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#FirstDraft Planning Day 11: My Story Compass

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Today’s story-prep was originally supposed to come from Day 11 in the FirstDraft60 process: Ambitions, Inducements, & Entanglements (GMC). However, that was before I attended the meeting of my local RWA chapter and got an even better idea—which is to create a story compass.

Creating a Story Compass
This comes from the presentation “The Writer’s Compass: Plotting for the Directionally Challenged” presented by Terri Osburn at the January 20, 2018, Music City Romance Writers meeting.

Now, because this is someone else’s workshop, I can’t share much of the content beyond what she has on her own website promoting it:

Course Description:

Basic plotting techniques for writers who think “plot” is a four-letter word. Whether you’re just starting your story, or like us, you find yourself marooned and cannot imagine there is any way to get back to port (i.e. the end of your book), have no fear. Finding your way to “The End” of your novel is as easy as whipping out your compass and orientating yourself within your manuscript.

Find NORTH: characters and goals. Your characters and their goals are the most important aspects of the story. They are the story.

Find SOUTH: conflict and irony. Are your conflicts big enough to keep your characters and their goals in sharp focus? Have you injected a bit of irony into your conflict, making your characters do things they’d never do?

Find EAST: love and sexual tension. Love provides conflict for your Conflict since love is never convenient—and neither is sexual tension.

Find WEST: Happily Ever After. Finding a happy ending for your characters is the only cliché that never gets old.

Again, since this isn’t my intellectual property, I blurred out the specific questions that go with each of the compass directions—I just wanted to show how I’ve set this up in my story bible:

How are you doing on your 2018 project goals?

_______________________________________

If you’ve never done FirstDraft60 and want to try it, you can see the whole series at the #FirstDraft60 page linked in the header. The tasks do build on each other after the first several days, but you can move them around to best suit your style. Be sure to start with Day 1—Determining Your Commitment and Motivation with Guided Questions.

One Hour of Writing Time per Day
My one hour of writing time is scheduled for each day from 7 PM to 8 PM Central time. I’ll try to remember to send reminders on Twitter, followed by results afterward each day (after all, I do have time for social media scheduled both before and after the writing block).

If you’re playing along at home, you can join me at that time or set your own schedule for when you’ll be writing (or reading, if you’re not a writer!). Be sure to check in below in the comments or on Twitter or Facebook with your results!

#FirstDraft Planning Day 10: Character Casting and Physical Descriptions

Friday, January 19, 2018

Today’s story-prep comes from Day 10 in the FirstDraft60 process: Your Characters’ Physical Descriptions.

THIS IS MY FAVORITE PART OF THE STORY PREP PROCESS!!!

Part 1: Casting Your Characters
Anyone who’s been around me and/or this blog for any length of time knows that using Real World Templates (i.e., casting my characters with actors, models, public figures, etc.) is an integral part of character and story development for me. There would be no Stand-In Groom without the actor Peter Wingfield, who inspired the hero, George. In fact, I wouldn’t even have this current story idea to work on if it weren’t for Paul McGann in the Horatio Hornblower movies sparking the idea for the entire Ransome Trilogy.

I use a combination of pinning images of the Real World Templates to my story board on Pinterest, as well as placing reference images on the characters’ pages in my story bible . . . and I also usually set up a PowerPoint into which I save images of the characters—these are typically screen shots of the actors with certain expressions or body language that evoke ideas for my characters’ development or even for certain scenes.

For this series of story ideas, I cast the main characters in each one as I wrote out the basic ideas for the stories. So that was something I didn’t have to do for this story:
james-and-eleanor

James Yates = Arthur Darvill
Eleanor Ransome = Karen Gillan (adjusted for hair/eye color)

Part 2: Describing Your Characters
Because so much of how I describe the characters comes out when I’m writing—because I’m describing them through the eyes of the other viewpoint character—I try not to get wrapped up too much in writing out static descriptions of them in this process. I do need to know the basics, though:

Here are the areas I focus on when creating this part of my story bible:

Full Name:

Age:

Date of Birth:

Height:

Hair Color:

Eye Color:

Body type: (stocky, muscular, athletic, full-figured, slender, emaciated, etc.)—from the character’s viewpoint and in others’ opinions, if that’s important

Distinguishing marks/features:

Scars/deformities:

Body art/piercings/modifications:

Repetitive/habitual physical quirks: (i.e., biting fingernails, grinds teeth, pops knuckles, rolls neck when stressed, leg bounces/can’t sit still, etc.)

I fill out this information while looking at images of my Real World Templates (RWTs). And if I’m changing something about them—or if I need to see them in historical costume but they’ve never been in a costume drama from the right era—I go ahead and adjust the image in my photo editing software (which keeps crashing on me; I was able to use it to get Karen Gillan’s face on Emily Blunt’s photo from Young Victoria, but it crashed on me every time I tried to give her blue eyes). This is where having RWTs already picked out comes in handy—using Google Images, I’m able to look at these templates from different angles, in different clothes, and in high resolution so I can see if there’s anything physically unique to that individual that I can bring out.

How are you doing on your 2018 project goals?

_______________________________________

If you’ve never done FirstDraft60 and want to try it, you can see the whole series at the #FirstDraft60 page linked in the header. The tasks do build on each other after the first several days, but you can move them around to best suit your style. Be sure to start with Day 1—Determining Your Commitment and Motivation with Guided Questions.

One Hour of Writing Time per Day
My one hour of writing time is scheduled for each day from 7 PM to 8 PM Central time. I’ll try to remember to send reminders on Twitter, followed by results afterward each day (after all, I do have time for social media scheduled both before and after the writing block).

If you’re playing along at home, you can join me at that time or set your own schedule for when you’ll be writing (or reading, if you’re not a writer!). Be sure to check in below in the comments or on Twitter or Facebook with your results!

#FirstDraft Planning Days 7, 8, 9: Characters’ SHAPE and Writing the Opening Scene

Thursday, January 18, 2018

I’ve fallen a little behind this week—due to laziness and being “snowed-in” (don’t know if it counts when one works from home anyway, but everything here in Clarksville has been shut down since last Friday because of the six to eight inches of snow on the ground from two pretty major snow storms). So Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s story-prep (Days 7 and 8) comes from what was Day 7 in the FirstDraft60 process: Getting Your Characters into S.H.A.P.E.. Then, today (Day 9) is supposed to be a 1k1hr writing sprint in which I work on drafting an opening scene.

I’d planned to give each main character one day’s writing time—the Heroine on Day 7 and the Hero on Day 8. I did get the “S” done for the heroine yesterday, but then allowed myself to be distracted by a puppy who has discovered a love of playing in the snow that’s almost as tall as she is in temperatures well below freezing. And, really, since we rarely get snow like this in Tennessee that lasts as long as it has, I made an allowance for myself. But tonight I’m back to work, because, if nothing else, I need to firmly cement as a habit that from 7 to 8 PM daily, I will turn off all other distractions and spend time working on my writing project.

How do you S.H.A.P.E. a character?
As mentioned in the previous post on this topic:

This acrostic is something that I picked up at a retreat fifteen or twenty years ago, and I’ve taught it and used it with different groups many times since then. However, it’s only been in the last few years that I realized it would be great to help in developing/getting to know my fictional characters. It’s a great way to figure out who your characters are, which goes hand-in hand with figuring out their backstory, which we’ll be working on next week.

In other words, it’s a different way of creating a character chart/worksheet, but without feeling like it’s quite so clinical/structured or exhaustive (exhausting?) as most of those are.

As always, you can read the details of this task at last year’s post: #FirstDraft60 Day 7: Getting Your Characters into S.H.A.P.E.

Here’s the SHAPE chart for my heroine, Eleanor “Elle” Ransome:

Because I have built in extra time to the schedule this go-round, I’m not going to try to push myself to get James’s SHAPE chart finished today . . . especially since it did take my full hour of writing time to do Eleanor’s. And because I’ve yet to do the Day 9 task.

Day 9: Write an Opening Scene
This is not something that I built into the original FirstDraft process—and that is to take one day’s writing time each week during the prep month and actually spend it writing!

I do already have a head-start on this. Back before the holidays, on a day when my work computer took three or four hours to run updates and system checks, after I finished what work I could for the day, I pulled out a notebook and just started writing by hand.

It was the first writing I’d done in over a year, and it felt good. Even though my official one hour of writing-project time is up for today, before I go to bed tonight, I’m going to do a 1k1hr writing sprint and fulfill the Day 9 task to write (or continue writing) an opening scene and see how far I get!

How are you doing on your 2018 project goals?

_______________________________________

If you’ve never done FirstDraft60 and want to try it, you can see the whole series at the #FirstDraft60 page linked in the header. The tasks do build on each other after the first several days, but you can move them around to best suit your style. Be sure to start with Day 1—Determining Your Commitment and Motivation with Guided Questions.

One Hour of Writing Time per Day
My one hour of writing time is scheduled for each day from 7 PM to 8 PM Central time. I’ll try to remember to send reminders on Twitter, followed by results afterward each day (after all, I do have time for social media scheduled both before and after the writing block).

If you’re playing along at home, you can join me at that time or set your own schedule for when you’ll be writing (or reading, if you’re not a writer!). Be sure to check in below in the comments or on Twitter or Facebook with your results!

#FirstDraft Planning Day 6: Four Character Building Questions

Monday, January 15, 2018

Today’s story-prep comes from what was Day 6 in the FirstDraft60 process: Four Character Building Questions.

This is really the first time in this process that the tasks haven’t been focused on the more technical aspects of the preparation—getting things set up and in place. Today, I actually spent time thinking about my characters and what’s going on with them just beneath the surface. It’s a good place to get started with character development, as it starts looking at the main characters’ needs and desires, but only in how they relate to the other characters in the story.

Four Character Building Questions
The Four Character Building Questions are:

  1. Whose story am I telling?
  2. How do the secondary/minor characters connect to your viewpoint characters?
  3. What do your viewpoint characters need from the secondary/minor characters?
  4. As your story opens, who is the most important person in your viewpoint character’s life?

Please visit the original post for further details/information.

I haven’t thought much about Eleanor and James since I wrote the idea for their story nearly a year ago. (I was surprised, too, when I looked at the date on which I posted it—January 23, 2017!) I didn’t think I’d be able to write much about them, as the idea didn’t feel like it was fresh in my mind.

I should have known that Madeleine L’Engle is always right, though:

We must work every day, whether we feel like it or not, otherwise when it comes time to get out of the way and listen to the work, we will not be able to heed it (p. 24).

If the artist works only when he feels like it, he’s not apt to build up much of a body of work. Inspiration far more often comes during the work than before it, because the largest part of the job of the artist is to listen to the work, and to go where it tells you to go. Ultimately, when you are writing, you stop thinking and write what you hear (p. 149, emphasis mine).

I had planned on getting SHAPE started for either James or Eleanor tonight, but I had enough to write/think about with the Four Questions that I ran out of time. So that’s tomorrow’s task!

Four Character Building Questions

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Work Cited:

L’Engle, Madeleine. Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art. Wheaton, IL: Harold Shaw Publishers, 1980. Print.

#FirstDraft Planning Day 4: Making Lists–Characters and Settings

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Today’s story-prep comes from what was Day 5 in the FirstDraft60 process: Lists. Lists. Lists..

Lists of Characters
Yes. Lists plural. I have a spreadsheet format that I set up more than twenty-five years ago for creating and keeping track of families (and the Real World Templates for them). It’s the foundation for Bonneterre, Louisiana, in the days before it was even called Bonneterre! The original file, which I started using back in the early to mid-1990s and used up through when I was working on A Case for Love in 2009, had more than 650 uniquely named characters (and about 65–70% of them were cast, too) “living” in Bonneterre.

But I digress (as I am wont to do when it comes to making lists of characters and casting them!)

Tonight, I took the lists that I made for the Ransome’s Legacy series last year when I started working on the story ideas and made a master Names list:

On the right is the original spreadsheet I made with the family groupings for the characters involved in the Ransome’s Legacy stories (at least the main families tied to the original Ransome Trilogy). On the left is the master list of names—first names, last names, place names, and “other” (for example, Childers which is Collin Yates’s earldom title—Lord Childers). [Yes, Adeline Elizabeth changed to Adeline Henrietta when I wrote out the idea for her story.]

As I work on each subsequent story in this spin-off series, I will continue adding to this list—secondary characters, cities, towns, villages, estate/house names, ship names, and so on. This is the main reason I did it in Excel instead of OneNote—because with as long as this list will become, I need an easy way to figure out if I’ve already used a name (or a similar name) or not. And being able to sort this list alphabetically is the best way I’ve found to do it.

Why go to all this work?

Because I’m really bad about remembering if I’ve used a name or not. And because I have written so many stories, it’s hard to remember whether I’ve used it in what I’m currently working on or if it was in a previous book/series.

How do you keep track of your characters’ and place names when you’re writing?

Settings
This wasn’t so much making lists as it was setting up pages in the Settings section of my OneNote notebook for the settings I know I’m going to use as well as potential settings, depending on where the story takes me.

Witherington House in Philadelphia Sea Steamer

Because my setting is historical, just about any setting I use involves some measure of research. Tonight, that centered on Michael and Serena Witherington’s grand town house in Philadelphia and the sea steamer that will take Elle from Jamaica to Philly. Yes, I used a sea steamer in Follow the Heart and still have all of that research saved in my OneNote story bible for that book. But that takes place eight years after this . . . and technology for sea-going steam engines changed drastically in that time (from side paddle-wheels to screw propellers) which means the look and layout of the ships themselves changed drastically—as did their speed and reliability. Could I have used the 1851 info and just assumed no one else would know the difference? Sure. But I would know. And it would bother me, even if no one else caught on.

As you can see, not only do I collect images, but I also collect details on these settings—even if I’m going to fictionalize them later (as I will with the Witherington house; it won’t be that exact historic home, but based on it). This list-making process gives me a good start on it. And for those pages on which I don’t really have any information yet, I at least created the page to remind myself I was thinking that the story might go in a certain direction.

How do you keep track of not just images but also details of your settings?

_______________________________________

If you’ve never done FirstDraft60 and want to try it, you can see the whole series at the #FirstDraft60 page linked in the header. The tasks do build on each other after the first several days, but you can move them around to best suit your style. Be sure to start with Day 1—Determining Your Commitment and Motivation with Guided Questions.

One Hour of Writing Time per Day
My one hour of writing time is scheduled for each day from 7 PM to 8 PM Central time. I’ll try to remember to send reminders on Twitter, followed by results afterward each day (after all, I do have time for social media scheduled both before and after the writing block).

If you’re playing along at home, you can join me at that time or set your own schedule for when you’ll be writing (or reading, if you’re not a writer!). Be sure to check in below in the comments or on Twitter or Facebook with your results!

#FirstDraft Planning Day 3: Continue Story Structure/Timeline Setup

Friday, January 12, 2018

Today’s story-prep is a continuation of tasks that come from what was originally Day 4 in the FirstDraft60 process: Story Structure & Timeline. You can see in yesterday’s post what I got accomplished and what I need to know/do in order to start working on a more specific chronology for my story.

Tonight, I created calendar pages for 1843–1844:


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I also did some research on steamships of the 1840s and how long it would take to sail from Kingston, Jamaica, to Philadelphia. I found a great website, Sea Distances, which not only shows the distance between two ports, but calculates the time at sea for an average speed of travel. Using that, I determined that it would take a side-paddle sea steamer packet between 8 and 10 days to travel directly to Philadelphia from Kingston.


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And tonight, I got so caught up in what I was doing, I was surprised when the timer went off to tell me it was time to stop. I actually had to check it just to make sure I’d set it for a full hour and not half an hour. I LOVE it when I get caught up in story-work stuff like that!!! (Of course, it’s never been prep work or research that’s been the problem for me—it’s the actual writing work that I struggle with falling into and losing myself these days.)

If you’re following along, how are you doing with your prep work?

_______________________________________

If you’ve never done FirstDraft60 and want to try it, you can see the whole series at the #FirstDraft60 page linked in the header. The tasks do build on each other after the first several days, but you can move them around to best suit your style. Be sure to start with Day 1—Determining Your Commitment and Motivation with Guided Questions.

One Hour of Writing Time per Day
My one hour of writing time is scheduled for each day from 7 PM to 8 PM Central time. I’ll try to remember to send reminders on Twitter, followed by results afterward each day (after all, I do have time for social media scheduled both before and after the writing block).

If you’re playing along at home, you can join me at that time or set your own schedule for when you’ll be writing (or reading, if you’re not a writer!). Be sure to check in below in the comments or on Twitter or Facebook with your results!

#FirstDraft Planning Day 2: Basic Story Structure and Timeline Setup

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Today’s story-prep tasks come from what was originally Day 4 in the FirstDraft60 process: Story Structure & Timeline. Yesterday, I posted the progress on all of the tasks in the comments; today, I decided to do it as the day’s blog post itself.


Assignment 1: Create a section in your Story Bible for your story outline and synopsis.

    Have you ever outlined your story before writing? Do you have a favorite outline structure you’d like to share? What are your concerns with trying to outline if you’re a solid seat-of-the-pants writer? What do you think will be the biggest challenge for you if you’ve never outlined ahead of time before? Do you know enough about your story that you can start filling in a structure chart like the Seven Story Beats? If you don’t like the Seven Story Beats structure, what do you think might work better for you?

Have I ever fully outlined a novel before writing it? No. Had more than just a vague idea written down before starting to write the manuscript? Yes. As you probably already know, I like using the Seven Story Beats from Billy Mernit’s fantastic craft book Writing the Romantic Comedy (which, according to Amazon, I purchased on April 11, 2008; so you can see just how long I’ve been using it!). So I set up the page and table in my story bible and went ahead and filled in what I have from my brief story idea. As you can see, it gets into the Rising Conflict (Beat 4) part of the story. I always like to know at least that much before I start writing. I may or may not know Beats 5, 6, or 7 before I get there in the writing process, though. I started out as enough of a seat-of-the-pants writer that I find writing more interesting and fun if I don’t know exactly where it’s going before I get there.

Oh, and I’m already changing the opening from what I wrote in the original story idea. It gets the story moving faster. And I do love a hidden-identity plot!

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Assignment 2: Create or find a calendar/timeline format to use to track the timeline of events for your story.

    Have you made a point of tracking (“calendaring”) a story’s timeline before? How did you do it? What method do you think will work best for you with the manuscript you’ve chosen for this challenge? What do you already know about your story’s timeline (such as holidays or historical events that have to fall on certain dates) that you can start plugging in?

Here’s what I know about my story’s timeline: It starts in 1843 and ends by April 1844 (as per the epilogue to Ransome’s Quest). Elle and James will be in Philadelphia through winter/Christmas with James trying to break through her stubborn resistance.

Here’s what I need to research: The length of time it took the steamships of the 1840s to travel from the Caribbean to Philadelphia. How long Elle and James’s engagement will be (because, again as per the epilogue of Ransome’s Quest, there’s somewhere they both have to be in April of 1844).

Here’s what I need to know about my story before I can set a timeline: I need to know some more specific details and scenes that will take place in the midsection of the book (Beats 4, 5, and 6) to know just how long it’s going to take for Elle to fall in love with James and agree to return to Jamaica and marry him. I can, however, go ahead and set up calendar pages in Word (with a link on the Story Chronology page in OneNote) for seven or eight months from mid-1843 to April 1844.

If you’d like to see a much more elaborate example of a story’s timeline tracking, check out the Day 4 post from 2015.

_______________________________________

If you’ve never done FirstDraft60 and want to try it, you can see the whole series at the #FirstDraft60 page linked in the header. The tasks do build on each other after the first several days, but you can move them around to best suit your style. Be sure to start with Day 1—Determining Your Commitment and Motivation with Guided Questions.

One Hour of Writing Time per Day
My one hour of writing time is scheduled for each day from 7 PM to 8 PM Central time. I’ll try to remember to send reminders on Twitter, followed by results afterward each day (after all, I do have time for social media scheduled both before and after the writing block).

If you’re playing along at home, you can join me at that time or set your own schedule for when you’ll be writing (or reading, if you’re not a writer!). Be sure to check in on Twitter or Facebook with your results!

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