Friday, August 7, 2009

A Book of Firsts

It’s been awhile since I’ve written a novel, so I thought I’d take note of the process I’m going through. Quite often when a novel idea comes to me, it comes in the form of an incident. I then find the people who would experience the incident. After that I would figure out the rest of the story (internal and external conflicts).

This time, however, that didn’t happen. Instead I had this desire to write a mystery/intrigue story – with a romance, of course.

I’ve found my heroine, Vivianne Vale – that’s Vi-ve-anne for those wondering how to pronounce her name. She’s quite particular how her name is pronounced. I have a guy, Russell Cates, but I’m not sure if he’ll be more than a friend by the end of the novel or not. There may be another guy yet to be determined waiting in the wings.

I would like to write a series with Vivianne as the central character, so I’m not sure if I want the romance to end with the first book, although Russell will definitely be a recurring character in the series. (I’m considering a series because I feel with the amount of time I’ll spend on creating these characters and their back stories will be worth “using” in more than one book.)

The biggest problem I have right now, other than I’ve never written a mystery or intrigue, is trying to figure out who Vivianne and Russell are and why they’re in this story. What are their internal and external conflicts? How do their individual conflicts affect each other? How is this all a part of the bigger picture?

This book will also present a different challenge for me. I want to write in first person when I’m writing in Vivianne’s pov, but when I’m in Russell’s head, I intend to use 3rd person. I might also experiment with having more than two pov characters – something new to me as well.

Because there are a lot of firsts for me, I’m feeling my way slowly. I expect there will be a lot of changes before I actually write my first sentence.

Normally I have a title for my novel by the time I start writing, but that hasn’t come to me yet. I’m not too concerned though because I don’t know enough yet what Vivianne and Russell are doing in this story. I trust as I work through the story idea, a title will suggest itself to me.

At times I feel like I’m spinning my wheels with this latest wip, but I don’t want to abandon it just because it’s making me think more about what to do with these characters. It’s definitely a challenge for me to come at a book from this direction and I hope I’m up to it. Perhaps I’m not published in book length yet because I haven't challenged myself enough. If nothing else, this will be a learning experience for me. (As an educator in my day job, I’m okay with this.)

Because I’m feeling my way with this, I’ll have to determine if my idea will sustain a novel length work, yet alone a series. The article, “Test Your Story Ideas,” which can be found at talks about subjecting your story to the litmus test to determine if a story idea can sustain the length of a novel.

Because I haven’t written any lengthy for awhile, I’m also concerned with my ability to sustain a reader’s interest for the entirety of my novel. The following blog talks about how to prevent reader boredom in your novel:

Part 2 of the above blog is about making sure your novel doesn’t fall victim to the protagonist/goal switcheroo:

The 3rd blog in the above series talks about making sure our protagonists have goals:

With everything I’ve read lately, it’s going to be awhile before the actual writing gets started on this novel.

So people of Blogland, have you ever had a story idea come to you in a different way and you’re not sure what to do with it? How do you work through this?


Captain Hook said...

Great links you gave us. I've bookmarked them for later.

I tend to start my wIPs with an idea. Not s particular scene, but a broader idea. In Cassandra's Secrets, that idea was a teenage psychic with her own tv show getting kidnapped. Then I spent hours at Denny's talking to cops about kidnappings to see how realistic things I'd read and seen were.

(Turns out not very.)

So far Absolutely Livid is the only one that didn't start with an idea. Instead I started with a character. I wanted to have one of those tortured, comic book type heroines. Larger than life, secret identity and all that good stuff. I don't know if the plot (both mystery and romance are in there) will hold up the entire story, but I'd like to think so.

Jeanne Ryan said...

My current WIP came to me as a scene 6 years ago. I didn't have a clue what to do with it, so it went on the back burner while I worked on a YA fantasy. That story didn't hold my interest (I guess coming of age stories just aren't my thing), so I came back to my original scene.

I didn't have the foggiest clue what to do with it. Usually the world comes to me and I create a plot and characters to show off the world.

I wanted something character drive, so I started with designing my characters. What was my heroine like to get her into this predicament? What did I want her arc to be? Same with the hero. That became the structure the first story was built on.

I say first, because that original scene has been part of several different versions, until I finally admitted I was a romance reader and I wanted to write a romance.

Since I didn't start with a world, that evolved as I wrote. My cute vampire story went places I didn't imagine, but looking back are completely natural given what I know and like.

Thank you for the links. I have them bookmarked and will pass them on.

Suse said...

Hey Captain Hook, your welcome for the links. They're something I'll need to keep referring back to. Cassandra's Secrets sounds like a very interesting idea. Does she have any inkling that she will be kidnapped but still can't prevent it? You're right about what's shown on TV etc. is not always an accurate portrayal of how the police, etc. work to solve crimes. I have a cousin who used to do crime scene investigation for the RCMP and she says what CSI TV series does is not very realistic.

From what you showed us yesterday about Absolutely Livid, I think it will work well with your larger than life, secret identity heroine.

Happy writing!

Suse said...

Hi Jeanne, it's funny how some scenes or images stick with us for a long time. We know we want to use them but aren't sure how or where to put them to good use in a larger work.

I like your questions: "What was my heroine like to get her into this predicament? What did I want her arc to be?" I will think about them when I continue to work on my characters.

I admire that you stuck with your idea through several stories to get the right one for your scene.

I'm glad your cute vampire story worked out for you.

Karyn Good said...

Hi Suse. Go glad to have you back here for the day!

Usually ideas don't come to me title first. I figure the right title will show itself eventually. I do have one idea that came to me differently, title first. As of yet I have no idea how the actual story for The Sinners Ball is going to play out so I'll be checking out your links. I know it will be a paranormal but that's about all.

When I think about it, stories usually come to me main characters first and then the idea the suspense will revolve around. Time to check out those links!

Great post, Suse.

Suse said...

Hi Karyn, "The Sinners' Ball" - what a fantastic title! That could go a lot of interesting ways. You'll have fun working on the plots and characters that could go with such a title. I'm suffering from envy and wish I would have thought of that one. (I don't know if you could tell or not, but catchy titles are what quite often spark ideas for me. Have fun with it.)

You're lucky characters come to you first. That's the part I usually have to come up with, and then I just end up making it so complex, that nothing seems "real" anymore.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Suse,
So great to have you back with us! And I'm thrilled to hear you are thinking about a new novel.

I'm like you. Usually a situation will come to me first. Such as, "What if a reluctant psychic "sees" the kidnapping of a young child?" (Seeing Things) Or as in my current WIP (Twice in a Life Time) "What if an old man was given the opportunity to go back in time for a second chance at a love he lost the first time around? And what if an angel gave him that opportunity?"

And then like you I think up characters and a plot to go with this story. Probably the only exception to this is with my novella "Burning Love". This story began as a writing exercise I did at writing meeting. We picked one hero's name, one heroine's name, and an occupation for each of them. I got Iris, who was a travel agent, and Riley, who was a firefighter. I immediately saw how they could meet and what type of people they would be. I might have to try this exercise again!

Good luck with your story and thanks for the links.

Suse said...

Hi Jana, your current wip sounds intriguing. I can't wait to read it. Aren't what ifs wonderful? I imagine a lot of writers come up with ideas this way - whether it's a character or a situation or as in Karyn's case with the title "The Sinner's Ball" - how can you tell I like that title?

Could you share that exercise with us? Were the names and occupations in hats or how did that work?

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Suse, loved your post. I know what you mean about being challenged by this book and doing things differently because that's what I'm going through with mine. So far, I have a love-hate relationship with my wip. I love how it's working out but hate the process and indecision.

The links you've mentioned confirm what judges have told me about my first book. It lacked conflict and neither of the protags really had goals. I thought they did, but they were pseudo goals - short term easily solvable goals which couldn't sustain the of the novel.

Good luck with your wip, Suse, and thank you for those links.

Ban said...

Hi Suse, I loved all your past posts, though I joined The Chicks just as you were leaving. Nice to see your comments now and again :D
I'm like Karyn, stories usually start as scenes involving characters - from there a plot developes around them etc.
I've only had one story start title first The Dragon's Daughter - not sure how that happened but a whole story grew out of that name and one day I'm gonna write it for my eldest daughter.
Off to check out those links now ...

Hayley E. Lavik said...

Hi Suse, it's great to see you posting here again.

My novel ideas tend to come in a slight mix of character and premise. A character strong enough to change over the course of a novel, and a hint of what they might do. How much of that remains is another story.

Short stories, however, are a different beast altogether, and a bit harder for me to make use of. It's in short stories where I'll get a what-if, or a detail, or sometimes an outcome inspired by something I've read. Thumbing through a volume of Uncle John's Bathroom Reader (you heard me ;) I read a fascinating story about a 'deadly lake', and loved the prospect of exploring that in a setting without science to explain what happened. What would people conclude? How would they react? Should it be the beginning or the end? So I have this idea, but I know a natural phenomenon alone isn't enough to make a story, and I'm waiting for characters or a bit of a low-key plot to stage in front of this idea. As of yet, still nothing.

Also, your prospect of writing your novel in first and third person sounds interesting to me. Reading it, especially if you started off with the heroine's first person pov, I think might create the impression that she's telling the whole story, including the hero's sections. Might be a good way to approach it. I've also heard of novels where one character was in past first-person, and the other (who had amnesia) narrated his sections in present tense first-person. Anything's possible!

Suse said...

Hi Anita, I hope your challenges are overcome with your current wip. I feel like I'm wandering around in a dark forest without a flashlight or compass. If you have any good tips to share about the process you're going through, I'd appreciate them.

Isn't it amazing how much we've learned since our first writing efforts. I don't know about you, but I thought my characters had excellent conflict with my first novel, but when other people talked about the conflict not being enough to carry the story, at first I didn't believe them, but I've since learned these comments were correct. I still would like to rewrite those characters' story, but make it stronger with conflict and goals that can sustain a novel.

Suse said...

Hi Ban, I think this is the first opportunity for us to "talk". And once the end of August comes, I'll probably be conspicuously absent from the comments section again. Thank you for your kind words about past posts.

It's interesting, and I suppose it's like life, that we all have our usual patterns of doing things. I think that's why I'm struggling with this current wip. I'm out of my comfort zone.

The Dragon's Daughter (great title by the way) suggests all kinds of possible stories to me in more than one genre. I'll be interested to hear your take on it.

Suse said...

Hi Hayley, short stories are definitely a different beast. I'm working on one for the SIWC contest but it seems like there's not a whole lot happening and I'm close to my word count. A lot of editing and rewriting is going to have to happen before this story is contest ready. I don't think writing a short story is any easier than a novel - it just concludes sooner. BUT the idea still has to sustain the length of the story, as well as not bore the reader, and I still will have to make sure my characters have goals. Sigh, more to think about.

I'm sure Uncle John's Bathroom Reader is a very good source of ideas. You'd be surprised (or maybe not, after all, you're a writer too) where I get some of my ideas from.

When you mentioned the deadly lake, it reminded me of a Blaze novel (Something in the Water by Jule McBride 2006) I read a few years ago. Apparently there is a virus in the water near the town of Bliss that they've nicknamed Romeo (love bug). It causes sexual mayhem for 7 days. A scientist has been sent to test the water, while the heroine is back in town to do a tv spot.

I'm eager to try the variations of pov. I guess I can always go back to 3rd person only, if it doesn't work, but it'll be fun to try. Thank you for your suggestion. I believe I will begin the novel with Vivianne in first person.

The amnesia story you mentioned sounds interesting. I'd like to read it and check how pov was done. If you know the title and author let me know, and I'll check it out.

Molli said...

Hi Suse. Coming out of lurk mode to do some catch up today, and thought I'd pass along a comment I read in the into to one of Linda Howard's books about how she'll "...write an entire book to get to one scene, one expression, one line of dialogue that was [to her] the heart of the idea." For the particular book concerned she wrote that the story was inspired, in her words, "... by a vision I had of a broad-shouldered man in a great tux, sauntering through the open veranda doors into a formal party, and every one who saw him falling silent. I saw their heads turning, the cool, dangerous expression in his eyes, and [the character] took center stage in her imagination. The entire book flowed from that one vision, that one scene..."

From what you've said it seems to me that Vivianne is as real to you as Howard's character was, so maybe you can try for another first and let your imagination bring up something a vision, too--maybe around the pronunciation of her name. You never know.....

Good to hear from you--I'll look forward to more.

Suse said...

Hi Molli, thank you for that tidbit about Linda Howard. I think that's how most of my stories usually start.

But this latest is totally different. I will take your suggestion about letting my imagination coming up with a vision for Vivianne.

I definitely feel like the tortoise with this story. Hopefully slow and steady will win this race.