Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Finally Got The Thing Started

At some point a writer has to stop plotting and researching and just get the novel started. The first page can be the most difficult to write, but it's the most important. You can't finish a novel you haven't started.

This is how I get started on a novel.

1)  I get the basic idea of what I want the book to be about by either dreaming it up or through an "ah ha" moment. The idea for my new WIP came from another of my novels. One bad guy got away at the end of THE MIGHTY T (I won't say which as that would be a spoiler), and I kind of liked that bad guy. In fact, I often like my bad guys as much or more than the good guys, even though they can be rotten to the core. They're often very interesting people. So one day months ago I got the idea that it would be fun to do a follow up novel with him/her (no spoilers), and I plopped that idea into a pot I leave on a back burner in my mind.

2)  When I'm ready to get serious about writing the novel, I open a text document in Scrivener titled "Plot Thots" and I started jotting down some, well, plot thoughts. With CANALS I began with the question "What if there was a monster in the canals around here?" and I went from there. With THE MIGHTY T I thought "What if some guy, some nut, got tired of waiting for something to be done to help the poor salmon and decided to blow up the dam?" And then I let my imagination go. One idea leads to another, which leads to yet another. And so on. Pretty soon I've got a (very) rough plot outlined. I like to know how a book starts and how it ends before I begin writing it. I leave what happens in between to my imagination.

3)  Next I do some research. I don't want readers saying "that couldn't happen" when they read my books and they can't if I do my research. With CANALS I dug into the history of irrigation in and around Modesto, and I visited and took pictures of canals and I learned when they were filled and emptied. With THE MIGHTY T I dug into the controversy surrounding declining salmon populations in the Tuolumne River and what was or wasn't being done about it. (I read an article in today's paper about the state of California mandating that 15% more water be allowed into the Tuolumne and Merced Rivers this year--the controversy continues.) I also want to know who's on either side of the line drawn in the dirt. I research communities my story will take place in and visit them if I can. If they're too far away to visit, there's always Google Earth.

4)  When I feel I've got a good understanding of the issues, places, and things, I'll give the characters some thought. But not too much. I like to give them something to get them going but I want them to have the space to become what they will. I'm sure this gives you ardent plotters the willies. I need to understand enough about a character to bring him or her to life, but not so much that they can't grow and develop as the story progresses. Whether based wholly or partially on someone I know or know of, they will still be the product of my imagination. I want them to be mine by the time I've finished writing the book, and have finished the edits. I'm writing my third Grant Starr novel so a few of the characters have already been fleshed out through two books. Easy stuff there.

5)  With the basic plot, setting, and characters in mind, I'm ready to start the novel. It's time to stop researching and thinking about the characters and plot, it's time to start the story. How do I do this? I sit my butt down in front of the computer, turn the WiFi off, mute the phone, and get started. There's no other way to say it.

It doesn't matter if the beginning gets completely rewritten later or if a character turns out to be a better or worse person than you initially imagined, that'll all be worked out. The only thing that matters now is getting the book started, and then making and sticking to a writing schedule. I like to write a minimum of 1,000 words a day when I'm creating. Today I wrote 1,800. Tomorrow might be 800 or 2,000. I don't beat myself up if I come in under 1,000 but I give myself hell if I fail to write any new words, or fail to even try.

Imagination is like voice recognition software: the more you use it the better it gets. Give your imagination everything it needs to succeed and I promise you'll be pleasantly surprised at how it will reward you.

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