So, you followed last week’s little walkthrough and think you have a decent idea to work with? Congratulations! You’ve just about passed the stage that most aspiring writers stumble at. But, before you get too generous with the champagne, hold fire, because there is still a lot of work to do. And, if you’re planning to celebrate every little milestone with champagne, then you could run yourself into the ground financially in no time. Trust me: I like champagne.
Here are three rather simple but effective methods you can follow to try and get the most out of the basic idea you have devised:
1. Interview yourself
This technique is one I discovered in Jurgen Wolff’s ‘Your Writing Coach’. Whilst I wouldn’t recommend following any book religiously, Wolff’s guide does introduce some rather positive suggestions, especially for the ‘ideas’ stage. Wolff suggests that you should pose the question, ‘Why?’, and ask yourself why you want to work on the particular idea you have chosen, as a starting point. The idea is that through repeatedly asking ‘why?’, like a nagging child, you will not only learn just how much you really want to write the book, but begin to scratch the surface of plot elements and character motivations. Yes, really: all that information gathered from a little, annoying, three letter word. For example, if I had an idea about a killer wasp terrorising a beer garden, I would ask myself, ‘why write such a novel?’ Well, that’s because wasps are a common source of terror, and a huge, killer wasp is only likely to be scarier. ‘Why?’ Because the characters in my beer garden are… well, terrified of wasps. ‘Why?’ Um, because they are allergic to stings. ‘Why?’ Okay, scrap that idea. You get the picture.
2. Think about character, but not too much
Once you’ve got a bit of flesh on the bones of your idea after step one, start to think about character a little more. Wolff suggests writing out lengthy profile documents outlining every miniscule detail about each character, and this is undoubtedly a strong approach. However, I find this method tedious, and prefer to let my characters grow and develop as I write. It makes the journey just as exciting for you, the writer, as it is for the reader, getting to know and understand the finer details of your character as you work. Although, do not use this as an excuse to ignore some ground rules. You absolutely need a consistent character, with certain obstacles to overcome, and with particular motivations. I understand that humans, by their very nature, are inconsistent, but try too hard to express this in the early stages of writing and it’ll come across forced, thus breaking audience engagement. If you want inconsistent characters, write a soap opera, not a novel. So: motivations and obstacles. They are integral rules of character, and have been for centuries. You can play around with them later in the writing stage, but for now, you need to stick to ‘em.
3. ‘Once upon a time…’
Now that you have a brief understanding of plot and character, I would recommend giving the ‘fairytale approach’ a shot. I know what you’re thinking: ‘fairytale approach? Who do you take us for?’ Actually, the fairytale is one of the most effective and useful documents you’ll create, bar your manuscript. Start with the words, ‘Once upon a time…’ and adapt your idea to fit within the framework. So, for the wasp idea (I just won’t let it drop), it might start something like this: Once upon a time, there were a couple of people enjoying a tasty beer in the sun. Their names were… Beatrice, and… Hans. Beatrice and Hans liked each other very much. But, just as they were about to hold hands, a beast of a wasp swept down and knocked Hans’ pint all over Beatrice, stinging the other customers in a mad frenzy. The customers were very scared, but soon laughed the monster off, as they were not allergic to wasp stings. Lucky buggers! Hans, however, was terrified. He was stung by a wasp just a year before, and ended up very poorly… okay, I’ll stop there. Hopefully you see the point: it provides a basic outline of how your novel will progress, complete with motivations and obstacles. You don’t have to stick to this obediently in your manuscript, but it provides a nice blueprint for the time being. Damn, I was enjoying that wasp story too much.
I hope you’ve found these tips helpful. What are your favourite ways of developing ideas? Do you let your characters grow naturally, or prefer to have everything organised well in advance?