Thursday, April 5, 2012

Doing the Advance Work

I'd planned to share a little more about conflict, but decided at the last minute to skip that until next week, when I've had more time to prepare.  And that's the word for today.  PREPARE.

Preparation is something we do for special things, such as trips and weddings.  We prepare for the weather with ice scrapers and snow shovels for the winter, and fans and lawn chairs for summer.  People in areas where hurricanes and tornadoes threaten plan where to take shelter during storms.  We even buy life insurance and have wills drawn up in advance to prepare for life's end.

Planning is another word for preparation and something we do nearly every day.  We set our alarm to wake us in the morning.  We often plan what we'll make for dinner and make shopping lists---especially as we mature and realize that, with so much to remember, we get forgetful at times.  We have calendars to remind of us doctor appointments, children's activities, and lunch with friends.  Nearly every waking moment of our lives we're either planning and preparing for something or carrying out those plans.

Preparation is the foundation of writing.  When a writer sits down, she must have some kind of idea of where her story will start, who the main characters are, a few things that could happen to those characters and very often how the story might end.  It's rare for a writer to sit down at a keyboard or with pen and paper in hand , with absolutely no idea of what to write.

As each person is different in how they prepare and plan in life, so is each writer.  Some tend to be able to take an idea for a story, add a character or two, and then take off writing.  Others do more planning in advance, knowing the smallest of details about each character and exactly where the story beings, what happens throughout, and how it will end.  The majority of us are probably somewhere in the middle.  For me, that middle spot works, but it took me a few years to find what was comfortable for me.

Here are a few tips for preparing to write fiction.

  • Know your genre.  The number of genres in fiction today is mind-boggling.  Do some research to learn about them all, then choose where you feel your writing--your stories--will fit.
  • Decide on the length of your story.  Whether your plan is to write a novel, a novella, or a short story, you'll need to have an idea of what the final word count will be.
  • Choose the setting of your story.  While this might seem insignificant for some, the setting of your story can be vital.  This is especially true for historical settings.  One can't write a Regency romance set in early 18th century North America.  Research is one part of preparation that shouldn't be skipped.  Even contemporary settings often need a bit of research.
  • Know your characters.  They need names.  Have an idea of what they look like.  Ask yourself what type of people they are.  There are hundreds of resources to help you know your characters better, so don't fudge on this.  If your characters aren't real to readers, there will be no interest in the story.  Remember GMC and use it.
  • Beginning, Middle and End.  Know where your story will start, a few things--especially turning points (more on that later)--that happen in the story, and how the story will end.
  • Grammar, spelling, and punctuation.  Brush up on grammar basics.  While there are some readers who don't notice small mistakes, others will close a book forever if they stumble over bad grammar, poor spelling, or missing/unneeded punctuation.
  • Find a good writers' group.  It really does help to have friends who share your enthusiasm and are there to help you up when you stumble.  People who don't write won't do.  You need other writers, even if it isn't live and in person.
  • Don't give up.  Let me repeat that.  DON'T GIVE UP.  If you really, really want to write, you can't throw your hands up when the road gets a little bumpy.  Stick with it.
The above is just a sampling of writing preparations.  Even after the plans are complete and the preps have been done, when the actual writing has begun, there'll be more that will pop up.  Don't be discouraged.  We didn't know everything about life the moment we were born, and neither do we know everything about our story when we start to write it.  But as writers, we have that chance to prepare and start a few steps ahead before the writing begins.  Take the chance.  Prepare.  And then write!
Tell the readers a story! Because without a story, you are merely using words to prove you can string them together in logical sentences.
- Anne McCaffrey

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