Last week, I shared the first thing I do when I start a new book – create the initial premise.That is only the tip of the iceberg. There is so much more!
As I’ve mentioned a few times in the past, I’m a plotter and, in most cases, I spend more time mapping the story then writing it. I do this for numerous reasons (which is a whole other blog post!). One reason is so I have a document that outlines all the basic facts. I call it my pre-work document.
After I jot down the initial premise, the next step is to identify the major characters. Notice I said, identify, not psycho-analyze, speed date, or get too far into their heads or physical appearances. At this stage, I want only the most basic information that is integral to the story.
That’s it. Later in the process, I’ll delve deeper and add more detail, but not right now. For the moment, I just want to know the very basics. Sometimes, I don’t even have names for all the characters.
– Captain Trent O’Connor – another potential love interest
– Jay (Jayakrishna) – best friend and Thrall (human servant).
– Antagonist – Thalia – new Queen of the vampires
The next step is to create a basic sketch of the main characters. In this case, Cherry was the heroine of the story so I focused on her. I only included the most important details of the character for where she is at the time the story starts. Think of it as the launching point for Cherry.
Basic Character Sketch: Cherry is a vampire and a highly valued stripper at Fang Bang. Her Sire, Jonathan Gilbert, also prizes her for her pure bloodline (Blue Blood). Cherry would have continued to be an entertainer if she hadn’t been considered a conspirator in the murder of the vampire Queen. Her only choice now: run or die (again).
Try to keep the character sketch simple and uncluttered. The details will come later. At the time, this is how I pictured Cherry’s situation in my head.
And that’s all I use at this point in the process. I’ve found going through this exercise in an exact order, keeps me organized and focused. Then I don’t get lost in the weeds early in the plotting process. Plus, it gives me a tangible series of steps to complete while mentally preparing me for the moment I start actually writing the story.
Again, this is only the initial stab at character development and is intended to be a brief first impression only. Once you have characters identified and an idea of the what the story is about, the next step is to map the plot (also at a high level).
I imagine, right about now, that if you’re a pantser, you’re shrieking in horror. Believe it or not, once I finish the “process” I basically let the characters and situations determine the flow of the story. So there’s plenty of room for fun and discovery!
One final note – this should not take hours or days. If it is, you’re thinking too deeply. Remember: shallow, superficial. The rest of the details will come out, I promise.
Questions? Concerns? Alternate methods? Feel free to comment.
PJ here, talking about hand guns and blow guns, and everything in between.
I apologize ahead of time if this post is disturbing to readers who struggle with even the mere mention of guns these days. The tragedies of gun violence in society aside, weapons are a common theme in many of our fiction works. From Harry Potter’s wand to Katniss and her bow, most of our heroes and heroines use some kind of weapon to gain the upper hand against the villains in our stories. So whether you write YA, Mystery, Thriller, Romantic Suspense, or even Regency, you have likely had to research and decide how you would best arm your characters. So how does one decide what weapons or skills to give to imaginary people? If you write Regency or Historical romance–you might want to stick with swords and bayonets. Perhaps having your character be proficient in martial arts will be enough to give them skills to save the day. In my near future dystopian world, I considered that many people will still be carrying and fighting with guns, so that’s where my focus will be for today.
Although I’m a relative newbie to the weapons world, I’ve spent considerable time over the past few years researching handguns and weapons for various characters. I used to write adult romantic suspense and paranormal romance before I “shifted” to YA—no pun intended. I think choosing weapons depends on your character’s personality, training, purpose for having a weapon, and what fits best with the setting of your story. A cross bow is swift, silent and deadly–a definite consideration when fighting zombies. But in many cases, your characters will HAVE to carry guns as part of their job. If you are dealing with cops, PI’s, or military heroes, be sure to talk to someone in that field who is familiar with weapons and ask what they use so you can keep your story authentic and accurate.
Since most of my research was aimed at my female characters, here are a few tips I learned about arming your heroines with guns.
This post is in no way making any political statement about guns or gun control, and is purely for theoretical and research purposes in fiction writing.
Guns are generally chosen according to the purpose for which they are bought. Target/range shooting, sport shooting, concealed carry, or home defense are your main categories. Let’s talk handguns and heroines for example. If your character carries a gun for self-defense, she wants one that is compact and easily concealable. She also wants one that has some stopping power but isn’t going to have a ton of recoil. Revolvers, a.38 for instance with a 2 inch barrel, might seem like a good choice for a reliable, easy to use, and easy to conceal weapon, but unless she is very practiced, the recoil and sting will likely discourage her from pulling the trigger more than once, and accuracy might be affected. If you are target shooting, this is not the gun you want. A slightly longer barrel—say a 4 inch—will add some front weight that will reduce recoil, but is then much less concealable. This might be a good home defense weapon because of its “point and shoot” ease of use for someone who doesn’t plan on spending a lot of time at the range but wants protection.
Semi-automatic pistols, on the other hand, have a little more weight to them, generally have a smoother shot, and are made to fire rounds in quick succession. They make some very nice compact pistols that are good for both range-shooting and concealed carry, as well as being great for home defense. Yes, there are more moving parts to semi-autos, but once you learn how to use one (racking the slide takes some practice), a revolver seems archaic and impractical. In a zombie apocalypse, a semi-auto is what I’d want!
With new gun laws sweeping the nation, the days of fifteen round clips for semi-autos are likely soon to be over. In Massachusetts, we have had legislation for years that only allows for a maximum of ten bullets in a clip or magazine, which is more than enough to stop an attacker or a bear, providing you can shoot what you’re aiming at. It’s probably not surprising that men typically like larger caliber guns and will usually go for a .40 or .45, while a 9mm will put down an assailant with no problem and doesn’t have quite the same kick for us ladies. S&W, Browning, Ruger, and Sig Sauer all make fine hand guns. It’s all a matter of what features are important to your character and what matches them best. I’ll save shot guns for another time.
I’ve found a ton of YouTube videos on this topic and spent countless hours comparing handguns and shot guns. If you have specific questions, I’d be happy to answer if I can.
In the case of my character in THE CHRONICLES OF LILY CARMICHAEL trilogy, finding just the right weapon for Lily was exceptionally challenging. Lily is only sixteen and she is a healer, and as such, is opposed to weapons of all kinds, especially guns. Not that she hasn’t been trained how to fight and use weapons. Life in 2057 is rough, and after the collapse of society as we know it, weapons and who has them will ultimately determine our survival. It is a sad fact of our humanity that weapons equate with power, but in my future world, this is indeed a fact. One that Lily will struggle with throughout the trilogy.
For one thing, in this future world I’ve created, guns will likely be controlled by the government and by the few rebels who are able to hide them and find or create ammunition for them. In deciding what weapons Lily would carry, I figured utilitarian style tools would be her preference. In WESTERN DESERT, Book Two in the trilogy, she carries a buck knife and a blow gun given to her by a family friend. She is also armed with a very nifty high-tech gadget disguised as a locket. Her uncle, a former NASA engineer has retrofitted her aunt’s locket with a GPS tracker, a laser that can cut through metal, and an EMP (electro-magnetic pulse) that can knock out electronics within a hundred yard radius. Lily prefers to use her brains rather than risk injuring someone to accomplish her mission.
On the flip side, Will is a typical seventeen year-old boy, alone and hardened by the harsh realities of a world in chaos. He would happily take a handgun, a shot gun, or any incendiary device he could get his hands on…if not for trying to appease Lily. An old Louis Ville Slugger and a hatchet hardly seem like enough weaponry to take on the Industry, a rogue government agency set on using Lily’s brother Zeph for some nefarious plot. You’ll have to wait until June for WESTERN DESERT to find out what happens, and see just how they survive the dangerous journey.
As far as my personal favorites, I’d pick a 9mm Smith and Wesson M&P Shield for a handgun, and a Mossberg 500 tactical 12 gauge for my home defense weapon and bear gun. Zombies beware!
How do you decide on weapons for your characters and what kind do they have?
Do you remember all your plots? I mean, if you had a backlist that dated from the mid-80’s, would you remember every character, every storyline?
Several years ago at an RWA conference, I was talking with a reader who in the course of conversation told me that one of my books she liked best was the one with the nun. I said there was no book with a nun. She insisted. I was firm. She was certain. I held tight. No nuns.
A few months later, for no reason I can say, I picked up ANGEL EYES, the fifth of my five backlist reissues now available in Kindle eBooks, and there, in the opening chapters, Angelene, my heroine, in a bold move to escape the murderous future her mother has planned for her, disguises herself as a nun to try to make her way to her wealthy grandmother in England.
Really. I couldn’t believe I didn’t remember. I felt like an idiot, remembering my conversation with that reader. How could I forget a detail like that?
Since then, I’ve reread several of my backlist titles, and it was like reading someone else’s books, I was that far removed from the writing of them. They felt new, It was fun to read them, and it was interesting to see the evolution of my writing and my perspective. I kept thinking, did I really write that — then? Did I honestly get away with that scene? Those words? That many pages of foreplay and sex?
Apparently I did, and at a time when the language was much more circumspect and hard core words were tacitly not used. That my early books were reviewed as “spicy” and several years later, “erotic” is still amazing to me and a testament to how powerful everyday words can be.
These first five backlist books are all westerns.. But as I’ve written previously, my true love is antebellum romance. I wrote three of those, which are still to be released, and I’m beyond excited that these backlist titles — anyone’s backlist titles — can now have a second and longer shelf life on-line and with it, a new generation of readers.
I’ve been deep in the writer’s cave plotting my next two books. Doing the usual things.Thinking about my new characters. Asking the burning questions like: What do they want? What is holding them back?
Not all that different from nagging talking to my sons – What do you want to do with your life? Do you plan on living in my house forever?
I’ve also been asking – what happens next? What can I do to make their journey as difficult as possible? Not so much “how” will those things happen. I save that part for when I do the actual writing. Then the characters become real and their actions are driven by the barriers I toss in their paths.
Just thinking about the word “plotting” brings to mind a different word – scheming. Muwhahaha! Like a hand-wringing, moustache-twirling villain. Okay, minus the moustache. But I think you get my point.
As a writer, you really are contriving an entire story out of thin air – creating a whole new world that didn’t previously exist. Totally cool and frightening at the same time. And once the story is published, then that world is shared with your readers. They bring their own expectations and realities. Your world isn’t only in your head anymore.
It’s a big responsibility, which is why I spend more time on plotting, character creation, etc. than I do writing. I’ve learned the hard way that planning ahead works best for me.
But with planning comes the ability to know when to stop, put a stake in the ground and
say, “this is what the story will be.”
Again, also a scary step. That means committment to the ideas you’ve set forth and implementing them.
Yes, it means that you need to let go of all the “what ifs” and move ahead with the story you’ve concocted in your head. To not become distracted (or perhaps, seduced) by those nagging plot bunnies.
Have no fear! I know I am not the only Scribe who has started a book (or even written the whole thing) and scrapped it later. That is not a bad thing. It can make you a stronger writer and the book better (as long as you know when to let it go – but that is a different blog post).
But, in order to get there, you have to start writing and finish that first draft. You just do. Not to go all “Mom”, but if you want to be a published author, you have to know when to let go of the idea phase and move to the writing phase.
What has your experience been? How do you know when to start writing? Have you ever started too soon and ended up in a corner later? How did you get out?
Long ago, in a publishing landscape far away — does it seem like I’m beginning too many posts this way? I bet you can tell it’s Thea Devine posting today. In any event, Casey’s post a few days ago about flying monkeys called to mind a conference I ran many years ago where I’d invited not only industry people, but also the gentleman in charge of programming at Lifetime TV (seemed like a natural fit, romance and Lifetime), and a producer from USANetwork. I don’t remember anything from any of the workshops I attended (it was a looong time ago) except this: the USA producer talked about writing TV drama and the key to moving the story along.
He said, at the end of each act, something must change.
Extrapolate that for novelists: At the end of each chapter, something must change.
Think about it. Every little shift and setback, a small emotional moment, a big get out of my face statement — and something changes. It can be subtle or monumental. It can be something someone says, or something your heroine sees, or realizes, or theorizes (rightly or wrongly). It could be someone setting your protagonist on the wrong track. It could be a disappointment, a revelation, a decision, an apology, a resolution, an action, or taking no action. It could be something that’s not what it seems or someone’s hidden agenda.
Any of those changes (or any you could think of) should send your protagonist off in a different direction which will lead to more changes, more ramifications and more consequences.
In essence, you’re programming: if heroine does this, then this could happen. Or that. If she says something, someone could be affected negatively, or someone could overhear and spread gossip about it. If she chooses to leave, she will feel free, or she will feel as if she were falling into a black hole all alone. If the hero confesses everything he knows, he would be breaking a childhood code of silence, and therefore implicating his friends in a long ago unsolved misadventure … but he’ll win back the woman he loves.
Each of these moments of change has consequences which then raise the stakes in each succeeding chapter, almost like you’re climbing steps from one complication/change to the next until everything is tied up at the end.
So ask yourself at the end of each chapter: what changes? What can change? If something changed, what would shift? What would send the heroine in a different direction? What if it did? What if it didn’t? What if she wants to stay in place when even when she has choices? What if someone gives her an ultimatum? Or challenges her? What if she walks away from everything? And then wishes she hadn’t. Or is ecstatic that she did?
What happens next?
I leave that to your imagination, your tolerance for change, your aversion to or embrace of risk — in fiction and in life.
Thea Devine’s books defined erotic historical romance. She is the USAToday best-selling author of 25 erotic historical and contemporary romances and a dozen novellas.. Her 2008 erotic contemporary romance, His Little Black Book, was reissued in October. She’s currently working on a new novel.