Friday, August 28, 2009

First Things First

Last time we discussed raising the stakes in your fiction. But you may not be that far yet. Maybe you are still throwing around ideas for the novel you always wanted to write. Maybe you’ve been thinking of an idea for years, but you’ve never taken the next step and began planning your novel. That’s great. That’s what this blog is for.

How do you begin planning if you aren’t sure which way to go with your novel? The first thing I start with is the question “What if?”

What if a woman wakes up in a hospital bed with no identification and has no idea how she got there? What if a couple go hiking in a national park? The woman stops to rest and the man goes on ahead. When he comes back there is no sign of the woman and no one else remembers seeing her. What if a killer attacks women in a small town every night of a full moon? Each question that occurs to you as you pursue your ideas should—and will—lead to another, and another, and hundreds more.

What is the killer’s motivations? How does he choose his victims? What happened in his past that makes him want to destroy lives? What other suspects can you put into the story? You must have several. What makes them look guilty? What clues does the killer leave behind and how is he finally caught? What about your victims, who are generally the main focus of a novel?

How did the heroine gain the killer’s attention? Was she in the wrong place at the wrong time? Did she inadvertently offend or insult him without being aware? Does she work with him, shop at the same grocery store, see the same doctor? Does he love her from afar and feel she jilted him in some way?

There are thousands of other questions that need answered before you will finish your book. Readers expect multi-layered stories with characters they can empathize with and understand. Yes, even the killer. Give him/her logical motivations. Let your reader understand what makes him/her tick, even if what they learn sickens them.

Don’t let this stage of the process overwhelm you. It can be the most fun and exciting part of the process. You are exploring the possibilities within your story for the first time. You won’t be able to answer everything up front. Plotting a novel is a growing process. You will learn more about your characters as you delve deeper into their lives. You don’t know everything about a new friend the instant you meet them. It takes time. It’s the same with your characters.

Have fun and enjoy the process.

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