Well, today is one of my favorite days in writing books. Today is what I call my book and characters ‘birthdays. Although I’m already fairly familiar with the main characters of the short story, I obviously will need a much fuller picture of these characters and supporting cast to effectively expand the short version into a longer manuscript: Today, I (re-)create the people and environments involved.
Synopsis and Character List
For most writers, this step is obvious. If I have no idea of the story I want to write and a firm silhouette of who it is that will lead my story, I can’t write a story. In this scenario, I already have the protagonist and the antagonist as well as the three primary supporting characters within the short story. However, that was for the short story. This endeavor is to expand that into a much longer story.
So what do I need to do? Rewrite the general synopsis into one befitting a full-length novel. I need to add a few more sub-crisis points or allow for them, anyway. I need a general outline as well. The outline won’t be completely filled yet, but I want a general guide upon which to start creating my actual plot.
Then I need to know what characters are involved and how important they might be. This character list may or may not be included in the actual book, but I want it for my own reference to both create the appropriate level of biography and for the right level of plot involvement later.
After all, you can’t navigate effectively in a new city without a map, could you? Why navigate writing a book without these guides? Folks, these are imperative to keep you on track, help avoid writer’s block and to remain consistent. More on that later.
Why? Because if a writer doesn’t know the characters involved as well as or better than she knows herself, how can the characters be “real?” How can any author ask any reader to suspend disbelief, allowing the possibility of full immersion, if the people aren’t true to character and to background? How can any author be consistent in a character’s mindset, sustain a transition, and react to a crisis if the author just “wings it” all along? Sorry, folks, but any writer who doesn’t detail a life story for each primary character and a pertinent bio of the supporting characters is doomed to disappoint, irritate and alienate readership. And that, my friends, is literary sacrilege.
I love the J.D. Robb novels. I was hooked from the first page of the first one I read, which was not in chronological order, I’m afraid to admit, but I really like strong female protagonists. (Hey, I’m a female. Deal with it.) The futuristic setting appealed to the sci fi fan in me, but it wasn’t so far into the future that I couldn’t easily picture the native city just that far ahead of contemporary times. I read, and I searched. I bought, and I gobbled it up, and I immediately searched for more. A little over a year ago, I had my hard copy collection stolen by an ex-roommate, but lo and behold, I found every one of them online in e-book format. I spent lots of money ensuring I’d never have them stolen again, let me tell you. I even went so far as bookmarking a site that had the series in order.
I started from the first one, continued to and through the second one, and so on until I’d read every one back to back. I even ordered in advance the next release, which came in April. Yes!!
However, sorry to point this out, Nora Roberts, but you disappointed me. It’s probably a minor point that may not have been noticed if I’d not been on a marathon read, but you were inconsistent in a seemingly important detail of the first meeting of Dallas and Roarke between the Roarke’s memory presentation early on and his recollection later on. Yes, memories can fade over time, but do you really think that a guy who carries everyday a lost button in his pocket would actually make that kind of memory mistake? Heck, he remembers their anniversary, for goodness’ sake!
I can’t claim I’m the only one who noticed that, but it slipped past the author, her agent and the editor. And it shouldn’t have. That detail should have been noted permanently in not just a plot outline but in the “as a couple” biography and available for reference at any time — especially in a series situation, for changing the past of a character insults the avid fan who, like me, grabs up anything written as a promise of a darned good story.
Writing a complete, minutely detailed biography helps you stay on course with a character, maintain continuity, whether as a stand-alone novel or in a (possible) series situation and keeps you honest as a writer.
I will also paint a portrait to myself of the environments involved. In this case, the environments are of particular town involved in some of the scenes, including a brief bio of minor characters, above, and the primary environment, a Louisiana bayou. Why? Because it has to be real to be believable even in fiction. An author can create an environment that doesn’t exist, and so long as the author remains true to the setting, the laws, the attitudes, the physical characteristics involved, all is well. However, if you write about anywhere on Earth — whether the town, country or other locale actually exists or not, you must obey the laws of physics, roadways (as in the fact that roads/pathways are used), adjusting for time frame, such as “Beam me up, Scottie” or hailing a cab.
You have to know those parameters before you can describe them and use them in your story.
Even if you don’t use every detail of character bios or environmental settings, write them down, for the more thoroughly you describe them before you start your story, the more believable your story will be. And believability, regardless of setting, time, plot or dialogue, initiates Step One on the path to literary success.
Step Down from the Ego, Please
I’ve heard “writer” after “writer” say that he or she doesn’t need to do this, that he or she’s, in paraphrased essence, “able” to write without doing this. After all, look at the titles list on the writer’s website or a fan fic site or … or … or ….
However, how many of those have sold and actually sustained profit? Anybody, and I do mean anyone, can write a book. However, there are so many stories with truly excellent plot lines that were ruined by poor writing, careless writing, and rude writing that it’s painful. I’ve read some by very talented authors who couldn’t sustain a plot to save one’s life. Yet each type of “writer” has accolades from avid fans on the Internet…
- Who either got caught up in the hype about being a beta reader,
- Who are too polite or shy to tell the truth, for who but a professional critic will tell someone who is so “obviously” popular that a story stinks,
- Who knows only “like” from “dislike” and not a clue of “good” from “bad.”
Every one of these prolific writers who point to a titles list as a badge of legitimacy either don’t use these critical steps, or they don’t use them fully enough and end up with a story full of contradictions, omissions and missing details that can be crucial, or too many loose threads for satisfaction.
“Prolific” and “proficient” are two entirely different words.
Especially when you are writing actual books for publication in any form or mode, don’t show such disrespect for the silent majority, for those are the ones who won’t be back.
Lay the groundwork. Be honest about it, and be honest with, for and toward your readers, your story and your characters, for each and all deserve it.