Monday, August 23, 2010

Monday Update and New Skin

I bet you can’t guess what I mean by “New Skin”. Am I talking about growing a thicker skin as a writer? Was I a burn victim, and now I have skin grafts?

No, but close. See, I was peeling potatoes yesterday. I am left handed. Let me tell you something: you right handed people have it made. You take so many tiny things for granted.

Like how your notebooks are bound (switch your pen/pencil to the other hand and see how much you like bearing down on a metallic spiral), what side of the car all the important stuff is (CD player, gear shift, the GAS PEDAL), all they way down to small kitchen appliances.

Like potato peelers. I can hold one in my left hand, but it’s always a little awkward, and when I get a particularly juicy potato, I almost always wind up peeling some of my skin off. Which is exactly what happened yesterday; I peeled part of my right pinky tip off. The peeler is relatively sharp, so I broke right into the nail and half way into the tip of my pinky.

It bled like a head wound. And it’s on the tip of my pinky, so a Band-Aid has no hope of staying on. The thing is, when you massage for a living, people don’t want you to touch them with your scabby hands (for some reason). My Dad suggested using New Skin. It’s from the makers of Band Aid, and it’s basically a liquid Band-Aid. It’s also antiseptic, and stings like a mother when you apply it to a fresh wound. But it did it’s job; the wound is closed and I was able to work today without having to massage with my pinky stuck up in the air, like we were having high tea or something.

I can also type without having an annoying lump on the end of my pinky and hitting all the wrong keys. Which makes writing this post so much easier, let me tell you.

In the progress front, I am doing very well. I seem to be building steam with my WIP, but I am neither frazzled with working on it, nor am I going so slow it threatens to become boring. This time around I am really paying attention to the pre-planning aspect of writing.

I am trying to find that elusive happy middle ground, between knowing nothing about the book, so when I get 30K into the book I run out of steam, but I don’t over plan the novel so much I don’t actually want to write it. Both of those scenarios have happened to me, several times.

The balancing act makes me a little nervous, but you don’t know until you try. I am trying to figure out critical information to make the plot run, and then I plan to drive right into writing.

The critical information, as I have deemed, is:

Main characters: The two protagonists, the antagonist, and two supporting characters.
Their compelling needs, what they would sacrifice anything for and what they wouldn’t sacrifice, names, and some basic description personality traits. Just enough to get a feel for the character, and be able to write a scene about them, but not so detailed that I can still get to know them through the story.

Setting: Since I am writing straight fantasy here, I have to do more worldbuilding on this project.
The city the novel will be set in, it’s basic cultural outlook, an extremely rough map, the overall climate and means of income for the population. I am avoiding, even though I am sorely tempted, of spending a month working on the planet, the city, the history, the flora, the fauna, and so on. I do have a basic idea of where the other cities are, but only because that’s relevant plot information.

History: Since the recent wars on the planet play a key part in the current events of the novel, I am also going to develop a rough sketch of key events in the past hundred years or so.
What war started when, and why. What affects this had on the population and the neighboring countries. When peace was declared and what fallout affects the war had on the subsequent generations.

Main plot: Summed up in one sentence including the protagonist, antagonist, conflict, setting, and one interesting detail that makes me excited about the plot. I learned how to do this sentence in the novel writing class I am taking at the moment, called How to Think Sideways, and it’s really helped bring my novel into focus without over planning.
I am also going to work out the key scenes that make the main plot run, the ending. For example, a murder mystery plot would have a few key scenes, the protagonist being assigned to the murder, two or three scenes of the protagonist trying to solve the crime, but being mislead/hindered, and when the protagonist captures the antagonist in the end.

Races: I have a slew of non-human races in this fantasy novel. But since only two races are featured prominently, I am just going to jot down some basics on the biology and culture of these races.

All of these categories are just broad strokes. The key is to figure out what you have to know to make the novel work. If you’re writing a haunted house mystery novel, you have to know how the haunting works. Is it sentient? Does the ghost of a child who died of Scarlet fever have to be put to rest? You don’t have to know the exact political hierarchy of the School Board for this particular novel (unless of course, the protagonist had something to do with it).

My goal is to have enough information to give me the barest of bones of a novel, while still allowing plenty of room for change and discovery. Then, after the novel is written, I plan to go back and flesh out what feels sparse.

It’s a little scary, honestly. I like to over plan, it makes me feel safe. There’s a stupid part of my brain that insists if I know the exact shade of blue the Crimiran Army wore three hundred years ago, my novel won’t suck. Pages and pages of character sketches, worldbuilding, plotting, outlining, maps, and drawings are my life raft while adrift on the ocean of writing.

But sometimes this planning turns out to be less of a life raft, and more a cement block.

We’ll see how it turns out. In the meantime, I am enjoying myself.

What about you guys? Have you tinkered with how much planning you do ahead of a novel? How did that turn out?


  1. I start with the bare bones myself and fill in the rest as I go. It really works well for me.

    Sorry to hear about your finger! Ouchy.

  2. Thanks Aubrie! I'm crossing my fingers. And the finger is healing up nicely.

  3. Aubrie, perhaps saying starting with the bare bones, after Elizabeth just peeled the skin off... well, maybe not the best thing to say. ;-)