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Friday, January 25, 2013

Forward Motion and Character Bios

After about a month of work, I've finally finished the rewrite of the first thirteen chapters of Kricket's Key. In so doing, I was able to accomplish several things: I said goodbye to a supporting character who wasn't doing much supporting; introduced a new character who will have a more active role by providing character conflict and subplot opportunities; introduced subplots earlier than I had originally, thus allowing them to develop more fully.

I won't give away which character said goodbye to Kricket's crew in Chapter One. Suffice it to say he didn't have a huge role in the first book, except to provide some background color and minor plot involvement. By the time I reached Chapter Thirteen in this book, I realized he'd made a grand total of three appearances and said maybe one word. Not really enough to warrant having him in the book, seeing as he's supposed to be a member of the crew. So I bade him farewell, and he may make an appearance later on in the series, if I find a use for him.

In introducing the new character, I was able to do a couple of things. I filled some plot holes that really needed another active character, which my current characters couldn't really fill, as they were supposed to be somewhere else at that time. I can also introduce some conflict between this new character and the res of the crew members, which provides all sorts of interesting subplot and dialogue opportunities.

Finally, in writing the original draft, I was so concerned about forward momentum that I sort of glazed over opportunities to introduce subplots. These were not spur of the moment subplots. I'd planned for them and written notes for them, but they sort of got skipped. Not a good idea. Not the sort of thing I could just go back and throw in a few extra paragraphs here and there, unless I wanted the reader to be blindsided by them. I hate being blindsided as a reader when it comes to plots I'm supposed to be following, so I decided to fix that issue immediately. The subplots are now successfully introduced and by the time we get to Chapter Thirteen, they're being developed nicely.

I've since started Chapter Fourteen of Kricket's Key, and I'm pleased to say that I'm once again moving forward with the project into new, unwritten territory.

As I mentioned last time, I'm trying to introduce some of the tools and tips I've learned over the past few years of writing, in an effort to make this blog more useful to readers. Not that I think I have any great wisdom on the subject, but everyone's got a slightly different take on things, and maybe, just maybe, someone will find my take helpful.

When it comes to take a raw story idea--which may consist of only a few hand-written lines on a piece of paper--I find that one good way to take that idea and start turning it into a workable plot is to first develop my characters. Once I have a clear picture of the major characters, once I understand them and especially their goals and motivations, I can start filling in many of the major gaps I have in the plot. There are five bullet points I fill in for each character. Some characters have very succinct summaries in one or more of these areas. Others, I tend to wax eloquent with. This is where I kind of let my mind run with an idea, and fill in everything I can think of. I never know when I might need it later.

Here's how my Character Bio form appears:

Character Name - Character's Role in Story
  Basic Info: Enter whether main character, secondary character, any very basic info.
  Personality: How do they act around others, in certain situations, in general. Does their personality change at all through the plot?
  Motivations: This is especially important. What motivates the character in relation to the story? Why do they do what they do? What will drive them to action or prevent them from acting? What do they want most, or fear most?
  Appearance: Some people don't have a problem with describing the physical appearance of their characters. I almost always forget it, and if I don't, it tends to change slightly through the project. This helps me stay consistent.

And that's pretty much it. One thing I don't have is "Background," but I've found I don't really need it. That's one aspect I can keep straight through a project, and I prefer to explore and develop that as I go. But, you could consider adding it in there.

Here's an example of a complete Character Bio form from Kricket's Key:

Siv - Rear Admiral, Second Tier, Guv Navy
            Basic Info: Second POV character. A commoner without elite status who has worked her way up the ranks in the Guv Navy. Sent to hunt down Kricket and her crew. About 35 years old.
            Personality: Above all, Siv is an honorable woman. She is quietly proud of her commoner roots, but she's suppressed it almost entirely in order to be the "perfect officer" for the Navy. She tends to let the elite, First Tier officers walk all over her, because that's what is expected of her. However, she treats her crews with utmost respect and sticks up for them. Because of that, and her excellent record in the Navy, her people almost revere her as a hero. In some corners, she's referred to as the "next Greystache," though she does her best to dismiss and hush such sentiments. As time goes on in the book, she will start chaffing against suppressing her past and being walked on, and will grow more assertive and forward. She's very matter of fact, to the point of lacking tact.
            Motivations: Siv starts out completely dedicated to the Guv and to her orders of finding Kricket. She believes Kricket's crew are smugglers at best, and possibly even the criminals and terrorists her superiors say they are. However, as things move along, she begins to wonder if that is true, especially once she makes contact with Kricket. Once she learns about the Key and what's at stake with it, she is dedicated to finding the truth, and to doing what's best for the most people. Even if it means defying orders and turning her guns on her superiors.
            Appearance: Appearance will be very similar to the below photos, but Siv's hair will be cut very short in the military style. She'll have a bad scar on her right cheek that runs almost from her lips up and across her ear. This was sustained when she went down aboard a ship at Borealis. It still pains her. Also, she'll be wearing the Guv Navy uniform, which will include the black boots and tight black pants, but a full uniform tunic. She may go with the sleeveless version later when it's time for a fight.

As you can see, it's really pretty simple. More of a reminder and a plot aid than anything else. You'll find much the same sort of form on just about any Role Playing Game where you get to develop your own character. Another thing to note, I sometimes include pictures in the Appearance section for some characters. If I find something on the internet that reminds me of a character, or I think would make for a good character, I include it. It's strictly for your own reference, and won't appear anywhere in your work, of course.

That's about it for now. I hope you find it useful. Let me know if you do, or if you have suggestions on how to do it better! I'm always trying to learn more. See you next time!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

No Rest for the Writer

It's true I've been silent for a couple weeks on this blog, but I haven't been idle when it comes to writing. In fact, I've actually been a bit busier than I thought I would be. I'll break down what I've been up to recently, and then I want to share a writing tool that has helped me in my latest works in progress.

As you no doubt know by now, my science fiction short "Abyss" has been published on Amazon Kindle. I've promoted it through this blog, Facebook, friends and family, and via the Absolute Write group I'm a member of. Beyond that, I really don't know how else to promote it. I lack funding, so I can't do anything fancy. Despite the lack of promotion, it has sold 11 copies (that's a ton, I know...more than last time I posted anyway), and it has received a five-star rating after three reviews. So it may not be getting read a lot, but those who do read it like it, which makes me happy.

The bulk of my work in the past couple weeks has been on Kricket's Key, the sequel to Kricket's Song. After finishing chapter thirteen of the rough draft manuscript, I decided to finally face the issue that's been nagging at me since about chapter five: I got so caught up in making forward progress that I was forgetting to start subplots, the characters weren't acting like themselves, and the whole project was lacking the color and depth I'd wanted to give it. Eventually, I realized it was nothing like what I wanted it to be, and simply pushing ahead would only make it harder to correct in the long run. Thus, I abandoned the first draft, and went back to rewrite it.

The main plot is staying entirely the same. However, I've added in a couple subplots, added a new character, and removed an old character who was no longer doing anything for the story. I'm in the middle of chapter three right now, and I'm much happier with how it's going. It shouldn't take me long to get back to where I was with the first draft, and push on into new territory.

And, as always, I'm jotting down ideas for other projects or random things that currently don't have a home.

Now let me share a tool I've been using, particularly in Kricket's Key, that has helped me with some of the shortcomings I identified in earlier works. One of the issues that was brought up by beta readers for Kricket's Song was that my settings weren't always well-described. I did well visually, but I tended to ignore the other senses. In order to combat this, I read a book on fleshing out setting, and I created a sort of impromptu "setting form" which helps me layout all aspects of an important setting. I fill out the form before I begin writing scenes that take place in the setting, so that I can refer to it as I'm writing. The main issue I have is not that I don't think about the various aspects of setting, it's just that I forget to mention them as I'm writing. This helps remind me to include them. Here is the form:

Project: (This is where I put the title or working title of the overall work)
            Scene: (For example, "Macy gets first look at the prison planet")

Overall Atmosphere (Dark, Desolate, Bright, Foreboding, etc.): (Here I put some adjectives which describe the general feel of the scene...these are "first impressions."

How the Setting Relates to the Senses: (This is where I get into the specifics as they relate to all five senses. There's no "right" way to fill this out. Sometimes I use single words or phrases, sometimes full sentences. The idea is to picture yourself in the setting you're trying to describe, and the list everything you can think of as it relates to the specific sense. I mean everything. This doesn't mean you'll actually use everything, but it will give you a pool of things to pick and choose from.)






So far, I've found that using this form helps me remember to include different details about settings, which creates a more thorough picture for the reader to become immersed in. It's short and to the point, and can be invaluable when you're cruising along and want to throw in a detail or two about the setting. You've already thought it out before hand, so you don't have to kill your forward momentum by starting a whole new brainstorming session.
Well, that's all I've got for now. Back to the grind!