If you’ve read my previous blog about preparing for NaNoWriMo and followed it, you already have an idea for your story. Maybe it’s on your wall or fridge, reminding you about what you’ll be doing in November. Today I want to talk to you about the very beginning of your story. When you’re a pantser the story starts with the first word you put on paper, but as a plotter, the shape of your story starts before even that.
Plotters need at least three things before they start writing: a summary, characters, and an outline.
Stories start as ideas. Written down, those ideas form a summary of your story, but they never reveal everything. This summary is probably the first part that comes in existence, and I highly recommend writing one out. A small pitch, if you will, which you can share when someone asks you what the story you’re currently working on is about.
(Some plotters find it helps to write out a complete summary, one that reveals all of the plot points, like a skeleton without any of the numbers/bullet points. Naturally, this isn’t the kind of summary you share with others unless you want to spoil your plot. -R.)
I love character driven stories. Characters make the story. They express the emotion, they feel the story, they share their senses. Creating characters that fit in your setting and work well with your idea should be your second step.
How you build your characters is all up to you. The internet is filled with character sheets, questionnaires, interviews, charts with characteristics. Take your pick. If you’re more of the visual kind, create a board for each character in Pinterest (a moodboard). Pin photos or drawings of characters that fit with your images, the clothes they wear and the gadgets they use (bags, cars, weapons). Pick a quote that matches their view on life.
The most important thing about characters is that they have to come alive in your head. You have to be able to see the world you created from their perspective. So make sure you know where they come from, what colours their world.
This is probably the hardest one to prepare, also because there are a thousand ways to go about it. I’m going to discuss one way to make an outline, one that works well when the story isn’t fully formed. It gives you time and space to fill in the gaps, while you can write out the scenes that you already thought out.
This method resembles the snowflake method, where you keep expanding what you have. Let’s say we start with the summary you wrote. Expand each sentence with another sentence. Then make it a paragraph. Keep expanding until you’ve written a book. (While I think this method works for an outline, I’ve never tried to use this to write a whole book.)
My own advice is to not start with the summary, but with the major events you already know will happen. In one of my stories, I knew that there would be a shooting with certain characters present (I won’t spoil it for you), so I wrote that down as one sentence. I knew there would be a reunion as well. Another sentence. The story starts with a reveal that changes the protagonist’s life. A third sentence.
All these scenes are far apart, in time and in pages, so each one can make a chapter. Keep making these one sentence chapters until you have all the important events covered, from start to ending. By having a major scene in every chapter, you can get a good feeling of how your story is shaped and you won’t have a chapter where nothing of importance happens.
Now we use the snowflake method to expand on the single sentence, make it a scene, and tie the chapters together. Since the chapters are still short, it gives you space to work in subplots, plant seeds, plan reveals, and so on. Make each chapter as long as you want, but remember that it’s an outline. You’re not writing the whole story yet.
You can use this method with any story framework you want to use (like the hero’s journey). It works with any kind of story, any genre, any length, and it can help you on your journey next month, keep you on your path and remind you where to go next and what to expect. Together with the character moodboards, you’ll know the colours to use tell the story.
Now you’re ready to write your story in a quick manner. Next time we’ll talk about a mental aspect, because 1667 words is a lot if you’re not used to writing that much every day.
Have fun prepping!