Thursday, October 23, 2008

PLOTTING MY STORY (With help from "Teaching the Story")

Now that I have decided to be wild and wacky and write a novel in one month I really must be methodical about it. My biggest fear is not word count but words that count. I am used to living with my story for months at a time and discovering the plot and characters as I go.

I no longer have that luxury.

Thank goodness my colleague, Carol Baldwin has written a marvelous book for teachers called Teaching the Story: Fiction Writing in Grades 4-8. It's chocked full of activities that help students to improve their writing skills.

Carol and I present writing workshops for teachers. We've discovered we make a pretty good team. I share from my own experience as a fiction writer and Carol leads groups in writing exercises. I'm always amazed at how easy and fun she makes it.

Naturally I have a copy of Carol's book so I've pulled it out and begun to discover my protagonist with the help of one of her activities, "Character Info Bank".

His age was easy - 18 because I know he's about to be drafted. (Oh, good - One blank filled in immediately!)

His name, is another matter entirely. It has to reflect the times (1940's) but still appeal to my readers. And it has to appeal to me too. So what's it going to be? I'm not ready for this yet! Oh, well, I finally filled in the blank because I was trying to make some progress. But I'm thinking that will change.

It quickly became obvious that I wasn't going to figure out my character all in one sitting. But I did learn a few things. Such as what famous person he dislikes. I still don't know which one he does like. And I have no idea what his most irritating habit is. I think I know what's under his bed and what his most important life experience was. I know what he wants most to avoid but what does he want more than anything? Hmmm not sure about that.

He likes shoofly pie and apple dumplings. He hates cabbage. But I'm not sure why he hates cabbage. Or if he'll learn to like it. I figured out a few of his siblings' age and gender but I don't know their names yet. Or their personalities.

I've never created characters like this. I know some people figure out their character's back story and family tree before they begin writing. But my usual method is to to read all I can about my subject and the historical backdrop and while I'm doing that I am thinking about who my character is. I might jot down some notes and somewhere along the way I decide to write a scene or two just to discover his or her voice. From there it's all a process of discovery. I like the way speech, events, and and characters grow organically from the story telling experience.

But with NaNoWriMo breathing down my neck (only 8 days away!), I have to plot as much as I can ASAP! I'll be pulling more of Carol's exercises up to help me plan.

And right now, I'm heading on over to the shopping cart I've saved online to order books and movies on my subject. I'll be eating and drinking research for the next 8 days.

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