Wednesday, March 3, 2010

What's the Big Idea?

It’s time to start revising my NaNoWriMo project. The nasty first draft I ended up with after an intense November of writing with no editing allowed. I followed the strict philosophy of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and did not indulge in any revising. None whatsoever. Zip. Zilch. Nada.

I believe it was Nora Roberts who famously stated: "The most important thing in writing is to have written. I can always fix a bad page. I can’t fix a blank one." Well, I’ve written two hundred and fifty four pages now we’ll see if I can fix two hundred and fifty four pages. Seriously, there’s not a one of those pages that doesn’t need rewriting.

I also figured since I have the first draft written now would be a good time to explore the idea or my premise for this work. In his book, Writing the Breakout Novel, Donald Maass says, “A breakout premise has plausibility, inherent conflict, originality and gut emotional appeal.” The premise is the foundation on which it all must stand. Well, as long as there’s no pressure.

Perhaps a better idea would be to reread the thing first, no matter how painful, since it’s been three months since I’ve looked at it. I can take an objective look at the story after having taken a break from the initial spewing and hammer out some basics such as theme, premise, and character arcs, etc. The goals of my characters should revolve around the premise; therefore the premise will dictate the path they take to achieve their goals.

I might even find these things woven into the first draft, waiting for me to notice and build upon them. As Susan Bell says in The Artful Edit: “You may choose a leitmotiv (theme) early on, or discover one embedded in your draft when you edit.” I suspect when I look it will be there.

After all, to get the story going I had to have a starting point - an idea. One of my favorite movies of all time is Notting Hill. I love that movie and taped to the wall of my office right in front of me is a quote by Richard Curtis, Screenwriter for Notting Hill:

“When I was lying sleepless at nights I would sometimes wonder what it might be like if I just turned up at my friends’ house, where I used to have dinner once a week, with the most famous person at that time, be it Madonna or whomever. It all sprang from there. How would my friends react? Who would try to be cool? How would you get through dinner? What would they say to you afterwards?
That was the starting point, the idea of a very normal person going out with an unbelievably famous person and how that impinges on their lives.”

I like the idea of a picture or a snap shot of an event captured in my mind and being able to write a story around it. Initially I think the idea my NaNo work-in-progress revolved around the thought of a heroine in her late twenties confronted by an attraction to a much younger hero, say about twenty-two years old, and resisting because she though it was crazy, potentially messy and a distraction. But then she decides to go for it. All the while intending to keep it light as well as a secret and thinking what’s the worst that could happen?

“Four basic premises of writing: clarity, brevity, simplicity and humanity.” William Zinsser

How about you? Do you hash out things like theme and premise? Or do you let them work themselves out into the work-in-progress? Do you give them a thought at all?


connie said...

Morning Karyn,
I think I am up earlier than Janet today!
I go at it by day dreaming to get to sleep about a character and their problem and then start writing or when I am driving to Saskatoon.
Starting with a premise i.e. the ring as part of a story, doesn't work well for me. I am stuck currently with how to make the importance of the ring much stronger.
I tend to do the biggest part of editing as I go along. "Oh. What if he did this instead? What if she did this?" and so on. I still have to go back and edit a lot more when the story is finished, which I hate even more than getting rid of stuff to find the basement.
A thought provoking blog.

Captain Hook said...

Good post, Karyn.

I definitely don't start with things like premise. Characters or a freeze frame image type thing always kickstart my stories.

If I start with a character, I build that character into a real person, then ask myself "What is the worst thing they can suffer through and survive - physically and emotioinally?" The story comes from that.

If I just have a picture in my mind of something happening (like with Absolutely Livid I just had a flash of this woman in a greem leather outfit holding a man to the ground while she held a knife to his throat), then I need to figure out exactly what's happening. Is the lady in the leather a robber? Murderer? Or is she good? If she's good, why is she attacking this man?

Basically it's just all questions and the answer to one usually leads to about 5 more. Just by answering those questions, I get the rough draft.

Editing is when things start coming together. Motives become clearer, same with the true personalities of the characters.

Janet said...

Great post, Karyn - but now you've got me thinking (and it's way too early in the morning for that).

I don't think about premise or theme when I'm writing - I just write. I think that if I took the time to do that, it would come to a screaming halt and I would find it very difficult to continue (not think, know - it's happened many times). That first draft has to be sans technical stuff - Nora said it best, there's no fixing if there's nothing to fix.

Good luck with finding your premise and your theme - you've got your first draft; so you're on your way :)

Karyn Good said...

Hi, Connie. My gosh you're an early riser! Using the quiet times to develop characters, plot or hash out details, etc. is an excellent idea.

Good luck with developing your ring story. It's such a great concept.

Karyn Good said...

Hey there, Captain Hook. I loved the flash image example you used from Absolutely Livid and the idea of questions leading to more questions. So true!

Once I've written the first draft I look forward to the editing process for the exact reasons you mentioned. I think figuring out a premise will help me strengthen the road the characters have to travel.

Karyn Good said...

Hey, Janet. The first step is definitely writing the first draft. Once that's done you can get in there and dig around and see what kind of patterns emerge. That's the fun part of being a pantser, seeing what you've got to work with at the end of the first draft. It'll be interesting to see what comes to me.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Karen,
I always have to start with a premise. "What if fa irefighter fell in love with a fire bug?" "What if an old man is given the opportunity to go back in time for a second chance at love?" Then I find characters that fit that premise and work on their motivations, conflicts, goals. Can you tell I'm a plotter? It doesn't really matter from what angle you start. Whatever works best for you is the right approach.

I think you're wise to reread and get a feel for your story again. I just started editing the story I began during BIAW in January and I've already forgotten parts of it!

Have fun editing!

Joanne Brothwell said...

Hi Karyn,
Interesting post. I would have to say I don't start with premise at the outset, it sort of evolves as I go. That being said, I am taking this course through Forward Motion for Writers and I am pretty sure that premise will be one of our assignments prior to any actual writing takes place. Once I am done the course I will have to look back and evaluate which works better for me.

Silver James said...

Hi, Karyn. Interesting that you are going back to your NaNo WIP. I'm finally getting back to the rewrite on mine from the first year I participated. Talk about being on the back burner! It's taken me this long to come to gripes with the rewrites it needs. I was afraid I was either too close (and in love with) the thing or it was too broken to ever get fixed. I think I've found the middle ground.

I start off with a "what if", usually. Sometimes a character springs to life and I can build the "what if" around her/him. For the NaNo project I'm going back to, I started with the MC. Sade lived in my head for a long time before the story and the other characters started to gel. Even then, I wasn't sure of a lot of things until I got to the end. Then, like a jigsaw puzzle worked with the picture side down, when I turned it over, I *saw* the arc, and the threads leading to other books.

Good luck with the edits and revisions!

Karyn Good said...

Hi, Jana. The more I write the more I see the value in doing some plotting and hammering out things like theme and a premise,etc., which would towards developing goal, motivation and conflict, at least for me,. You're right, the only thing that matters is finding the right individual process.

I'm definitely going to reread the first draft and reacquaint myself.

Karyn Good said...

Hi, Joanna. It's great to be able to experiment and work with different methods to see which one fits. Keep us posted on how your course is going. I'm very intrigued by the concept. Happy writing!

Karyn Good said...

Thanks, Silver. Okay, this next project sounds very interesting and I'm glad you've found the middle ground you needed so you could move forward. I'm sure it will be a success!

I like the idea of building a bunch of 'what if' scenarios around a central character and going from there. Good luck with Sade and your revisions!

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Karyn, I usually start with the 'What if...' question, too. Then once I have a premise that feels right, I go right for the characters.

I said 'usually' because as an inspirational writer, I have to figure in the 'God' angle too and sometimes I think of that first.

Excellent post.

Autumn Jordon said...

Karyn, Great post. I usually just start with a first line. Honestly, the line pops into my head and I just start writing. Then I play if and write synopsis.

Karyn Good said...

Hi, Anita. It sounds like you have developed a process that works for you. Keep up the great work!

Karyn Good said...

Hi, Autumn. It's always interesting to hear the process other writers use. As someone currently trying to write a synopsis for a revised wip I'm wondering if writing one first might not be the way to go!