Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Under Construction: Stories and Writing Goals

January 2017
"If your work-in-progress is like a house under construction, you know the real strength lies in what you can't see: the foundation, the supports, the wiring..." --Heather Webb

New year, new writing goals and dreams. Where do we start? What gets our attention first? How do we build on whatever progress has already been made? Do we have a plan?

I gave this some thought as the new year unfolded, with consideration toward writing goals and projected progress for the months ahead. I also pulled together random notes and journal entries on my WIP, discovering along the way that quite a bit more groundwork has already been laid out for that WIP than I realized. Happy days.

Has this ever happened to you? You pull out journals. You open notebooks of research. You review character sketches you forgot you had and setting details that are like new all over again. You make a list then of where you are and where you'd like to be, and suddenly you see your story more clearly. Even if you're more of a panster than a plotter, you stumble upon a likely outline. Like a fresh wind blowing or a green shoot sprouting from a stone wall in the dead of winter (which I discovered coming in from a walk the other day), you feel a renewed sense of encouragement. Let the writing jump to life--your story under construction is in better shape than you thought.

Build on that.

Comparing the writing of a novel to that of building a house is not a new concept, but it is a helpful analogy. For example:

1. Draw up a blueprint. Heather Webb (quoted above) writes on this concept in Blueprints for a Better Book (February 2017 Writer's Digest). She suggests starting with a working pitch, a synopsis, scene outlines, character profiles, timelines, storyboards.

2. Frame your project. K.M. Weiland in 7 steps to Creating a Flexible Outline for Any Story addresses both the panster and the plotter by linking the power of the outline with a mindset of flexibility and discovery. Her steps to the story's framework consist of 1. crafting your premise; 2. sketching out scene ideas; 3. interviewing your characters; 4. exploring your settings; 5. writing your complete outline; 6. then condensing your outline and 7. putting your outline into action. "Remember," she concludes, "your outline is a map showing you the route to your destination, but that doesn't mean it is the only route." For our purposes can we say the outline is our frame but we can rearrange walls if we so choose. Happily I can say I've progressed already to #7.

3. Gather Tools. William Holland in his online article How to Write a Novel: A Blueprint for Success lists the basics: working title, working genre, working point of view, high impact summary, main characters, setting, character conflicts, character goals and motivation, plot conflicts. Again, nothing new to the writer already on the job site, but always a good review. You don't want to discover part way into the project that you're missing an important tool.

4. Build on the plan. Karen Wiesner in Your Novel Blueprint adds to the structure with her Story Plan Checklist. She writes, "The Story Plan Checklist can ensure cohesion between character, setting and plot." This list builds on Holland's tools above, adding such concepts as external and internal monologues, story sparks, and symbolic elements.

5. Show up for the job. This is what I'm all about in this new year. I was happy to see the progress I've made, but I want to make more. Jane Friedman helps us to stay the course when she writes about Do You Know What You're Capable Of? at WriterUnboxed. She references NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) but her words can apply to any of us. She says "...any...challenge that you might set for yourself...gives you the space to figure out how you'll develop the habit or discipline of showing up, day after day, to get the work done...You learn to just get on with the work, and put in the miles, regardless of what's happening around you, and before you know it, it's been two loops around the trail." Or another chapter. Or a finished book. My good friend and writing partner Connie has made it her goal to write at least one sentence a day this year--a worthy goal for a busy writer. All stories get written one sentence at a time!

The year is new, and promising. It's time to roll up the sleeves, gather tools, and see what words we will cement together, what stories we will build. Are you ready?

And guess what? You don't have to secure a builder's permit. You've had permission all along!