The Novel Process: Strengthening Your Foundation

A few weeks ago, I talked about having a solid foundation for your story before you begin writing.  After an unplanned hiatus during which I wrote practically nonstop to finish a novel, today I’m back to talk about several ways of strengthening a foundation you know is lacking.  If you want to write your story but know it’s not quite ready yet and also know that it doesn’t need more time to stew, simply more inspiration, try one or more or all of these to see if it helps:  (NOTE: this is not a comprehensive list.)

  • Read books or watch movies/TV shows set in the same genre or time period as your story.
  • Make a playlist of music that suits your novel’s tone.
  • Compile a Pinterest board of inspiration pictures: character models, scenery, architecture, colors, aesthetics.
  • Make collages: for the story overall, individual characters, or specific themes from the book.
  • Take long walks.  There is something about being surrounded by nature that tends to help shape inspiration.
  • Think through the story out loud.  (I highly recommend only doing this when you are alone; perhaps on a walk, or just with your door closed.  Family members and roommates do not always appreciate being the indirect recipient of such musings.)
  • Write short scenes between characters.  This often helps feel out personalities and character chemistry and dynamics.
  • Answer character or story questionnaires/tags.
  • Make a list of quotes that are applicable to the story in general and/or to particular characters.
  • Sketch/paint some of your characters or a landscape or building from the story.

One other exercise that is consistently helpful is to re-read or re-watch some of your favorite books and movies- even if they are not the same genre as your current project- and to examine them for common elements that keep you coming back time after time, and then apply those to your current story.

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For example: you are trying to write a Cinderella retelling set in a modern-day, pseudo-Russian, fictional monarchy.  Your favorite stories are the BBC miniseries based on the books of Jane Austen and Elizabeth Gaskell.  Why?  Is it the high standard of courtesy and manners?  Is it the aura of gentility?  The way the love stories take shape?

Or perhaps you are trying to write a children’s fantasy book about flower fairies.  You love The Vampire Diaries and Teen Wolf.  Why?  Is it the love that binds friends and family together?  The seemingly insurmountable obstacles consistently thrown in the path to genuine happiness?  The chemistry between various characters?

Whatever your answer, turn around and ask, “In what way does this appear in the story I’m trying to write now?”  This will help you understand the bedrock motivation for your book.  It doesn’t matter what genre or type of story you are trying to write, the themes that you love will consciously or subconsciously shape each of your books, hopefully in a way that is unique but relatable.

Eventually, you will reach the point where your foundation is solid enough that you are off and running!  As I said before, the amount of time this takes will vary from writer to writer; there is no right or wrong length for this process.  Just go with the flow and it’ll tell you when it’s ready.

On Friday, I’ll be back with the first post in a series on writing for children, and next Monday we’ll talk about what happens if you find out partway through your book that you ‘messed up’ and the story is falling apart.

Until then, Merry Writing and may your foundations always be strong!

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