Monday, March 03, 2008

Cart Before the Horse

When I’m driving somewhere I’ve never been before, I’ll look at a map or log onto Mapquest. But if I decide to sew something that I don’t have a pattern for, I will find a picture of the item I want to make and just wing it. I like to try new recipes and for the most part I follow the recipe, but not always. When my goals are concrete (as in getting to some place) I plan ahead. But when it’s my creative half embarking on a mission- I just jump in and hope things turn out.

As most of you know, I generally write a book in the same manner as I do all creative things. Start out with an idea and then wing it. So here I am, with my ‘shoot from the hip’ attitude trying to write a synopsis before I write the book.

I’m stoked and I’m petrified. I have gathered together all the handouts I’ve ever picked up at workshops on writing a synopsis. Some make sense and some make me cross-eyed. Before I even think about a synopsis, I need to decide all my major turning points- which is the part that petrifies me. When I write a book BS (before synopsis), I know my opening, the first turning point and the climax. It is usually the outcome of the first turning point that dictates the second and the second the third, and so on. Which I do as I write.

But since I have to plot this before I write it- I've thought this whole process through and decided to get out some colored index cards and write down things I think could happen, and the reaction of each character. Then when I get done, arrange them (or toss them) in hopefully a way that makes sense and then I’ll take that arrangement and write the synopsis. And hope this works for me.

My question for those of you who write synopsis before you write the book and have more in the plot than just emotions, such as a mystery, do you do one outline/storyboard for the romance and then one for the mystery and then combine them? Or do you write it all at once? Also, those who have done a synopsis/plotting before writing the book - do you use index cards, story board, or outline to set up the story before you write the synopsis? Or do you just sit down and write the synopsis building the story as you go?


Paty Jager said...

forgot to check the box!

Alice Sharpe said...

Paty, I build the story as I go.
Lately, I have been using the following format to set my characters' goals and motivations in my min. I did not come up with this -- someone on this blog brought it to our attention awhile ago and I can't remember the woman who originated it.

A security-driven (flaw) mother (hero), desperately seeks to find her son (goal), kidnapped by her mentally ill ex-husband (life-changing event) before her manipulative father-in-law (opponent) takes him away from her. With the help of the dark and brooding Seeker (ally), who was her ex’s best friend, she faces her fears and finds the courage to battle her father-in-law to reclaim her son. (implied journey).

1 a main character (person through whose eyes the reader will see the story)
2 a flaw (defense mechanism he feels he needs to survive)
3 a goal (something concrete and specific hero is working toward)
4 an ally (someone who helps hero overcome his flaw)
5 an opponent (someone who pushes hero’s emotional buttons)
6 a life changing event (instigated by opponent— opportunity, challenge or threat; related to flaw)
7 an implied journey (where the main character risks losing something important to him either physically or emotionally)

A ___________________(flaw) __________ (hero), _____________________ (goal) ___________________
(life changing event) ________________________ (opponent) _____________________________ (ally) _________________________________________(implied journey).

Then I build the story as I go, telling it as I would tell a story around a campfire. No index cards...ack! Black moments and turning points and all that leave me baffled. I just tell the story. What happens, how the characters react, what happens next, and the mystery and romance are inseparable. I would caution you (I may be wrong) about even thinking of them as separate issues. One grows from the other, organically, and both stories suffer without the two halves to make the whole.

No Fear!!!

Paty Jager said...

Alice, so you just build the story as you write the synopsis? I've used the system you mentioned which was The Seven Elements from Sylvie Kurtz, I beleive.

I like that idea better than writing out index cards with turning points.

I'll try that today after I do the seven elements which I did on the last book before I wrote it and used to make my back cover blurb.


Kendra said...

I'm a blender. I've got to have an idea of where I'm going. But that doesn't mean I'll stick to it. I'm pleased to say I could fill in all the blanks on Alice's form. That lets me know I've got a good grip on my character.

I brainstorm, brainstorm and brainstorm every possible event that can happen in my story. I write suspense so there is usually a lot of action. I like to use sticky notes to put these events in some sort of order on a plot board and choose the big ones as turning points. Then brainstorm my messed up characters and figure out how I can do the most damage to them and see if their emotional journey coincides with my turning points. This makes writing the first draft so much easier.

Just yesterday I rearranged all my sticky notes on my plot board to better reflect what I've written.

I also like to write about three chapters before I heavily plot to see what kind of feel I have for my characters. The more I know about them the easier it is to write.

Karen Duvall said...

I brainstorm first about my characters, using the story magic method of character charting. Then I write the synopsis--very short, mind you--and figure out the story as I go along. Of course the final version vaguely resembles the synopsis I started with. The beginning and the end usually stay close to how I first invisioned them.

Paty Jager said...

Well, I have my characters written up and I have a character grid from Story Magic filled out from the retreat. Inciting incident, long range goal, short range goal, character flaw, relationshipt barrier, crisis and realization.

This morning I wrote up the seven elements for my story, so it looks like now if I go by what most of you have done, I just sit down and start writing the synopsis.

Gulp! Guess I better get busy!

Thanks Alice, Kendra, and Karen.

Elisabeth Naughton said...

I'm like Alice. I write the synopsis as the story grows. I've never been one for plot boards and index cards and sticky notes (I just lose them). Like Kendra, I spend A LOT of time brainstorming my characters. That's what I've been doing this whole last week - just thinking about htem - who they are, where they're going, how the plot is unfolding. Generally, when I start a book, I sit down and draft out the firs three chapters (the set up) THEN sit and write the synopsis. At that point i have a good feel for my characters and plot and know where I'm headed (vaguely).

I also agree with Alice though - you can't look at the external plot as being separate from the romance or internal journey of your characters. Each builds and grows off the other - are braided together so that if you remove one part, the entire thing falls apart.

Good luck, Paty!

Paty Jager said...

Eli, like you these characters have been in my thoughts and spouting scenes to me for the last three months, so I know them, and I'm ready to start putting their story on paper. Since you and I in the past have pretty much the same style of getting the story on paper, I think I'll just start writing what I think is going to happen and then spruce it up to look like a synopsis.

Then I'll write the first three chapters and see what happens from there.

Thanks everyone!

Danita Cahill said...

You'll get it, girl. It just takes work. Dang hard work. And sorry I didn't post a comment yesterday. For some reason, getting to the blog on Monday seems nearly impossible for me most weeks.

Thanks for the reminder of this formula. I printed it off and will tuck it away in a folder somewhere. I'm at this stage of the game for my next book too -- thinking, plotting, giving motivation to some very strange characters....

Kendra-- I like the sounds of your method too. I'm like Eli with the cards and sticky notes -- they'd probably get eaten by a two-year-old around here -- but I like the way you look at a story from every direction there is. I've been trying to do that too.