Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Here I Go Again...

It seems that several of us TypeMers are starting new projects right now, including me. So I read with great interest Vicki’s post on believing in yourself and Barbara’s post on creating characters.

All the changes for my second book, Paint the Town Dead, have been made. Other than looking over the ARC, it's essentially done. So I'm now moving on to my third book, which I've tentatively titled Tromp l'oeiled to Death.

Starting a new project is both exciting and daunting. I have all of these ideas floating around in my brain, but no plan or outline yet. So I've started writing down as much as I can, including partial scenes, hoping that I'll be able to make sense of it all very soon. Things are ever so slowly coming into focus.

At times like this I feel like I'm not accomplishing much, that I'm going nowhere. I liken it to the design phase of a software project. You've got lots of stuff written on whiteboards and in documents, but since no code has been produced, it doesn't feel like you're getting anywhere. You find yourself wandering hallways, hoping the movement will trigger something in your brain. (Or in the case of writing, surfing the web researching some aspect of the book in hopes something will come to mind.)

Just as I did with software design and coding, I have to keep on reminding myself that I need to believe in the process. To believe that I can produce a good and interesting story people other than family members will want to read. And do it in a fairly short time frame. (That last part is what I have trouble with!)

I’m fairly new at this writing game so I’m still refining my process. I come up with a basic premise (for Fatal Brushstroke that was “a woman finds the body of her painting teacher in her garden” and for Paint the Town Dead it was “Rory’s friend collapses in a class at a tole painting convention and dies.”)

From the premise I move on to working on the characters that will inhabit the story since I believe that out of the characters comes the story. Since this is the third book in the series I already have half a dozen I’m going to reuse, so it’s a good start, but I still have a lot of work to do. Once I have the basic characters and understand something about them, I write a short description of the murder and the cover-up from the murderer's point of view and come up with the main turning points in the story. Then I’m pretty much off to the races. This time around I think I'll write a one to two page synopsis of the story, which I think will help me focus my writing better.

I have no idea if this is the best approach, or even if it’s the best approach for me, but you have to start somewhere. So, I’m interested in how everyone else starts a new project. Do you start with creating characters? Or do you just start writing? Any words of wisdom for me?

17 comments:

NG West said...

HI, Sybil,
A great post. I think the right way to begin is the way that works for you. I have Aggie Mundeen and her friends, so I look for a setting where she's apt to get into mischief (lots of choices there) and new characters to populate it so Aggie can bounce off them. Then I make myself research the area: this is hard for me; I'd rather write. But it gives me fodder for the plot. I lay the story out in three-act structure, writing occasional scenes when I can't stand not to. Once I have a basic outline, I start writing the story, knowing I'm going to change the outline frequently along the way. Sort of a build, destroy, rebuild process. Messy but fun.

Sybil Johnson said...

Thanks for stopping by, Nancy. Always interesting to see how people start projects.

Bourne Morris said...

Thanks for the inspiring post. I begin with an idea for a story. The idea for "The Red Queen's Run" was to have a particularly vicious faculty quarrel end with the murder of the dean of the college. Then, before I start to write the book, I figure out the personalities and backgrounds of the characters, not just the main characters but often minor folks.I do quite a bit if research, interviewing people who know much more than I about a particular activity. I recently interviewed the leader of a police task force investigating sex trafficking. I hope this this should be useful for my third book in the Red Queen trilogy. I do a light outline that usually gets ignored when the characters take over the story. Finally, I start to write and I always write to the middle of the next chapter or scene so I know what to continue the next day.It's a slog some days but I love it.Thanks for asking.

Sybil Johnson said...

Thanks for stopping by, Bourne. Hadn't thought about writing to the middle of the next chapter or scene and stopping there. Seems like it would be a good way to get back into writing the next day.

Susan O'Brien said...

Great post and topic, Sybil. An essential step for me is choosing one or more story elements about which I care deeply. I have to feel emotionally invested and hopeful that readers will feel the same way.

Sybil Johnson said...

Thanks for stopping by, Susan.

Tiffany Yates Martin said...

Interesting to see how many authors begin with character! I always say that no reader will care what happens unless she cares about whom it's happening too. I'm a pantser--I start with a premise and a basic character idea, and then develop both as I go. Thanks for this interesting article, Sybil!

Annette said...

I'm still polishing book #4, but I'm already rolling ideas around for book #5. No time to waste, as you mentioned! I'm doing sticky notes on my storyboard and giving each of the main characters their own storylines, but so far have no clue how they'll all tie together, which they MUST. And there's a little matter of still needing a dead body and a killer. Yeah, quite a bit of work to do yet. ;-)

Sybil Johnson said...

Susan, I keep on thinking about your comment about feeling emotionally invested. Makes so much sense to me.

Thanks for stopping by, Tiffany and Annette. So interesting to see everyone's methods. All so different and yet, elements of the same.

Gretchen Archer said...

What a great post, Sybil. Thanks. I love to hear about author habits. Well, some author habits. You know what I mean. If there's anyone out there who writes naked I don't necessarily want to hear about that. Here's how I write a book--I start every project with four complete thoughts: how the story will open, how it will progress, the beginning of the end, then the conclusion. I fill in the blanks between with 20,000 words or so, writing my way to the next section. My finish lines are always just chapters away, not 80,000 words away.

Sybil Johnson said...

Thanks for stopping by, Gretchen. Interesting way to write. 20,000 words is a lot less daunting than 80,000, for sure.

Cynthia Kuhn said...

Very interesting to read these! I have to start with a super rough outline (just a few words per chapter noting the action within), but it's subject to (dramatic) change as the writing unfolds.

Sybil Johnson said...

Thanks for stopping by, Cynthia.

Nancy Silverman said...

Sybil, I'm fascinated how programmers work and it amazes me how similar it is to writing a novel --- its a mystery! As for my process, I'm not too dissimilar to our fellow hens. I start with an idea that won't let go of me, usually its the opening scene. It generally rolls around in my mind for awhile before I'll write it out and then pen notes for future chapters, flushing out scenes as I go. I have a series of questions I ask myself as I progress. Things like what does she want, why does she want and what is the worst thing that can happen? Which of course then will. I listened to another author explain her process and she described it as a kid playing pickup sticks. Remember those? She said she used to keep her Pickup Sticks all color coordinated in their carrier and loved looking at the colors and enjoying the organization of it all. She equated it to the world her characters lived in. All organized and neat. Then she'd toss it on the floor and mess it up. That's where she'd begin. With the mess that was once organized. I always liked her description.

Sybil Johnson said...

Thanks for stopping by, Nancy. Yes, programming in many ways is liking writing a mystery. Loved the description of the pick up sticks. (Used to love that game.)

Eileen Goudge said...

Thanks for this post, Sybil. Nice to know I'm not alone in beating the bushes for ideas and/or inspiration. I always start with an idea, though a plot is only as good as its characters, so the first step is to get the reader to care about the protagonist. The rest kind of flows from there. Though some days it's more of a steady drip. Good luck with your new one!

Sybil Johnson said...

Thanks for stopping by, Eileen. I'm, ever so slowly, starting to see the light on this book. I think it's a steady drip right now.