Last week I officially began my newest work in progress, also my first YA. It takes most writers at least five novels before they write one that is publish-worthy. This is number 6 for me. Number 5 is in edit mode right now. Can I tell a difference between what I’m writing now and what I wrote ten years ago? Yes, there’s a definite improvement. But more importantly, there’s a change in attitude. When I first began, it was all about getting published–the Holy Grail of the aspiring novelist. Somewhere in the last couple of years, though, I began to write and learn about writing for the simple love of the craft. I became passionate about the writing, not about seeing my book on a Border’s shelf.
Which brings me to #6, which I have titled Now I Knew You. Yes, titles can change, but having a title keeps me on track, much as a premise does.
Week #1 was spent roughing out a plot. Good story structure revolves around three major plot points, plus a beginning and conclusion. I cheated a bit because I already had my idea, concept, and premise worked out beforehand. That’s typical. Most writers have a “short list” of ideas they want to turn into novels. I return to mine from time to time and work in the premise. If I can’t come up with a workable premise, I know the idea must die a quick death.
After I worked out the major plot points, which is another good way to find out if I do, indeed, have a story to write, I get busy with characters. This, I admit, is my weak point. Which I is why I spend the most time on it, both in practice and in study.
I chose my protagonist, Josh Baker, a 17 year-old track star from the small (and fictional) tourist town of Cherry Hill, Michigan (right hand looking at your palm…see where the pinky converges with the ring finger…right about there). Josh has one goal in mind: to break the state record for the 800 meter, thus ensuring his U of M scholarship.
One must have an antagonist, or a personified representation of antagonistic forces. In my case it’s Wayne Dalton, the only runner in the state who can beat Josh. And, okay, let’s put ’em both in the same high school. Unlikely, I know, but makes for a better (and neater) story. Besides, the race for the track record is not really the story. While it’s Josh’s initial goal, he has lessons to learn that will change his young life.
The real lesson, and change in goal, will come from supporting cast members Lindsay Grayson, Josh’s girlfriend, Keagan Snyder, best friend, and Roseanne Baker, Josh’s mom.
I tend to develop characters willy-nilly. I’ll interview them and get their story. But during the interview they’ll often reveal something about another character, so I’ll jump over to that character and plug in that info. This way, I know all my characters are working within the same moral premise (more on that later, the book is to your right…get it). We cannot know everything there is to know about our characters. Most of us cannot even remember our own histories in great detail. But if I focus on the major incidents and what the character believes about himself\herself, then I can narrow it down to what I need for the story.
Here’s one of the big lessons I’ve learned over 5 novels: Characters are not like real-life people. They must have a role to play in the story. In real life, everyone heads off in their own direction. Characters in a story cannot do that, at least not within the time frame of the story. They serve a purpose for 300 pages. Make ’em work for you! Now, they have to be interesting, but make sure all their quirks don’t pull them off the page. Story first.
Okay, there are smarter people than me to teach you about character development, but let me assure you that the lack thereof will kill your novel on page 1.
Okay, so I’ve got my basic outline and cast of characters. It will take me a couple weeks to fully develop them. I’ll work out more plot details at the same time. Mostly because I’ll get bored with nothing but two weeks of character development. Really, character development never really ends until the final draft. Once we enter Story World, we learn more about our new favorite people.
That’s all for now! Another update coming next Monday.
P.S. I plan on discussing A Fault in Our Stars this Wednesday. Saw the movie yesterday and loved it! We’ll discuss both the book and the movie and their differences.