Hello, my pretties, and welcome back to Preptober: Week 2!
Last week, we went over a few things to prepare you for diving into NaNoWriMo on November 1st. This week, I’ll talk about my own process for outlining and developing a novel.
And now the obligatory credentials post: I’m a senior editor for a romance e-publisher, and I’ve helped hundreds of authors design, develop, and outline their novels.
I find it’s helpful to start basic: with the who, what, and where of your novel.
1. Who is the story about?
Every story needs a protagonist/main character (MC), and this is a great first step in planning. Designing your MC can help you nail other details down, too. As you develop her, you’ll naturally answer some questions that can be great fodder for conflict and development.
Let’s get started.
If you’re anything like me, it helps to have a few pictures for reference. I find working from a picture can give me things beyond a character’s appearance. It can inspire attitude, wit, strengths–three of the things that make your MC stand out.
My default is Pinterest, and you can see some of my Pinterest boards for Syl Skye, Rouen Rivoche, and other characters from CIRCUIT FAE here.
Once I have my picture, I start asking questions like the ones below. Feel free to skip questions entirely or skip and come back to them.
The idea is to kickstart your creative brainstorming by creating a “character sheet.”
Here are some of the questions I ask:
- What is her occupation? Does she enjoy this?
- Where was she born? Parents? Siblings?
- Where does she live? Does she like it there?
- Physical Description: What does she look like?
- How do her friends see her? Her enemies?
- Who are her friends? Her enemies? Why?
- Who are your real-life or fictional inspirations for this MC?
- What are her strengths?
- What are her weaknesses?
- What quirks does she have?
- What does she have to overcome in the story?
- Does she have a love interest?
- How is she better when she’s with her love interest?
- What’s keeping them apart?
- Describe her bedroom from her point of view (POV)
- Add any question you deem important
The goal is to create a memorable MC with strengths, weaknesses, quirks, wants, desires, and conflicts to overcome. To keep the reader’s interest, your MC must be interesting and out of the ordinary in some way, however small.
For more on in-depth character creation, I recommend Donald Maass’s Writing the Breakout Novel.
2. What is your story about?
This one can be tough to lock down, but I find that if you’ve done your homework above, some of this is already taking shape, especially if you are writing a character-driven novel.
The “what” will be shaped by your MC’s Goals, Motivations, and Conflicts (GMCs).
This can be boiled down to three questions:
Goals: What does the MC want?
Motivations: Why does she want it?
Conflicts: What’s keeping her from getting it?
Take Luke Skywalker in Star Wars: A New Hope
Goals: To join the Academy
Motivations: Tatooine is hella boring
Conflicts: His aunt/uncle need him on the farm
I know what you’re thinking: Luke’s GMCs change as the story progresses. That’s true! And it’s perfectly all right. As an MC grows, he’s bound to change. Thus, his GMCs change. For now, though, worry about starting GMCs.
NOTE: the more “universal” you can make your MC’s GMCs, the easier you’ll snag the reader’s sympathy/empathy. So use universal emotions: love, hate, fear, jealousy, desire, honor, sorrow, etc.
I’ve always said, No one wakes up in the morning and says, “I’m going to save the world today!” No. Luke wants to go to the Academy, to follow in his father’s footsteps. This is something most people understand. It’s also what leads him to saving the world.
Likewise, Rey wants to find her family, to find acceptance, to survive. Bilbo just wants to be able to have second breakfast in peace.
So, for GMCs, universal emotions are best. Your MC’s GMCs will form the backbone of your plot.
3. Where is it set? The time and place
Setting is super important! A good setting is like a character in and of itself, and it’s good to have a bead on this early on.
Again, go back to your character sheet. Have you designed a plucky space pilot? A New York caterer? A down and out gumshoe? An MMA fighter? A dark Fae exiled from her people? Likely, details from your character sheet will inform the type of setting you’ll want.
In addition, if you’ve done your reading-in-the-genre homework, you’ll have a good idea of what settings your genre supports. But don’t be afraid to mix it up! While many fantasies are set in a secondary world like Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, others are set in near-modern times like Clare’s The Mortal Instruments.
The important part is to choose a setting the MC can have opinions and feelings about. The setting isn’t going to have dialogue. It’s not going to be overt. It’s subtle, and we learn about it THROUGH the MC.
Thus, we learn that Tatooine is desolate, sandy, and boring because Luke experiences it like that. Plus, it INFORMS his character and lets us relate to him. Being on Tatooine with him, we also long for excitement. That’s why maybe we don’t feel so bad when Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru get turned into crispy critters–because we know we’ll be leaving boring old Tatooine for adventure!
All righty! You should have your who, what, where now. Come back next week for bringing those together to drive your plot and conflict.
Slán go fóill!