First Steps

Since I’m starting out with a new idea, I thought it might be interesting to blog my process as I go through it. Of course, maybe it’s just interesting to me :).

The Rough Outline
The Rough Outline

I have a new idea and I’ve written a pitch for it. Now it’s time to get to work on it. The first thing is to think about and visualize the story. This part all happens in my head, and I spend a lot of my commuting time working on it as well as other spare moments throughout the day. I’ve already done a lot of thinking about DARK HUNTER while coming up with a pitch, but not enough to write an outline. Maybe it sounds silly to call this a step in my process, but it really is. This step is done, or at least there’s enough done to get to the next step. I’m not going to stop thinking about it.

Mapping out the characters. There aren't very many yet.
Mapping out the characters. There aren’t very many yet.

The next step for me is the rough outline. In my case it’s like a washboard road in the Outback kind of rough. Basically, I puke out all that thinking into a list of events in the story. DARK HUNTER’s outline doesn’t even have the correct character names as I scribbled it out before I have the character names figured out. The only job of my rough outline is to give me direction for the real outline. This all gets typed into a single Scrivener text thingie that I just call a card. This part is also done.

It’s not time for the real outline yet. Now I move onto the main characters. Each character gets a card in the ‘character’ folder. Then I type the general description of the character. By general description I don’t mean physical description but rather the role in the story. This is also the time I have the dread task of coming up with names. For that I usually use 20,000 names for inspiration. As I write the story I paste in passages about the character that I need to remember for continuity. This is where things like physical descriptions go along with bits about backstory, personality, whatever. As I introduce new characters, I’ll add cards into the list so I have a quick place to look up what I need. I have this done for the main characters.

The Real Outline
The Real Outline

Now I’m finally ready to start on the real outline. For this outline I create a card for every section in the novel. Often times a single section corresponds to a single chapter, but sometimes a couple of short sections might get combined. Interestingly, DARK HUNTER has ended up with 23 sections which is exactly the same as my last novel DRAGONFIRE. Apparently, I’m pretty consistent. This part is also done.

Within each section I make notes on the events that happen and the scenes in that section. Also I like to add notes on how the section moves the physical and emotional plots. If I can’t figure out something for one or the other, then I know I’ve got a problem. So far I’ve made notes for the first section and that’s where I stand.

No part of the outline or character notes are set in stone. Sometimes I get a great idea and have to rework them, or I go off the outline because that’s what makes sense while I’m writing. Still, having everything mapped out helps me stay productive when the time for pounding out that first draft comes along.

What kind of process do you have when starting out on a new novel?

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2 Responses to First Steps

  1. Beth Turnage says:

    Not so rigorous as yours. I spend time thinking about the story and how I think it will turn out. By the time I start writing I know who the characters are, and a lot, but not all of their life story. I’ll set up the chapters, with a brief description of what I think will go there, but it doesn’t always happen that way. I’ll write the beginning scene and the last scenes in the book and worked the rest to fit those parameters. I do have to know how the story ends of I’ll flounder in the middle.

    My first pass will be bare bones writing. I get the feel and flow of the story. Later, I’ll go back in and fill out the details or add scenes or add to the dialogue. The best scenes though come from the “thinking about” process where I play the scenes in my head as if they were movie scenes. From those I get all the physical characteristics of where the characters are and what they are doing and sensing.

  2. Erik says:

    I often see scenes in the story like movie scenes too. It really helps.

    I like the sound of the first pass being bare bones writing. It seems like a good approach to getting everything down.

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