Here’s our first checkpoint of the 2017 Sentinel Big Bang.
LJ’s Russian Overlords are at it again, and there’s been another exodus from LJ.
Patt and I have discussed it and we are going to keep the big bang on LJ for now. LJ isn’t our only home – we have the website which is paid-for hosting. The website automatically updates our Twitter and there’s also the mailing list. We do have a TSBB Dreamwidth comm; originally everything was mirrored there but no one was using it so I stopped cross-posting. There were just too many things to remember to do with each new post, and that one couldn’t be automated. So if you’re one of those leaving LJ now, there are still lots of ways to follow the Big Bang. I’ll try to remember to cross-post to DW for the rest of this year.
But next year should have been a reverse-bang/mini-bang year, and that can’t happen under LJ’s new rules. Interest in the Big Bang seems to be waning, so this might be the right time to stop. Or we need a new home for next year, one we’re all happy with. I’m happy to discuss this further below, but there will not be another year on LJ.
Check in time
Checking in is, as always, optional
The writing target for checkpoint #1 is 2,000 words or 1/5 of your project. This is just a soft target – something to aim for if “slow-and-steady” suits your way of writing. If you’re already ahead of that, you can pat yourself on the back. If you’re behind – don’t worry! There’s loads of time yet.
If you’re signed up as a writer, please comment to check in. Tell us about your progress and feel free to share a few details about what you’re writing and how it’s going. If you need help or if you have any questions for the mods, this is a good time to ask, too.
There’s no standard “form” for check-in this year, because we also have a writer’s discussion going on. If you don’t want to talk about your project, you can check in by joining in the discussion below.
Which leads me on to…
Each of our checkpoints this year will include a mini-masterclass on some aspect of writing. Maybe “round table” is a better name, as I’m not pretending to be a master of any sort! All I’m doing is offering my take on the subject, and I hope lots of you will join in with your own take on how to approach writing.
Open Disucssion: Plot and Planning
Getting started. For me, a story starts with two things. The first is an image, or a line of speech, something from near the beginning of the story. When I began the story that became The Wolves of Cascade, for example, what I had was a picture of Jim, walking through a rough part of town in the rain. He smells death and finds a body in a dumpster. Instead of calling it in, he simply lets the lid fall and walks on, uncaring.
That was the image. It demanded my attention, insisted I start writing. I didn’t know why Jim behaved that way, didn’t have anything more than that. But once I started writing, the elements filled themselves in. This was the beginning of a story.
But that’s just the beginning. For me, I need one more thing. I need to know the end. Not necessarily everything, but I need a sense of where the story is headed or I know I might start, but I’ll never finish. Sometimes it’s a final scene that I’ll write even before I write the beginning. Other times I’ll just have a picture, or a snippet of conversation.
How to get from beginning to end – that’s called Plot.
A good story needs a good plot. “They” claim that there are only so many plots in existence, though the number varies. But this is true only if you reduce the notion of “plot” to the most basic level possible. This gives you a list of plots along the lines of:
Boy meets girl
Who killed Mr X?
Escaping a trap
“Boy meets girl” also covers boy-meets-boy and other variations – it means that two people meeting and getting together it the point. The “who killed…” plot covers most mystery stories even without a body – anything where you have a crime and the story is about identifying the criminal. Escaping a trap doesn’t have to be literal: an emotional or strategic trap works too. And “treasure hunt” doesn’t have to be buried treasure – a hunt for a person, or even an answer works as long as the hunter knows from the beginning what s/he is hunting for.
Sometimes, those basics can help us get started, but a plot that basic isn’t a story. What makes a story isn’t the setup, it’s how the characters deal with the setup. Letting the characters drive the story is how, in my opinion, to make it “live”.
With fan fiction, that’s both easy and hard. Take the “Blair is kidnapped” plot. You know from the start that Jim is going to do absolutely anything to get him back. But will he trust others to help? Will he go off the rails? How will being without Blair affect his senses? As a writer, you’ll have your version of who Jim is and you’ll know the answers to those questions. But that constrains your plot.
This is where planning can help.
I might begin writing before I know the full plot of a story, but at some point I always plan it out properly. I start with the basics – two or three sentences. Then I turn that into two or three paragraphs. Then I separate it into chapters. This isn’t a rigid structure that I’ll stick to, but it sketches out the main beats of the story in a way I can follow to keep the work on track as I write. If I had artistic talent, I would probably storyboard instead – sketch out the outline a bit like a comic strip.
But the outline only helps if it’s driven by the characters. Each beat, each new direction has to come from a choice a character makes. Blair is kidnapped. Jim decides to hunt the kidnapers alone. What’s the next big choice? It might be turning his phone off so Simon can’t reach him. It might be he zones without Blair and has to decide what to do next. Whatever it is, that leads to the next decision, and the next. Blair is making choices, too: whether to fight or try to escape, whether to cooperate or talk to his kidnappers – and that’s another plot that has to intersect with Jim’s at some point. Again, one important choice leads to the next and so on.
Not everyone writes that way. I know some writers who never plan ahead; they like to be surprised by each new twist and turn as they write. I think that would make the next stage – revising and editing – much harder, but how would I know. I can’t write that way.
So – what about you? How do you get started, and do you plan, or do you just write? What’s your advice for starting a new story?
Comment below to check in and join the discussion.