In my post about the ways in which planning a novel and laying the foundation for a building are similar I started by asking some very basic questions about the story. The answers to the questions that I suggested you ask yourself in that post created a sense of the foundation of the story…what type of story…what length…the general theme of the story which provides some structure around what the story is ultimately going to be about. In today’s post, I want to probe a bit deeper and ask some more questions. These questions will help firm up the basic foundation but will also begin to develop the floorplan. We’ll be thinking about things like how many rooms…and what kinds of rooms we will need.
Most of us start with some kernel of an idea. For some people it is a character that walks into their mind and demands to have his or her story told. For others there is a scene or a place that tugs at the conscious and sub-conscious until an idea begins to form. For others there is an emotion or a theme that is the starting point for the idea.
The truth is you can start from any of these points and many others and pull together a saleable novel or story idea. However, there are some ways of thinking about the various pieces of ideas that your subconscious churns out that will help you to understand how the pieces of the story will fit together once you begin the writing. Knowing at the outset how the pieces fit together and what job each idea and each part of the idea plays within the story structure is valuable because understanding these things will allow you to write with fewer starts, stops, and points at which you have to rip out whole chapters and start again.
For many of us writing is about discovery. We write to discover something about our characters, our ideas, or to explore some element of the theme or some idea that we think might be true or to disprove some idea that we think is not true. Within a fictional framework we can safely play with the variant pieces to see what is true and not true or we can write and discover layers of our characters that resemble us and our friends. This is fun! It’s one of the big joys of writing!
The idea isn’t to take away the fun. The idea is to provide a way of thinking that helps us to explore more smoothly through the writing process…and to emerge at the end with a saleable manuscript.
I guess it should be pointed out that our ideas will not always come to us in the same order. What I would recommend is listing all of the questions (those from the previous post and those from this post and those from future posts) in a Word document. I would color them red since you’ll be using them as headings. Then as you fill in the pieces of the plot, theme, characters, conflicts, and so on you’ll be able to go to that area in the document and add those details. At the end you will have a working document that puts all of you our planning material at your fingertips. The way that the story pieces fit together will be in your mind because you will have worked it out as you’ve worked through the various posts presented here.
With the previous post we thought about what kind of story we wanted to write. We thought about that question within a few parameters. What kind of story, what sub-genre, what length, potential publishers, the general type of characters etc. We also thought a bit about theme and what we might want to explore or prove within the pages of the story.
In this post I want to talk a bit about plot because plot creates a basic framework for story and will govern things like the types of characters we need to people the story, the types of experiences they have had in their lifetimes, and similar things.
Romance novels have specific things that readers expect to find in a fairly specific order within their pages. The same is true for domestic discipline stories with a romantic relationship focus. We are not going to cover all of these in this post as the list is too long but we are going to talk about two main elements that readers of romance are looking for early in the story and that serve a functional purpose early in a romance novel.
One of the first things that happens in a romance novel is that the hero and heroine (or heroes and heroine, or hero and hero, or heroine and heroine, or other combination) meet.
At this point in the story two things come into play…underlying attraction which is often physical in nature, and either direct conflict or the seeds of a conflict that will be developed.
One could think of this as just a plot point but any time you have a plot point you also have elements of character that come into it. Plot and character are tied together. Think strands of that rough, twiney, sisal rope. The strands are tightly twisted together to make the rope. Plot and character are similar. The two are twisted tightly together to form story.
So as we are thinking about early novels where the characters first meet, we need to think about a couple of things. First, we need to think about what is going to provide underlying attraction. We also need to think about conflict and what is going to propel these characters away from each other and away from happy ever after.
The characters need to be both attracted to each other and simultaneously repelled.
Being repelled can happen at a personal level as in the hero doesn’t like the heroine because he thinks she’s a bubble headed airhead who gets by on her long legs and ample cleavage.
Conflict and seeds of conflict can also work at the relationship level. As in the hero doesn’t want a relationship with ANYONE.
Conflict and seeds of conflict can exist on the level of the specific character stands in the way or has in the past stood in the way of attaining other goals. For example the hero who is friends with the heroine’s father stands in the way preventing the heroine from taking over the running of the family ranch.
Any of these types of scenarios can work to provide the necessary conflict or seeds of conflict necessary at the point where the characters meet or reunite.
When thinking about the scene in which the characters first meet I would begin by asking:
What events bring the characters into each other’s lives at this point?
What attracts each character to the other character? Why is each character attracted to what they are attracted to?
What repels each character either about the other character or about relationships in general?
What incidents in the character’s history contribute to the character being repelled by the character or by relationships in general?
What incidents in the character’s history contribute to the character being attracted by the character or by relationships in general?
This is obviously not enough character development for the novel as a whole…but it is a starting point. This series of posts we’re working from the ground up and developing a basic framework for story.
At this point I just want you to think about the pieces of character that you need to make the scene where the hero and heroine meet for the first time work. Those things are the ones above. Once we know the bigger pieces we can always come back and fill in smaller details.