Time to Get Cracking…

I’m pleased to report that I’ve had a very encouraging couple of weeks.  Out of the blue, several very nice people have sent me messages of support for my writing which, beyond the selfish pleasure I derive from playing with words on my own, makes it all feel worthwhile…

It’s therefore the ideal time to put some concerted effort into my next project…

For me, a story-idea begins as a base premise, usually comprising of one or possibly two central themes.  I churn these concepts in the back of my mind, usually over several years, until one or more of them take root and start to blossom into potential story-lines.  At this point, characters have usually started to appear though, in these early stages, they are mostly only vague wire-frames of what they might become.  As an aside, I’m currently juggling about half-a-dozen, variously well developed, concepts in the dark and dank corners of my mind.

What seems to happen next is that, toward the point when I’m finishing one manuscript, I start to down-select the next most personally interesting theme.  I discovered a while back that my levels of personal-motivation are critical to me actually finishing a novel-length story. In other words, I have to be excited by something for it to get done.  Let’s face it: there’re enough burdensome tasks in life so writing – at least for me – needs to be fun!

The new theme then becomes subject to more detailed scrutiny and testing; during which I’ll try to imagine important individual scenes in more detail, start to flesh-out the main characters and begin to define any supporting cast.  This then leads to two things, which I seem to do in parallel: character biographies and story-boarding.

Character Bio’s were an area of weakness when I wrote Firebird so, for Thunder, I developed a more extensive single-spreadsheet based system to capture and develop the key characteristics for each player.  Along the columns I list the characters, along the rows I list key attributes (eye colour, hair colour, physique, attitude, penchant for getting themselves killed, etcetera).  I found this tool provided two benefits: it showed up any key gaps where detail was missing and it also made for easy reference when writing and thereby helped to maintain consistency and avoid silly mistakes.  Unlike some writers, I don’t bind myself down, nor my characters, by trying to plan out every last nuance of personality for them straight away.  Rather, I let myself get to know the characters during the writing and am prepared – cautiously –  to fine-tune aspects of their behaviours, or sometimes even role, downstream.

For my storyboards, I use a couple of A1-sized flip-charts which are hanging on the wall of my workroom.  I write up ideas – scenes, characters, hook-lines, names, and anything else that pops up into my mind – on post-it notes and then stick them randomly on one of the charts. This is my “idea pool” for the novel and it usually gets added to right through to the end of drafting. Unused ideas are noted at the end of the process and saved for later projects.  On the second flip-chart, I use tiny post-its to build up swimming lanes – often by main character – of key scenes and staging points from front to back of the story.  Initially, these are usually very high level with only one or two signposts along the way then, as I start to draft, I fill in the gaps, cross-overs and interlinks.  The great thing about using post-its is that you can reshuffle as you go – useful if you need to make a change or if you come up with a new and interesting dynamic during the draft.  This kind of storyboarding helps me to avoid plot-holes and any huge leaps or disjoints between diverse – or even chronological – sections.  It also seems to help develop a more constant pacing and balance throughout a longer manuscript.

These two processes are what I’m in the middle of for my next book and, as per the title of this post, it’s time for me to get cracking with them!  But, having read my ramblings, what about you?  I’d love to hear if you’ve got any tricks or tips for Character Bio’s or Storyboarding that you would recommend?  Now is the perfect time for me to find out about them!

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About anthonybellaleigh

Writing to amuse myself and entertain others. (https://anthonybellaleigh.wordpress.com)

Posted on February 10, 2013, in General, Previews, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. Interesting how you do your ‘posting’…. guess I do almost the same except I create my story board in M. Word….. where you can cut and paste and organize as you like and when you like. My ‘story board’ stays in my bottom tray (Of my computer) as I write… and it is easy to pull up anytime I choose… to check ages and dates and ‘what was that name?’….I tend to forget relation to time and year .. so it is very helpful to have it so near.
    I love M. Office Word !!
    Keep on going… !! :)

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  2. Decide on your character’s MBTI type – good practice writing from your non-preferred functions!

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  3. Well, I’m more of a jazzer or pantser per writing. No storyboard, although like you, I’ll spend hours (days?) developing plots/characters in my head. I suppose that’s a plus being a painter! I can roll away the hours, make some $, and ponder this and that.

    I’m working on “show don’t tell” per writing improvement, and in regards to characters, I answer the following in order to flesh them out: How does this character respond to love? How do they respond to fear? What caused these drives?

    After that, personal quirks are a nice touch, but if we don’t know what drives a villain like Darth Vader, well, who cares if he has a favorite band or drink (although I think it’s vodka!)

    FYI: looking forward to reading Thunder! I liked the sample I read on Amazon!

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  4. I like to divide my novels into fourths and to do a character wheel for each important character in the book. The first fourth is set-up that leads to a turning point. That turning point drives the next fourth, etc. But if I have a specific turning point at the end of each quarter of the story, it helps me pace the action better.

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    • Nice concept, Judith! Out of interest: are your character wheels fixed or do you pick out different characteristics depending on the story type/genre/subject? Are they something you’ve developed over the years?

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  5. “Let’s face it: there’re enough burdensome tasks in life so writing – at least for me – needs to be fun!” Wish I could highlight that like on the Kindle. Some helpful tips you have listed here. I toy around with stories in my head for days and days on my way to and from work (my radio died which was the best thing to happen. Its so quiet at 0500 that I can think… a lot) but when I go to try and write them down I get confused with who people are and what they are doing. I need to have a storyboard and really work on character’s bio and this has given me some thoughts and ways to do just that.

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    • Hi Brad, great to hear from you! I too use journeys to work on scenes and story fragments. Sometimes they’ll end up on a post-it, sometimes I’ll even write them in full flow with blanks where character names or places are yet-to-be-decided… Writing this has made me remember sitting on a plane, a couple of years ago, writing a fight sequence that ended up in the middle of Thunder. At the time I hadn’t got a clue where it would end up or who would be involved! :)

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