Monday, October 9, 2017

Building a Story by Mary Deal



  

An example of how to begin a new story when your Muse has taken a vacation.

A friend of mine—I’ll call her Judy—had written a novel and was in the process of sending it out to literary agents seeking representation. She and I knew that first-time authors typically needed to have two or more completed and polished manuscripts in hand.
Publishers do not make large profits on an unknown writer’s first book but on subsequent publications instead. Money is spent on publicity for the first book to establish a reputation for an author and build readership. With these aspects already established, on subsequent books, larger profits are realized.
Too, publishers are more apt to believe that a writer is capable of turning out numbers of books if they did so of their own volition and not because a publisher waits with bated breath for another manuscript. Having more than one book shows true intent as a writer.
So, Judy needed to write another story, and fast. She had just completed the rigors of editing and deep polishing the first manuscript and felt burned out. I suggested she take a breather for a week or two; maybe even get away for a vacation. She is not one to shy away from responsibility, so she pleaded with me to help her find a way to conjure another plot because her muse had taken the vacation for her.
I never thought about how to start a new story. My stories just rolled out whenever I allowed myself to think. Then I remembered a few techniques I used in establishing characters in my first novel and passed those steps along to her.
The one presented here is the procedure that worked for her. She took more than a month conjuring characters and, not surprisingly, the story unfolded as she went along. By the end of three months, she had completed the first draft of her second novel.
Something happened along the way. Her muse evidently decided she liked the excitement of the new story and returned promptly from vacation. In following the steps given below, Judy came up with an idea for a sequel to her newly finished story and then decided to make it a serial.

* * * * *

Your hero or heroine should be the strongest character in your story. Let’s give your main characters the types of personalities that will fit their roles.
Imagine a person you’d like to have in one of your stories. From that mental image, build a character. She or he will probably be your protagonist. This may change, so beyond recording the character’s physical attributes, do not think further into the story.
If you have written a short story and identify a protagonist, you can use that character to help flesh out another one. However, the technique presented here works best when starting fresh with a character about whom you know nothing. Then you’re less likely to follow the plot line of the other story already written.
Have a sort of feel for a person and start simply by listing physical attributes: age, color of eyes, skin tone, hair color and any other details you feel you wish the person to have.
At this point, do not list anything like the fact that the lady changes hair color frequently, or has a nail-biting neurosis. This has little to do with establishing the basics of physical image. If something extra does come up in creating the character, then your Muse is beginning to feed you details of a story you have yet to consciously realize. How exciting is that? If this extra information may be too good to pass up, then you can add it, perhaps in a separate list for personality. Be simple in the primary description and make a separate list of added details as something you may include later.
Next, give the person just enough of a life so that you know what makes your character’s personality unique.

What does she or he do for a living?
How many other family members?
What are her or his best personality attributes, and worst ones?
What other relatives closely share this character’s life and how does your character interact with them?
What delicious secrets does your character hide?

Another example: Give your character habits like a facial tic or nail-biting. Try to conjure why she or he has it? Is it the result of some repressed emotion? Is it from some shock long ago? How does this unnerving habit affect people presently in the character’s life? What crisis from her past should she have to work through to eliminate the tic? Who else is involved in why she may have such a habit? If nothing like this comes to mind for your character, don’t worry. Something else is on the way!
I like the part about the secrets most. Most people hide things they wouldn’t want the world to know about themselves. Draw it out of your story people. Find some shocking information, juicy tidbits around which to build your plot, around which to motivate your characters.
See where this is going? By the time you’ve got the first character established, you will have introduced us to other people in his or her life.
Next, choose one of those secondary people and build another character sketch. You may already know which character will interact most with your protagonist. It doesn’t have to be a love-interest either. The next character can be a public figure the protagonist tries to emulate, or someone who has been stalking her, or a neighbor, or anyone among the characters who people your plot.
For the next character, you do not have to use any particular person included with the sketch of your main character. You can start fresh again and build a whole new person. Something in that creation will tell you how to bring this person together with your main character and the others.
Follow this procedure for each character whether or not they immediately interact with the main character. Have faith. Your Muse understands you need characters that will ultimately interact, so create them as they come to mind. Trust yourself!
Finally, your characters will tell you a story as you create them. Begin to write about how these people interact. By the time you get this far, you will know where your story is going. You will know your plot!
Trust the process. You will have conjured something important to say about these people, their lives and their impact on one another and the outcome.
Write without editing. Let your mind wander from the rational to the absurd. As you write, you’ll find yourself choosing which path you wish the story to follow.
Ultimately, you may not use most of the information you pack into your character sketches. However, because you have taken the time to build your characters, you will know how they react in all the circumstances presented in your plot. A morally upstanding person reacts one way to a certain occurrence; a frivolous person reacts a completely different way to the same situation. You will know these people because in building character sketches you unknowingly create their morals, ethics, and motivations, which will surely spice up your plot.

Mary Deal

Author, Painter, Photographer
Eric Hoffer Book Award Winner
National Indie Excellence Book Awards Finalist (past)
Pushcart Prize Nominee
Global eBook Awards Nominee
2014 National Indie Excellence Book Awards Finalist
Global eBook Awards Bronze
Global eBook Awards Silver
Art Gallery: http://www.MaryDealFineArt.com
Gift Gallery: zazzle.com/IslandImageGallery*




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