May 27, 2012

How I start a WIP

The 4 versions of my brain on new idea
Thanks to all our veterans present and past for your service. Happy Memorial Day.

Last week, I came up with a shiny new idea for another WIP. Sometimes those come from reading a news article, or hearing a folk tale or meeting a person so interesting, I wonder what would happen if that person were in such-or-so a position. This idea simmers for at least a few days while I decide if it's good enough to put any more effort into it.

I ask myself three questions.
1.  Where would this story end?
 2. What's the main conflict?
3.  What kind of person is my main character?

You'll notice I start at the end. Always, always, always. Because if I don't know where I'm going or if it's worthwhile to go there, I have no story.

If the possible answers to these questions have me interested to the point where I'm losing sleep at night and/or waking early to think over plot for an hour or so on a daily basis, I go to the next step: writing my blurb.
 The blurb is what sells the idea, whether you're pre-agented or you've already signed.( Check out the 'WIPS in my life' pages for samples of mine. Blurb writing is a whole other post, so I won't go into that here.) The blurb forces you to describe the character, the setting and the stakes in an exciting, concise style. When that's as sexy as you can make it, it's time to get outside opinion.

Before I had an agent, I did that in two places: an agent pitch contest and in a query I sent out to an agent I'd queried before, whom I knew responded quickly. (I don't necessarily recommend this because I knew I'd blow a request. My MS wasn't close to ready but my goal at that time wasn't to sign. It was to hook.) Now I send the blurb to Tricia, who gives a thumb's up or down. If she's not hooked, it's doubtful an editor would be.

Once my blurb is a go, I write the first chapter. Lots of people do more prewriting, such as character sketches, random scenes, etc. but I just dive right in.To a point. When the first chapter is on paper, my characters need places to go. So I write a timeline with entries and the necessary research for each chapter. Before doing this exercise, I was like a lot of writers who gave themselves a set time or word count each day, rather than a plot goal. But without direction, I spent the time doodling or staring at the screen feeling frustrated. Since I write a chapter a day, I don't stop writing until one of two things happens: either my chapter ends with a cliffhanger and an obvious lead-in OR I write a brief paragraph reminding myself of the next day's goals. That way when I sit down later, I don't lose momentum.

So that's my process. What's yours??


Hayley N. Jones said...

I'm much more slapdash - I tend to write around the idea and see where it takes me. My ideas usually are situations from which I develop the main character(s) and then the character(s) determines the plot.

Often, I reach a point where I need to stop and think things through in practical terms and work out the plot to figure out where I'm going. I think of it in terms as creating a substance (the brainstorming/freewriting) and then starting to mould it once I have enough.

Tasha Seegmiller said...

I have been using more of a connect the dots way to writing - I know what the dots are - big events, etc. that I want in my story. Then, in the drafting phase, I write the lines, so to speak, to connect the big events. Seems to be working more than other methods I've tried so far.

Suzi said...

Boy, I just tried to leave a comment and somehow it didn't work.

I start writing at whatever scene takes a hold of me. I've come to realize that many times, those are the turning points or some other major scene. After I've started writing, I organize my timeline and think about that more.

I've never written a pitch before the story though because sometimes I'm not sure exactly how it'll end.

I am trying to be more organized though and for my next WIP will attempt to outline (very basic)most of the scenes before I really get into writing. But sometimes those ideas take hold and I just want to get them out.

Rowenna said...

I write a blurb or query first, too! It helps to get the basics down--gives me a concept, the basic arc, the most fundamental "who cares" about the story. Plus, if I can't write a compelling short couple paragraphs about it, it probably isn't a very compelling story, or I'm not ready to write it yet :)

Carrie Butler said...

My ideas begin extremely fragmented. Seriously, look around my desk and you'll see notes full of random-looking words all jumbled together. From those, I make a rough outline, cue up some music, and dive right in. :)

Jolene Perry said...

I've had this idea pinging in my brain forever, but no ending made sense, so I never bothered with it.

Then it hit me driving home the other day and now I can't wait to dig back into it.

Nicole said...

I usually have a general idea for the ending when I start worldbuilding, and by the time I put pen to paper I know it very well. Until my characters tell me it needs to change, of course. ;)

Lynn Proctor said...

something just hits me and nags at me or i write about something true and add fiction

Daisy Carter said...

I thought I was a planner. But I'm learning it depends on the project. For some WIPS, I can see the beginning, middle, and end from the get go. Other times, I get an idea and know I just have to go with it and see. It's worth it to me to write 20 or even 50k to see if it'll pan out. Not time effective, but how my brain functions best.

Sometimes, if I try too hard, I outline a story so hard all the creativity gets sucked out of it, and I have to drop the WIP completely (for now).

elizabeth seckman said...

I also start with the ending; then I write up a summary of the story with a timeline, some character sketches...and then I write.

Carrie-Anne said...

I just go where a story takes me. Since I write sagas and interlocking series books instead of standalones, I have the luxury of getting to know these characters and their stories over many, many, many years and can develop lots of future storylines which I then keep memorized in my head, sometimes put down in writing in a basic outline or list of chapters. The idea of pre-planning everything along a specific story arc would drive me mad.

Liv said...

I start with a pencil and a piece of notebook paper and sketch out some basic ideas. Have been reading Save The Cat, and going forward will likely try the hook/blurb strategy first. Once I get stuff down on paper, I do an outline and start filling in the blanks (how many scenes till THIS landmark...what's the G/M/C for each scene). I'm usually writing and working on the outline at the same time.