Crafting a First Draft.
No two people write alike.
For me, it starts with an idea, a flash of inspiration. Then if it “feels” right, I will begin to write. I begin with my main characters and build a skeletal outline.
For example, the novel, Looking for Pork Chop McQuade, is entirely built around the opening sentence. I wrote one line and then I had to backtrack and figure out how the jar of pickles led to a love affair. I will plan my plot in small steps, but I don’t always stick to an outline, because my books aren’t formula I want each one to be its own “person” so to speak.
So the flash of inspiration comes, I hold onto it, mull over it, and then after a while, a plot begins to unfold in my mind.
An outline for Looking for Chop McQuade looked something like this: Overall gist of the story: A woman’s husband comes up missing. She sets out to find him and falls in love with the sheriff who is helping her hunt. I see it as important that I am able to sum up what my entire book’s about in one or two sentences. This keeps me focused.
Then I ask myself things pertinent to the story. In this one I asked, “Why does her husband come up missing? How does he come up missing?” Which leads me to think about what kind of person he is; I come to the conclusion that he is a conspiracy theorist and I began to build his character. I interview conspiracy theorists. I research them online. I visit forums and communicate with them, to help me understand their view of the world, then I put a twist on it, because most conspiracy theorists are just people who want to make sense of the world they live in and many of them have valid reasons for feeling the way they do, so I decide to focus on a possible mental disorder and I start researching paranoid delusional and interviewing the wives of such individuals.
So, now I have a background for this man. I research events that might have caused him to be this way. I read about a plane crash in Houstonville, KY, back in the 60s and I think, “How can I connect this event to this character? How does witnessing this event impact his life?”
Next, I focus on his wife. Why does she stay with him? What’s her background? What are her scars? Scars are what make a character fun to read, scars and quirks. I then go through her entire family and discover their scars, their quirks, their views of the world. These characters reveal themselves to me. In developing the sheriff, I went to a sheriff and his wife and interviewed them about their lives.
So, I work on plot development and character development at the same time. Other writers may do it differently, but for me, it goes hand-in-hand. The plot is moved by the character’s developing and the character’s development is influenced by the events in the plot.
So, here’s what a typical worksheet for my story might look like:
Cupcake—thin & dark-haired, determined, yet vulnerable and too trusting of her husband. She has been married since she was a teenager and has been straddled with duties to others her whole life. Duties to whom?
To her father: who suffered from a bad heart,
Her mother: five hundred pound woman who died when she was hit by a snack cake truck.
Her sister: Already 400 lbs and climbing, suffers from bouts of depression.
To Uncle Faucet: 94 years old and suffering from Alzheimer’s.
How does she make a living? I worked at a marina before. I remember it well. It makes a great “unexpected” occupation for my heroine. She’s a dock hand and she cleans houseboats.
Then I continue developing all of my leading characters as they come into the story. I build backgrounds for each of them, backgrounds that may or may not make their way into the story, but I know they’re there and because I know where my characters really are coming from, I can write them so real that they will seem like somebody you know in real life. I try to make them complex. Of course, there are the flat ones, but they are merely props to move the story along.
So, once I have a pretty good idea of who my characters are, I lay down a rough plot line.
For example I will divide the story into segments:
Part I: Before Pork Chop, Bob, disappears.
Introduces characters, leads up to Bob’s disappearance.
- Establish that Bob and Cupcake don’t live like normal people.
- Put foreshadowing into place as to the fact that Bob’s going to “disappear”
- Put foreshadowing & symbolism into place for things that will happen in the later chapters. Place small things in the story that will later be significant, like a ring in a box by the bed that he hasn’t worn since the day she gave it to him. The ring is symbolic of the way he sees her.
- Lead up to the part where Bob is missing.
Part II: The search for Bob.—during this section I really focus on the sheriff, Daniel, as he helps Cupcake.
- The search for Bob by locals.
- Search is called off.
- Sheriff [Daniel] gives up vacation time to help her find Bob.
- False leads, close calls. I weave mystery in as I go. I allow a lot of leave way for ideas to pop in my head here. There is no telling what’s going to happen to them on their journey. At this point, I haven’t decided if they are going to end up together at the end of not. I contemplate two versions and mull over alternate endings.
Part III: the climax—do they find Bob?
- How do they get to where they’re going?
- What actions do they take once they discover Bob’s true whereabouts, if they discover them?
Part IV: the aftermath, the wind-down, conclusion, finale.
Here I decide how I want to end the story. How much closure do I need in order to like this story?
Now, as I’m writing, I may have new character revelations that I have to go back and tweak. I may have new plot ideas that I have to go back and insert and when I do, I have to be sure and make it consistent throughout the story.
My “beta readers” get to see the manuscript. I have a small circle of people that I trust to read my work. Only one of these people is an actual writer. The rest are readers. I am writing for readers. I want to know what readers think. I choose readers with various personalities, because I want people with many different perspectives looking at the story. I value their opinions. I listen to their advice and if more than one of them tell me the same thing needs to be fixed, then I’ll fix it. For example, in Touched, two of my readers, who hadn’t talked to each other, called me and told me that they felt the opening scene, needed less detail and more action in order to lure people straight into the story. I followed their advice and was pleased with the result. Even I liked it better.
I edit myself. I have my sister edit. I hire a good editor.
I do edits, edits, edits, edits, edits, times infinity and revisions galore. I keep tweaking and perfecting. I may revise a book three, four, five, six times or more, until I’m satisfied that it is as best as I can make it.
Finding a Publisher.
I either publish it myself or I send out query letters to various publishers.
I swallow my pride, eat my ego and shamelessly engage in self-promotion. People think that only the proud and arrogant and super confident are capable of this. Let me tell you, it’s humbling for a reserved person to have to plaster themselves all over the internet and get up in front of crowds and say, “My book is great. Buy it.” But I do it anyway. I dance. I sing. I play guitar. I tell jokes…I do most anything that will put me in front of an audience where I can talk about my books, not because I love to be the center of attention. No! I do not! It kills my pride to have everybody looking at me, but I learned a long time ago that pride is our number one enemy if we ever want to succeed at anything in life. So I suck up my ego, humble myself and walk out on center stage and do whatever must be done to get my work noticed.
Well, my fellow writers, I hope that some of my little tips will be of use to you. I wish you all the best in your writing endeavors and if you don’t mind, leave a comment and let me know about your writing!