When I create a new story it comes to me first with a scene. A character pops into my head doing something interesting. They catch my attention.
I don’t always know their name so I give them the first name that pops into my head. I know, at this stage of development, the name will most likely change.
In the Beginning (see why I call this story the Beginning?) I would follow the character as she/he led me through the scene and whatever scenes followed. But, contrary creatures that they are, they would finish that particular scene and then scamper off leaving me wondering what in the world happens next.
You see, I hadn’t mastered the concept of a plot. I didn’t know how to ask the character why you are doing whatever you’re doing. What caused it? Where is it going? Who are you? I simply didn’t know how ask the right questions to work out a plot.
So the scenes would die. The story would fade. And I’d be left once again with 60-80 pages of something interesting, but nothing useful.
But The Beginning was different. I found an online class, Holly Lisle’s How to Think Sideways, that gave me the missing tools. She taught me how to finish a story. She changed the way I think, the way I work, and the way I write. I am forever grateful to her generous sharing of experience.
What were the tools?
I learned that if you cannot put your story in thirty words, or less, you don’t know the story.
I learned how to create scene cards. If you can’t put each scene into one line, you don’t understand the scene.
I learned how to do the word math. With this tool I am able to figure out my genre and figure out my audience. Knowing those two things, plus knowing what my average chapter length is, I’m able to figure out how many words I need to make my story a book. Each genre and age group has an average number of pages. By knowing how many scenes I need to fill my word count, I know how many scene cards I need.
Scene cards are the #1 tool that have changed how I write. With them I can see at a glance where my story is light. I can control the pacing. I can figure out where the clues, or other important elements, need to be. I adore scene cards.
Learning all these skills gave me the control I needed to finish my books. I don’t write by following the character anymore. The characters still waltz through my head and dangle lures in front of me but I know now how to capture them. Store them. Use them. Build on them.
I wrote, and finished The Beginning but it wasn’t the story it needed to be. I still hadn’t mastered point of view. In the beginning ( do you notice a theme here?) I didn’t even recognize when I switched point of view. I didn’t understand why it was so important. But as I grew in my skill level, my understanding of how a book is structured grew.
I have two published books under my belt and two more lined up. Heck, I’ve got enough story ideas for the next ten years but there is only one ‘first’. And for me, that first is a story I called The Beginning.
I need to go back and make that story right.
I’m creating new scene cards. I have identified whose story it is. I’m restructuring the story to put it in the right point of view. I want to make the story work.
The first thing that came to me are the name changes.
There are four main characters. In the beginning, this confused me. I saw them as four equals. They aren’t. The story has to be seen through one of them. And I started it with the wrong character. I didn’t know any better. So, as I rewrite, I have to make the story belong to one character. Not four. I always planned for a series of four books; each book putting one character to the forefront.
Elizabeth (Liz) Jordan in the rewrite has become: Samantha (Sami) Reardon How do I know this story belongs to her? Because the last 1/3 of the book takes us back to her home. Back to her life. She is crucial to the storyline. If it ends with her, it has to start with her. So in the rewrite the story will be Sami’s
Scott McCloud in the rewrite has become: Grayson Fox The name came to me in a dream. I’ve learned not to discount that kind of information. I woke up knowing that Scott was Grayson.
Eric Jansen in the rewrite has become: Eric deWolf. Why? Because deWolf is a family name on my Dad’s side and when I saw it in our geneology I promised myself that I would use it someday. It’s a cool name and Eric gets it.
Jean Andrews is harder. I’m not sure yet what her name will be. I need it to be old-fashioned and rather plain. She’s a complex character. In fact, she’s the character who stepped into my head and enticed me to follow her. In the beginning, I thought the story was hers but it isn’t and the rewrite will have to show that.
The Beginning really was a beginning. It started me on a path of writing that has only grown. I’ve studied, practiced, spent hours sitting at a computer and driving my husband crazy. He sees the writing as wasting time. For me, it’s stepping into a world of magic transporting me somewhere else. I hope, as you read, you can follow me there.