|Brainstorming from ITHAKA RISING|
And it's not the only process I use. But it's basically the one I've used for my last several novels.
It starts with my version of the old board game Clue. Only, instead of Miss Scarlet in the Drawing Room with a Candlestick, I have a character in a situation with a problem.
In a short story, that will be all that I need to get the piece moving, and more than enough. For a novel, especially one with a sweeping story and multiple points of view, I may have this basic premise worked out for each character.
For ITHAKA RISING we had:
- Jem, who needs a neural implant, but who can't get one because he's too young and the risks of putting one in a head injured patient are too great.
- Ro, stuck back on Daedalus without resources, and a ship with a broken jump drive she can't fix.
- Barre, playing second fiddle (see what I did there? LOL) to Ro, struggling to figure out what he does next, now that he's a full citizen and estranged from his family.
Nomi and Micah were part of the story, as well, but they didn't have clearly defined roles and problems when I was doing the initial brainstorming.
The next step was to figure out what drove the story and how all three of these characters' issues would intersect and complicate one another.
So I had Jem run away and contact the black market to obtain an illegal neural. Barre (his brother) is desperate to find Jem, and the ship Barre and Ro operate is broken.
Now, all of those are internal conflicts, and I had a larger, overarching story to tell about the political situation in the Commonwealth and how unresolved events from the war 40 years ago complicate the present day. So in my brainstorming, I tied the problems with the ship's jump drive to an old spacer's tale about a missing planet. And I started sketching out some of the history of the Commonwealth and the initial diaspora from Earth that set up colonies, tightly controlled by Earth's multinationals. Then I created a conflict that was essentially the Revolutionary War, except that in this war, the colonies lost.
Once I had those basics, it was a matter of tying the macro story to the micro, and getting Ro, Nomi, Barre, Jem, and Micah tangled up in still-simmering 40-year-old conflicts.
From that, I start to put together a draft of what will be the back cover blurb. Yes, it seems completely backwards, but having a 10,000 foot view of the story keeps me on track.
When Jem Durbin disappears, his trail dead ends at the black market. Ro Maldonado and Jem's brother, Barre, race to fix their derelict ship, desperate to locate Jem before he sells his future, risking his mind for an illegal neural implant. But they're not the only ones looking for "The Underworld" and its rogue planet, Ithaka. What they find endangers more than just the three of them and forces them to confront a very different truth about the war they believed was ancient history.
Some of the mechanics of how I use the portable/foldable whiteboard pictured in the image above:
I create a column for each main character and enter their starting place and their main goal On the back, are columns for world building and history. Every time I had an idea that intersected with the story somehow, I jotted it down on a relevant spot on the board.
I don't formally outline before I start writing. But I do think of the story broadly in quartiles. Having a starting place and an initial problem(s) gives me my opening scenes and the first 25% of the story. From there, I do very broad brush outlining and write additional scenes to connect the dots. While I may not know all the way points in a plot, I do know the basic shape of the ending, and by continually assessing what's missing between where I happen to be and the end allows me to fill in the gaps.
Make no mistake, this is not a simple process. There were places where I backtrack, places where I wanted to throw my laptop out the window and ragequit the story. I did find that having the whiteboard as a touchstone and a brainstorming device kept me on track. And bonus points because it's portable.
When I bought these, I bought a bunch of them and I have several in my office. If you'd like a chance at having one of these foldable white boards, leave a comment either about your writing process or a question about my process. On Friday, June 26, midnight EST I'll pick three random winners and announce it on Saturday, in honor of the official release of ITHAKA RISING. Giveaway is open to anyone.
Thanks for sharing, Lisa. I am always interested in the methods of others. This is a lot like a process I use with flash cards and a cork board.ReplyDelete
I like your method more: the readability would save some trees.
Reusability, not readability.Delete
I like the durability of these laminated cards, as well. I can fold the board up, toss it in its bag and take it with me.Delete
ET Anthony - you are one of the winners! Congrats. Check the top of this post for instructions to claim your board.Delete
I usually brainstorm first and ponder if the ideas work or not. Uh, it's easier in my writing because it isn't a book and I'm not the only one writing it. But yeah, mostly I think of something and wonder if I can run with it. Like, what are the consequences? Are they worth it? Will the status quo be irreversibly damaged? Things like that. Then I either develop or discard the idea.ReplyDelete
Yup. I sit with an idea for a while and try to look at it from all the angles to figure out if it is workable. I literally scribble it on the white board and put the board on the floor, then walk around it, thinking. :)Delete
Like a literary chicken around her idea-egg!Delete
What a cool method! I've been using index cards for a few years now, but I'm always interested in trying new methods. I like this--and who knew they made folding whiteboards! :DReplyDelete
I don't remember where I found them, Stephanie, but immediately figured they would come in handy!Delete
I've historically been a pantser, but I am developing some more complicated projects these days, including sequels. It's interesting to see the tools other writers employ; I'm thinking of employing a whiteboard method of some kind as well.ReplyDelete
I'm not sure what this makes me, Bliss. :) a plot-ser? Maybe a potted plant. LOL.Delete
it's a neat idea. I do something similar, but with index cards and plot points.ReplyDelete
Nice system. You mention you use the reverse side for world-building, what sort of columns do you use for that? Are there particular world building issues you want to make sure you always consider? How much of your world-building is for your own enjoyment vs. the needs of the story? (I know I have a tendency to go down a rabbit hole of world-building though experiments that are completely superfluous to the story).ReplyDelete
I did something similar once, when I was writing something that had with many different PoVs. I got a big poster board and wrote the names of all the characters in a circle on it. Then I drew lines across the circle from character to character to represent the different connections (using different colors for different types of connections, of course). The end result was a mess, but it helped me identify which characters needed more plot hooks and which ones I was overusing.
Good questions, Charley. I try to stay focused on the needs of the story in my worldbuilding, only because I can get sucked down that rabbit hole, too. For DERELICT, I had columns for history of the war, current political situation, tech, and a to-do column for things I needed to figure out.Delete
I like the white board because I can draw those arrows and then erase/rearrange as needed.
Charley - you are one of the winners! Congrats. Check the top of this post for instructions to claim your board.Delete