My Personal Pre-Writing Process Part 2

This is the second post about my pre-writing process. If you haven’t checked out the first part, you can find it here.

Today it’s all about plotting.

But, here’s a confession.

I’m not much of a plotter. I’m generally what we call in the writing world a plantser. That is, someone who writes by the seat of their pants (panster), but someone who also likes to have a basic idea of how and where the story is going.

My plotting, or plansting process has been one aspect of my writing that always seems to be churning and unsettled. In the 12 some projects I’ve done, each has been plotted a different way with varying degrees of success. This is one part of my writing that I’m hoping to further develop into a personal style that I can firmly understand and follow. But for today, we will focus on the things that typically happen while I am plotting out the story of my latest project.

I start with what I already know. For my current WIP I know I have an exiled pirate, a band of Imperial sailors after exiled pirate’s crew and that, eventually, said pirate becomes a captain and must take responsibility for a horrible course of action taken during the events of the novel.

Beyond that, I know very little. So it’s time to brainstorm to find out more and fill in some of the gaps. I like to do this very specifically with a ballpoint pen (not a gel or liquid ink pen) in a paper sketch pad with newsprint paper. I’m not sure why this preliminary brainstorming has to happen in this way, but I’ve tried other paper, other pens, even typing and always found myself less happy with the results when I stray from the good old newsprint and ballpoint pen.

For this step, I just write. Informally to myself, half planning, half pep talk. An example of what a paragraph might read like:

Okay. So. What am I writing about? Pirates. Specifically pirates against the Imperials. Trying to do what? Find the treasure? No. Why are the Imperials after the pirates? (they are pirates, maybe that’s why, duh Chiante). No but more than that. The pirates oooh! Yes. The pirates have stolen an artifact locked away on a remote Imperial controlled island and….yes yes yes and the artifact, under the pirates’ control, could overturn the control of the trading ports currently dominated by Imperials allowing all pirates essentially free reign of the seas. Yeas. I love it. This is good. Okay. There’s a betrayal on the pirate side. The climax is a battle between an Imperial fleet and a pirate coast. And sacrifice will have to be made. Excellent.

As you can see, it is rough and vague, but this paragraph provides a basic plotline for me to follow while I write. I have stopped here in the past and just written until all the plot points had been hit or modified. I find this type of writing generally the most fun, but the result is often a mess full of plot holes and weak story development.

The next step I like to do is to write out a chronology of the story from beginning to end both in terms of the actual story and as the elements of plot (inciting incident, rising action, climax, etc). This is done in bullet points and will sometimes cover subplots and important themes and threads that I don’t want to drop throughout the story.

After these two steps, everything else is extra. That being said, these two steps might happen over the course of a couple weeks, if not longer. I find that taking time with plotting and trying out the story before committing is incredibly helpful.

For example, in my WIP I thought the main character was going to start as a pirate and stay a pirate the whole book. Last night I was writing an experimental scene where my MC questions the morality of pirates and decides she doesn’t want anything to do with them. And I really liked the scene. It held true to her background and upbringing. It just made sense that she wouldn’t want to be pirate. Obviously that changed everything. My first plot point (MC becomes a pirate) got erased. Now I will have to go back to the newsprint paper and rewrite the brainstorming out. And that’s okay.

I like to let the plot sit for a while after I’ve done my newsprint and timeline. I’ll play it out in my mind and try writing parts of the book. If I’m not meshing with it, I go back and try to make the plot better. It may involve fixing minor issues or stripping the story back down to its characters and starting over. I’ve never regretted taking the extra time to recreate my plot several times, often finding it getting better as new ideas are formed and as I get to know my characters and their dynamics with each other and their world. That being said, I’m careful to avoid the endless plot revision loop. I don’t see the point in wrestling with a plot I know will change throughout revisions. And I try not to get too worked up if there is something not quite coming together.

That all said, being the plantser that I am, eventually the only thing left to do is dive in and write!

What kind of plotting do you like to do?

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My Personal Pre-Writing Process Part 1

I’ve been playing with a story idea for the past couple weeks. It’s time to get serious about it. Here’s an inside look into how I begin the pre-writing process for a new novel project.

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I start with an idea. This could be a character, a setting, a conflict. Whatever it is, I hone in on it and develop ideas around it based on the initial inkling. In this case, the idea is old. Much older than I had initially thought. I just opened the ‘idea journal’ I had started back in elementary school. And one of the first stories from 2013 was my current story idea. I was shocked to find details like names and plots had somehow stayed the same throughout the years of the idea hibernating in the back of my mind.

This story, about pirates playing the role of Robin Hood on the open seas, doesn’t fit in either of the worlds in which I typically write (one modern/realist and one very much fantasy). Which means it’s worldbuilding time! Because this story has been in the works for so long, I’ve got a basic framework for the world. You can see some of my Pinterest inspirations for it here. At this stage I need to create some cities, and form an idea of the type of society of the people populating this world. For this story I’ll be focusing on building a justice system as the book is about pirates who are inherently lawbreakers and will encounter the justice system quite regularly. For worldbuilding, I’ll be using a lot of scene writing which you can learn all about in one of my earlier posts.

To aid the worldbuilding process I’ve been researching piracy in the 16th and 17th centuries as well as basic nautical theory and terminology. I use this research as a starting place and then either add or take away as I deem necessary for my personal world. I’m quite excited to learn about various kinds of knots. It’s very likely a character’s ability, or inability to tie a knot will come in handy while I’m writing.

Once I’ve got an idea of the world, how it functions and its basic history, it’s time to create the rest of my characters. I’m building a crew and introducing them to my Main Character via short scenes. Again, Pinterest has been helpful in selecting faces to go with names and personalities, but occasionally I have a very specific type of character in mind, and my artistic side goes wild at the chance to create something. Here’s a sketch I did for my main character to get a feel for how she would portray herself.

 

Alright. We’ve got a world in development. A crew of pirates and a Main Character currently lacking any discernible facial features.

Before I go onto the story, I need to do a little more on the physical world I’ve been building. For pirates, it’s important for me to know where they are going, and where those places are relative to each other. That means *takes deep breath* I get to make a map!

I’ll start with the land masses using pen and paper and then scan and add details to the map digitally. My current world map is bare bones at the moment, but I’ve got an idea of what goes where and that’s all I need at this point.

krajima for blog
My unfinished map is used to highlight islands and plot sailing routes.

Besides a map. I love having or creating artifacts that show up in my story. For this project I’ve been watching the antique stores for a ring. I don’t know what it will look like, but once I find it, it will become the ring my Main Character wears all the time. I’ve also created a major artifact that serves as a plot device for the story using my bookbinding skills.

handmade book bookbinding
I like having physical representations or artifacts of significant objects in my novels.

At this point I’m getting close to being ready to start writing, but first, I need music!

From a previous pirate novel, I’ve already got a couple of go-to songs and soundtracks. (Pirates of the Caribbean, obviously, and the Assassin’s Creed Black Flag soundtrack). But now I’m listening to a wide variety of new cinematic music as well as songs that speak to my characters’ situations or fit the general aesthetic of my story and gathering them into a playlist. The playlist has to be long enough that I don’t cycle through it too often making the music repetitive and uninspirational. I aim for about 8 hours of music per novel.

The last pre-writing step is plotting. For me, this becomes long and laborious and it needs a post all on its own.

In the meantime, while I’m researching, gathering music and building worlds, I like to immerse myself into my novel’s genre, especially considering I’m not well-versed in pirate literature. That means I’m on the lookout for TV, movies, and books (and video games too) about pirates!

Please, leave your suggestions about pirate literature and media for me to observe and research!

Stay tuned for part two of my pre-writing process coming next week!

A Writer’s Tool Kit: People Watching

If you’ve been a writer for any period of time, you’ve likely encountered a desire to take real life and put it in your stories, or at the very least, allow reality to inspire your fiction.

One really practical way of doing this is to people watch.

I’m not going to waste time assuring you this isn’t strange or abnormal. We’re writers. We thrive on abnormal. Potentially strange looks you’ll receive aside, people watching is as simple as it sounds. You watch people. However, what you hope to gain from the experience may greatly vary.

This is the first post in a series about some of the different tools with which writers can equip themselves.
people watching 1

Here are three ways I like to people watch.

You could be wanting to observe the human nature…well, in nature.

See what peoples’ ticks and quirks are. How they move and walk, how they talk or smile or interact with the people around them. What happens to their posture when they stop to wait. How briskly or slowly they move depending on their purpose for that day.

This can be an almost scientific pursuit. Trying to determine the habits of these peculiar creatures we call humans. And then of course, upon collecting data about the pace, expressions, quirks and ticks, the only thing left to do is give them to a character to add that extra realism and depth. This works particularly well when, for example, you know your character is in a hurry, but you aren’t exactly sure how that would manifest. Sit on a street corner and watch for the people in suits carrying briefcases—you’ll know what ‘hurry’ looks like very quickly.

Perhaps the goal isn’t so scientific. Perhaps, you are people watching for the creative challenge of it.

You could be wanting to discover stories.

Perhaps you watch an old man preparing to cross a busy intersection. And gathering from his rumpled, but fashionable green tweed jacket, and the particular arch of his back as he rests on his cane, you see not just an old man, but a story waiting to be told. Why is he there alone? Does he have a wife? Family? Why is his suit rumpled? Who gave him his cane? Where is he going that he must cross at this particular intersection?

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Photo by Huy Phan on Unsplash

Perhaps his name is Albert and he’s lived in the city longer than the intersection has been around and today of all days his son has come to visit from out of town. What might their reunion be like? Could Albert’s suit be rumpled because he couldn’t care to press and steam it for his son? Where might Albert and this son of his be meeting? Is Albert late? Or maybe, extremely early?

Maybe his name isn’t Albert. Maybe its Charles the third. A title that doesn’t mean much here, but he clings to it, and whatever dignity he can grasp from his green tweed jacket. Maybe Charles the third walks this way everyday, not for any particular reason other than to occupy himself. For the apartment up the street offers little in the way of comfort and he has no reason to waste away in solitude. Yet here, on the busy street, does he really have more companionship?

These two scenarios are based off an old man I once observed who I found to be odd, depressing, and isolated from the people around him. This method of observance is more for inspiration rather than research.

Another, less contemplative or scientific way to people watch is to listen.

This method works best where people cross you at a high frequency. Listen in to the pieces of conversations of those around you and write them down. I normally leave the description of the person who said the quote out, unless it was particularly poignant (as you shall see).

Because of the nature of listening into a conversation right in the middle, these pieces can be quite funny without any sort of context to explain them.

Here are a couple of the quotes I’ve collected:

  • “Wanna have a cheese bun? Charlie. Do you want a cheesebun?”
  • “When we camp with our kids, I don’t even see them.”
  • “I don’t know where I put my pet squirrel.”
  • “I’m gonna make footprints and handprints”

And my favourite, said in perfect innocence and admiration by a young boy pointing off into the distance at something I never saw, “It’s BIRD WOMAN!”

I like to people watch outdoors with a notebook and pen. Especially at intersections, but coffee shops, malls, parks, grocery stores are all wonderful places to watch and listen. There’s nothing like building a collection of quirks and characteristics, invented life stories, and quotes from strangers. I haven’t ever added any of my quotes to my stories (though I think the Adventures of Bird Woman should be in the works), but I’ve definitely added quirks and characters into my stories based on my observations.

Of course you might not go out into the world intentionally people watching, but I suggest to always keep that writerly part of your brain tuned into the world around you. You never know when you might encounter that special person who will inspire your latest story.

What are your methods for people watching? What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever observed?

Using Scene Writing to Strengthen Your Stories

using scene writing to strengthen your writing

 

You know those scenes that pop into your head, but don’t quite fit with your work in progress? Those random lines of dialogue or tidbits of action? I believe those bits of inspiration are the jelly to the jam of your WIP. (Is that an expression? It is now.)

For me, these inspirations are often short scenes featuring my characters interacting with situations or other characters that wouldn’t fit in my work in progress. Sometimes as little as 50 words, sometimes as long as 2000 words, these scenes are some of the most fun things to write because there’s freedom knowing it can stay in first draft form tucked away in a notebook no one will ever see.

But these scenes are also invaluable to your writing.

First of all, scenes are short. They don’t have to take a lot of time or commitment–it isn’t a full-fledged story. They can be serious or silly. They are a great way to keep working on a project when the story gets stuck. You can use them for brainstorming or as a writer’s block remedy.

These scenes let you see your character or world in a new light. As often is their nature, the inspirations don’t work with the flow of your plot, but writing about your character interacting with an event that may never occur allows you to see your character reacting and behaving in new and unexpected ways. This is extremely helpful when you run into a scene where you aren’t quite sure how the main character might react.

Writing these scenes also helps to push the development of your characters as you aren’t confined to the chapters of your WIP. Perhaps the scene happens before or after the timeline of your story, or even not at all. By increasing the frequency in which you write your characters you are able to get to know your character more intimately and become more familiar with their particular voice.

Furthermore, because there is no pressure to add these scenes into a novel, it’s fun to try new things with the characters. For me, I like to try new endings. Instead of happily ever after, what if someone gets stabbed, or disappears, or turns to the dark side? By writing scenes you can try all these possibilities and even if you still end up choosing happily ever after, you’ve seen how your character could be tainted by these possible timelines.

What if your character had a new fear, an alter ego, a secret crush? Sky’s the limit with what you can try while writing these scenes.

But the best part about the scenes is when you hit gold. You write a scene and just know it belongs–somehow, somewhere–in your project. I rarely can simply copy/paste scenes into my WIPs, but when I write one that really resonates, I find a way to get the essence of that scene into the story, even if its just a few sentences.

What if you’ve never written a scene like this before? How does one go about it?

I’m glad you asked, dear reader. The short answer: any way you want. The long answer: Still any way you want, but here are a few tips to get you started:

I like prompts. More often than not I start with a photo or dialogue prompt. In fact, I made a whole pinterest board dedicated to just that. This board has a photo or dialogue prompt for everyday of the year. Try a couple on for size.

As a fantasy writer, many of the prompts will naturally lean toward the fantastic. If that’s not your taste, I encourage you to create a board for yourself and send me a link so I can see what inspires you!

Then you write. I normally do scenes on paper rather than typing. And I like to give my brain free reign within one of two conditions. A timer or a length. Sometimes I’ll write for 15 minutes and stop when the timer stops. Other times, I choose a notebook of moleskine-ish size and write only one page.

 

While writing, forget about spelling or grammar or anything that looks like style. This is just you, your characters and a piece of inspiration you are trying to pin down with words. I don’t use dialogue tags. I barely use paragraphs. It’s true free-form, first draft words.

Then you keep it. Read it a couple of times. Read it when you’re stuck, read it when you need some inspiration. Try to see it from new angles. Could this be another character’s experience? Would this scene benefit my story? Could I put the essence of this into my WIP? Sometimes the answers are yes and sometimes no. But that’s the beauty of scene writing.

No expectation, no disappointment, just words and phrases put together in a burst of inspiration.

Have a scene you’ve written? I’d love to read it! Put it in the comments or send it to me through my contact page.

Be on the lookout for a couple of my own scenes to be posted under the Chiante’s Writing page.

With abandon,

Chiante G

Feature photo courtesy of @canon_photographyshots

Hello 2018

Courtesy of @canon_photographyshots

Dearest Reader,

It’s a new year and time for new things! For me it’s this blog. While hosted on what I’m calling my author platform, I hope this blog will be a place for me to reflect about my writing process, reading, and general journey through the writing world.

I would like to share with you stories and experiences I’ve encountered since I started *seriously* writing in 2012, as well as some of the tips I’ve picked up along the way. I want to start conversations with other readers and writers, both seasoned and newcomers, to learn more about techniques and processes while I hone my craft. I want to share the things that inspire me and the projects I’m working on.

Perhaps most importantly, I want to get to know you, dearest reader, and I’m hoping I can do that here.

I’m trying to be realistic here. Some of my posts will be messy (I’m a creative messy person) Some will have mistakes (Probably more than some). Some of them I will think are gold (even if they are not). Nonetheless, all of my posts will be a little piece of me shared just for you, dearest reader.

That all being said, and as is the nature of the new year, here are five writerly things I want to do in 2018:

1.Consistently update this digital home with weekly posts

  • I want to share with you varying types of posts ranging anywhere from my stories, to my writing, to tips and tricks, to strong opinion pieces, and anything in between.

2.Write a variety of short pieces

  • As you will learn, I love dabbling in genres and styles. And after writing a slew of novels over the past five years, I’m ready for shorter projects to tighten up my prose and really make each of my words count.

3.Start working on a long-term novel project

  • As a NaNoWriMo advocate, it hurts me to think that I may benefit from taking more than a month to write my next, as of yet, unplanned novel, but that’s what I’m going to do.

4.Edit and query my series of children’s books

  • It’s a shorter project that will hopefully help prepare me for querying my novels in the future. Plus, my protagonist, Issac Normal, longs for another adventure.

5.Rediscover my lost joy of writing

  • A story will come out of this I’m sure (so stay tuned for the juicy details), but sometime in November 2017, I lost the spark, the excitement, the joy that I normally get while writing. And my passion for writing became the thing I vowed it never would: a chore. I’m on a mission to find my lost joy of writing and rekindle its flame.

 

I hope you will join me on this journey!

Do you have any writerly (or non-writerly) resolutions for 2018?

Want to keep updated on my goings on? Follow me on Facebook and Twitter for updates!

 

Chiante G

Photo courtesy of @canon_photographyshots