How to Build a Story from a Spark
A few weeks ago, there was a lot of discussion about writing process and how different novelists create their work. I didn’t have time to engage then (I was, um, too busy meeting a deadline, resulting from the way I create my work 🙂 ) There was a follow-up discussion launched by technosage, which I did join. You can read that thread, and some of my initial comments here. Technosage invited me to expand on those ideas, so I’m going to, but in my own little corner of the world – you know, in case the interest has totally passed.
The specific question at hand was how expand a spark of a character into the fire of a story.
I have started every one of my novels with a firm notion of who the main characters are. I muddle through their personalities (in my head, not on paper or notecards), playing with quirks and traits that will – if all goes well – make them interesting, but will also make them distinctive from other characters I’ve created in the past. For example, I’m about to start writing the Super Secret Synopsis for a new chicklit paranormal series. I know who the main character is, and I know a lot of things about her personality. Some of those things have been specifically chosen so that she ISN’T Jane Madison. (For example, my new character is going to have a hearty aversion to Shakespeare.)
Once I’ve spent a day or week or fortnight muddling about the character, then I start to sketch out the plot. The plot is tied directly to the character. If my plot involves the high stakes world of female bodybuilding, then it’s unlikely that my main character is going to be a long-haired, long-nailed, anorexic beauty queen more obsessed with her wardrobe than with her training schedule. Instead, the plot has to flow organically beside the characters. Certainly, the characters will be carried by the plot at times, and they might end up at places they had not anticipated, but they can’t end up in a totally different world, facing completely different challenges, with completely different supporting or competing casts.
To take an absurd example – caste-bound Rani from the Glasswright Series is not going to pop brightly in Jane Madison’s library, ask about the life of Pilgrim Jair, and the hop back into her own story.
There are *times* when I modify a character to match a plot (or a narrative quirk). For example, Jane Madison didn’t originally have two masters degrees (in English and Library Science.) She picked up the English degree when the Shakespeare allusions became too thick for the average librarian to have at her finger-tips. The core of the character remained the same, but the specifics were tweaked.
If there’s a continuum between plot building characters and characters building plot, my writing is probably at about 90% character, 10% plot.
Where do the rest of you fall on that continuum? Have you read books that seem completely dominated by one or the other (or a totally different) method of construction?
Mindy, analyzing the process even as she works it