I was going to write this week about the importance of first lines. But perhaps everybody already knows that. If not: your first line is very, very important. Instead, I wanna talk about what you do before you start writing. You, of course, can talk about whatever you want, and hopefully you will.
Here are some things that different people swear by as preparation for writing:
- Make a detailed outline of your story. A friend taught me to do this on the wall with different colored markers, but there's also the Ingermansson Snowflake which we've discussed before, and anyone know any other good methods of outlining?
- Make charts of your characters, including their physical appearances, personalities, life situations-- you can go online and find detailed questionnaires to help you with this. This can be enlightening sometimes. One problem I've had with it is it tends to pin the characters out and label them like those poor frogs in 7th grade biology. But actually we learn most about characters when they're interacting with other characters. I dunno. What do you think?
- Just think about the story, let it swish around in your head, for like years and years. Allegedly that's what that writer guy did with Ender's Game, and then wrote it in two weeks. Come to think of it, does anyone ever write a story that hasn't been swishing around in their head for years, in one form or another?
- Research whatever you're going to need to know for your story-- the history of Antarctica, how bridges are built, symptoms and treatment of rabies in humans. You need to do that research anyway, otherwise you'll probably end up lookin' like a foo. Because you can be sure somebody will read your book who speaks Lakota, knows the train timetables for rural Ohio in 1927, and has actually driven a Model T Ford to Tierra del Fuego.
(By extension, I'm always surprised how many writers seem unaware that people of races, genders, and nationalities other than their own will read their work and may be hurt by what they say.)
Other people swear by just starting to write. When I do that I run aground around 10,000 words in. For a while I tried coming up with really good first lines (first lines are important!) and then writing stories to match them, but somehow none of those stories ever seemed to sell.
Something I'm doing right now is drawing. I started doing that because of this piece by Diana Wynne Jones, where she says about characters:
You have to SEE them even more clearly than places. You have to know the shape of them and if their breath smells and how their hair grows. In fact, you have to know twice as much as you put in the story. Sit and think and SEE them before you start. And HEAR them too. Everyone has their own special way of talking.
Her argument is that once you've clearly visualized something (setting, character) you won't need to think about adding detail when you write. It will come naturally. Since I royally suck at visualizing anything, even the faces of people I've known for 40 years, drawing seemed easier.
One nice thing about it: sitting down to draw is a whole lot less intimidating than sitting down to write. (Might not be true if you're actually good at drawing, I dunno.)
So, what about you? What do you do before you start writing, and how do you do it?
Write On! will be a regular Thursday feature (8 pm ET) until it isn't. Be sure to check out other great lit'ry diaries like:
sarahnity's books by kossacks on Tuesday nights
plf515's What Are You Reading? on Wednesday mornings.
cfk's bookflurries on Wednesday nights.
Some happy writing links for the week:
Editorial Anonymous has this to say:
re: Current trends in acquisitions
Steampunk, steampunk, steampunk.
Bear in mind that she's talking kiddylit, and that trendchasing may get you nowhere-- if you start writing your steampunk today, the earliest it could hit stores is probably around summer of 2011. Hell, in today's market? Make that 2015.
On the Premises no-fee short-story contest... this quarter's assignment is a story about a plan that goes wrong.
Pimp My Novel on why the future is all about ebooks.