Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Establishing a Process

I'm creating my process as I go along. I need a structure to keep me organized, and to help sort out all the areas I need to address in writing my book, but I don't want it to be inflexible as my needs change. These are the elements of my process for now:

1. Outline - I'm a big believer in outlining. It's my road map for the sequence of scenes, and how the narrative flows. I only put enough information in my outline to guide me. It is really just a high level list of sequencial scenes that I frequently update as I move scenes around, or add new ones. Here's a sample of my outline for the first two chapters:

Chapter 1 - 1935 - Alabama
- Jean visits Alabama
- Arriving in Greenville
- Jean and Dorabelle
- Jean and Sally Mae
- Saying goodbye

Chapter 2 - 1935 - Hobbs
- Jean returns to Hobbs with Sally Mae
- Jean returns to work at Bank Bar
- Jean catches Sally Mae with neighbor boy
- Jean takes Sally Mae to work

2. Character list - This is just a list of each character, with physical descriptions, attributes, and personality characteristics. I include notes of how they are related to other characters, their role in the story, and any major event (i.e., are they going to die).

3. Location list - This is similar to the Character list. I include descriptions and the role of the location.

4. Questions - After I write a scene, I try to read it as my audience will, and I try to anticipate questions the reader may ask. This also helps to give me ideas and additional scenes or dialogue. I will also come up with my own questions that I can use to enhance or fine-tune the story. Here's an example of my notes after reading what I wrote about a character losing her newborn:

Was Sally pregnant with Tommy when she married Tom?
What did Sally think about after losing Tommy?
Did she blame God?
Did she think she was being punished?

5. Timeline - I establish a timeline to get a perspective on events. It's not a detaled list of scenes, just major events. Here's a partial sample:

1935 - Jean goes to Alabama
1935 - Sally returns with Jean to Hobbs (age 14)
1936 - Sally meets Tom
1937 - Sally marries Tom
1938 - Tommy Lloyd born/dies
1939 - Don Edward born
1941 - Jonnie moves to Hobbs
1941 - Sally Jean born
1942 - Jonnie works at Bank Bar

6. Continuity List - I keep a list of elements that are subject to change. I don't want to mention something in dialogue that hasn't happened yet, or refer to something that conflicts with a previous statement. Usually this is not a problem, but if there is something that could be confusing over the course of the novel, I make a note and keep it in mind.

7. Research - I do a lot of research. It is tedious and time consumming, but it has to be done. My character Sally marries Tom in 1937 at the age of 16, he's 23. What were the age of consent laws then? Sally's son receives Lincoln Logs for Christmas, did they even exist back then? Actually, they were first marketed in 1918, thank you Wikipedia! (They were also invented by the son of Frank Lloyd Wright, in case you're interested.) Because I'm writing a novel that takes place during the depression and 1940s, a lot of questions come up, which means research. I don't want a character paying $5 for a gallon of gas!

8. Scene List - This is different from my outline. It's really just scene ideas, that I may or may not write. It's just a place to jot down ideas that can be incorporated into the story later, if they fit and add to the narrative.

9. Thinking - This is a major part of my process. I do a lot of thinking about my characters and story. I take the approach of "what if...", but I also try to put my self in their skin (and mind). Very little I write happens spontaneously, it's generally after giving a lot of thought to the story and characters.

10. Writing - Ha Ha, yeah, I thought I should make writing part of my process. I actually do a lot of writing, but my approach is to write pretty raw. I just try to get the story down, and create a cohesive narrative. Once that is done, I can work on adding detailed descriptions, enhance the dialogue, develop the characters, and hopefully create an engaging story.

Do you have special techniques or processes that you use?

1 comment:

  1. I'm writing my first book and definitely "learning as I go." I'm about to venture into the great and wonderful world of outlines myself, having thought I left them behind in high school, but sadly I think it has to be done. I'm impressed with your process, hopefully I can hone my down so efficiently one day. Not today, but one day. :)