive back in and begin the 2nd Draft. Not yet. I don't trust my eyes, for one. They've been too close for too long and they may not see clearly at the moment. And secondly, I need a little break, which is tied into the whole "fresh eyes" thing. Walk away for a bit, take a break, let things simmer down. Then, when you go back again, things will look new... hopefully.

That's the plan, anyway.

In the meantime, I've got plans. I've got new ideas. A new book, I think, maybe (and maybe a new short story too, but that's cooking currently, so we'll see) and I was thinking maybe, while my newly completed 1st Draft is cooling, I would do some work on this new idea/book/thing.

Hmmmm...But how does one start a new project?

Actually, I've done this before, so I've got a process and I thought I'd share it with you. This is what I do, of course, so your mileage may vary, but I've found it works for me. Maybe that's the key to it all: You figure out what works for you and you stick with it. After all, the point is to finish something, right? If your process works for you, great. The flip-side being: If it ISN'T working for you, if you find yourself more often than not staring at a blank page with "so many ideas in my head, if only I could just get them all out..." maybe it's time you switch something up, my friend.

This works for me, so let me break it down for you.

The Outline

This is where I begin. Now, outlines are usually considered bad words in writing circles. They're considered stifling and restrictive and generally lacking in creativity. Conjuring up images of the traditional outline format, many writers sniff, noses in the air, claiming that following such a strict course means your characters will never get the chance to truly walk and talk on their own, it means that your story is locked down before it even starts and as a result, any possible better ideas that might occur along the way are locked out...

Unless of course you prefer to use an outline, in which case the belief is that those who do not lack the focus needed to complete projects, and that those who do manage to finish often miss crucial pieces or forget to capitalize on narrative oppurtunities. They believe that the organization merely allows one to order one's thoughts, to see the shape of the story as it develops, to track the character arcs, and to ensure your narrative is on track. This side of the debate believes that outlines allow the writer to focus on the writing itself by taking the pressure off the writer when it comes to having to remember all the little details and ideas that may randomly occur to them throughout the process.

The two sides can get heated.

Maybe not as much as that classic bit of tomfoolery: Traditional Publishing versus Self-Publishing, but it does get folks riled, and like that other great bru-haha, the majority of the most strident are really just full of crap, because really, who cares? Outline? Don't outline? Who cares? Whatever works for you, right? That's what we're talking about here; that's our motto for the moment, right? Of course, it'd be nice if it were shared by all, but in reality, if you bring up the term "outline" when discussing your process with a bunch of writers, it almost guarantees that the conversation will quickly derail and boil down to an argument between the last standing pair of fools.

Ronnie prefers to outline, while Jwoww likes to "let shit happen".

So let's back up. Instead of Outline, let's call it: Notes.

Yes. Notes...

Take Notes

This is key. It's very important. Especially in the beginning. You're never going to remember all the random crap that floats up out of the dank idea-hole in the back of your head. Never. You think you will, but you won't, that shit is like smoke, Mon Frere, as soon as a breeze blows through that space... it's gone. GONE gone. And when that happens, the only thing you will be left with that you know for sure, is that whatever it was you forgot, it was the most awesome thing ever. Too bad, sucker. And that will drive you nuts. So, trust me, it's better to avoid this feeling. It sucks. And the easiest way to avoid it?

Get some books and write that shit down.

And while yes, it's true, eventually I do put it all in a Word file for easy writing reference, that's for when the ideas are starting to get a little more solid. When I first start out, when I'm still just jotting stuff down and things are still really loose, that's when I prefer to go with Long-hand. That's when I use the books.

Here are my current books:

The reason I find long hand works best at the start, is because it somehow doesn't seem as set. It's just a bunch of scribbled notes, scrawled in blocks and columns, it's snippets of dialogue, bits of scenes, light character sketches. No pressure. At first glance, it's just a jumbled catch all mess, but it's a mess with a purpose, all broken down into a couple of different specific sections.

The Sections
This is how I do it...


This is where I keep track of the basics. Names. Moments. Details. Phrases. Descriptions. Snippets of ideas that may go somewhere or nowhere. The random bits. The stray thoughts, like: "Should they even make it to the school?" or "Should there be a friendly Orge? Well-spoken? (Not like Hank McCoy)". This is where I write down the beginning and the ending. Which is very important at the start, I think. It is my firm belief that you should know these two things before you start. If you don't, how do you even know what your story is? Also, this is where I put down the idea: "What if you were special and could do special things. What if you were chosen to attend a special academy, a secret place of magic and wonder, a place where only the most special people with the most special abilities were chosen to attend? What if you went to this special academy and discovered it was evil?" Now, is that the whole of the idea? No, but that's the kernel, that's where it starts.


This is where I work bits out. I kind of slog them around and see how they shape out. I question them, if you will. The who, what, why, how, and the where. This is where I start to make some of the bigger story pieces, everything from the character motivation to the setting to the thrust of the conflict. Here's where I figure out the world details, how things work. Knowing these answers are important, even if they never appear in your story, especially if they never appear in your story.

The way it goes:

This is the part that some writers poo-poo, because here's where I sketch stuff out. Here's where I put down what happens first, what happens next, and where things go after that. This is the map. This is the way the story goes. Personally, I like to keep it vague.

"Abby in back of cop car. Rainy. Lots of lights. Her mom is pissed."
"The other world, the rebel ambush, the mass escape, chaos, and into the river."

Short reminders, just enough for me to see and remember. I don't think you need more than that. They're notes, after all. I figure, if you keep it vague, you keep it loose, you leave yourself and your story some room to stretch and grow. Best of both worlds.

Things to remember:

This last part is for specific things that don't have a home. These are the things that are off in the distance still, things that I want to happen, but I just haven't planned up to that point yet. "Find the mech suit" Or maybe it's details that don't need to be in the outline. "The corporate logo is multiple earths spun out into the shape of a C, the beginning of the name: Croatoan. Beneath it says: Worlds of Possibilities." Or "The first child born in America by colonists was named Virginia Dare." Or "Al-taneen means Dragon, in Arabic." These are things to remember. They'll probably be useful.

To begin...

This process takes a little while. It's not something you just sit down and do one day like a math assignment. It's something you start and let build, something you can't linger over. It takes a kernel of an idea. I think it takes the knowledge of a beginning and an ending. Maybe an concerning a few characters too. Maybe a scene. I don't know, your mileage may vary. At a certain point, I take the good stuff, the stuff I'll probably use and transfer it to a Word Document, then this notebook loses it's purpose. It becomes nothing but scribbles and half-baked ideas, but that's later, in the beginning, I find it to be a good place to start.

Of course, once you start your project, you're on your own, sink or swim, baby. Doing this is not a guarantee of any kind of success or anything. How, and if, you ever finish something is up to you; I only share this in the hope that it might help you figure out what kind of story you're going to tell.

Hopefully, it will help you begin.


Shawn Enderlin said...

Awesome post, and I could make a bajillion comments but instead of commenting I may write a post on my own method for getting started.

Because it's vastly superior. ;-)

Anyone else interested?

Jon said...

Thanks, Shawn!