Hello, my friends! How are things going? Did you enjoy How To Start Your Story last week? Hit the reply button and tell me how you discovered your stories and what you’ve been writing this week.
So, last article, we learned about how I came up with my current WIP and the three tricks I learned to help you get there. First, notice, second, write down what you love, and third, try around with ideas.
Next, I’m going to go over the next step in the process which is one of my personal favorite topics!
After The Lightbulb
I’ve been eagerly waiting to talk with y’all about brainstorming. It’s the no-shame, free-thinking, wild brain dump of ideas, characters, and plot bunnies. It’s messy. It’s fun. It makes you feel like a criminal mastermind. It’s beautiful, honestly.
I could brainstorm all day.
But in reality, if you want a book it can’t only be in your head. You need to take all those beautiful thoughts and communicate them through words. And to do that, you need a goal in all this messy brainstorming.
Okay, so what happens after you have the idea? Whether it’s a small idea of a character, setting, or plot you now have a seed. Now, it’s time to put it in the soil.
So, disclaimer, this process is what I do, so take what you can learn and salt to taste. In addition, so that I can show you how I brainstorm, I’m going to use several story examples throughout this series. I’ll also use examples from my WIP showing a condensed version of what I went through. I’ll even write what I wish I would have done so you can glean from my mistakes!
Okay, let’s get started!
After I have the lightbulb moment like I did when I came up with my WIP, I first do what’s called a brain purge…
The Brain Purge
Slow your roll, writer, it’s not time to go into character sheets and all the crazy outlines. I know, it’s painful to wait. First, you need to sit back and make sure that this is the story you’re meant to write.
Because, trust me, there will be times when you don’t want to write your book. I’ve had plenty. However, if it’s all pain and no joy then maybe this is not the story for you. Remember, it should be fun! Another important question to ask is do you care about the theme? For me, the theme is central to my book so I need to feel like I want to post it on billboards all over the world.
So, back to the brain purge. When I first had my WIP spark, I grabbed my sister to play a chess game and wrote down all the notes I could. Actually, in preparation for this article, I found the page I wrote my first ideas over two years!
You can see it’s very messy and incohesive but that was, indeed, my goal.
What I would recommend is to get a fresh new notebook and some pretty pens. Like this sweet baby.
Get yourself a cup of tea or coffee, (or both) and just have fun. After this chess game, I literally wrote down WHATEVER I thought. Character ideas, plot things, setting. I turned on some inspirational, super jammer music and got everything out of my system, no judgment. Half of the stuff I probably didn’t even use in later drafts. I just needed to stoak the flame of my story.
I asked questions like:
Who might be the main characters?
In what world do I see this story taking place?
What would be the possible main theme?
I probably used thousands of notebook pages in an attempt to get everything down.
Here are just HALF of my notes.
Just get EVERYTHING down. Go places in your mind you never thought would have been possible. Pray to the Lord and ask him to show you the book He wants you to write. Because trust me, my friend, that’s the most important.
The Main Topics
Okay, when thinking about how to break this up, I decided we’ll cover brainstorming characters first. And next week, we’ll go over the setting and plot.
In my humble opinion, characters should always be first because they are the main focus of the story. They are the heads you’ll be hopping around in and the journeys you follow. They will literally be your theme brought to life so you kinda… uh… have to care about them.
By this point, you don’t need to have an idea of POV or tense or anything technical like that. We’re just getting a basic understanding of the characters who might be filling the pages of your novel.
So first with my characters, I did another brain purge for anything I brainstormed for them. I immediately had a feel for my first POV character and her personality. However, my second POV character took a while to ground. Sometimes, it took a whole draft to feel his right voice. So don’t fret! It takes time and that’s completely natural.
Okay, so in my binder, I first wrote a goal sheet. Just so I could have an idea of what I wanted for this story.
In this place went ideal themes, publication plans, and personal goals.
Then, I dove into characters. After learning many tips on characters from people such as Marrisa Meyer, Abbie Emmons, and Gail Carson Levine, I learned there are three key things to a character’s motivation.
What they want, what they fear, and what lie they are believing.
This will help tremendously with outlining your character journey later.
But I first focused on those three things, writing out backstories, and dreaming up different characters. For my book, I knew I needed a character for each member of the chess board, and that immediately helped me fill each role. Sometimes, it’s even helpful to start with vibes, moods, or stereotypes and then after that, play with unique spins.
However, for another book, it might look something like this:
Story idea: Sister story, civil war, coming of age, romance, family, friendship, fiction
Possible character ideas: sisters, four maybe?
Eldest: Mature, feels responsible for younger siblings, secretly hates being poor. Second: Tomboyish, stubborn, writer, struggles when people think she can’t make her way in the world. Third: kind, sweet, sick? Fourth: Spoiled, pet of the family, artist?
You can probably tell what book that is. Little Women is a great example of good, well-thought-out characters full of development.
Even just describing the characters in three to four words is so helpful.
And THEN you can go searching for hours on baby naming website for the PERFECT NAMES like Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. And yes, they have to mean something that describes that character. 😉
Anyways, after you have some idea of your main characters, then I usually find good character personality sheets that ask both internal questions but also go into FUN stuff like their MBTI type. DOES ANYONE HERE JUST TAKE THE ENTIRE TEST FOR ALL OF THEIR CHARACTERS? (No, just me?)
After this, it’s time for one of the most important parts of your character.
BACKSTORY, BACKSTORY, BACKSTORY.
When I wrote stories before, I was only focused on the present and the future. However, now I know that the present and the future will mean nothing without the past.
I now write out MANY possible backstories for all my characters detailing their relations, what made them the person they are today, and how they are struggling with those fears.
I also usually give my characters very traumatic backstories but hey, it creates a wonderful plot and character transformation! *evil author laugh* And when all this is developed, your characters start spurting beautiful phrases like this…
In the next section of my story binder, I detail these three categories: internal struggles, personality types, and backstory. I also write about how they show emotions both physically and emotionally. An example would look like this:
Sadness: is frozen
Fear: stutters, tries to ignore it
Anger: clenches fists, uses weapons
Disgust: wrinkles nose, is blunt, and just says it
Joy: eyes light up
In addition to all this, I like to map out all of my main characters’ relations to one another, i.e. possible love interests, enemies, or friends.
And yes, I do this for ALL my characters which can be super tiresome. But what can I say? My perfectionist and all-in personality loves it. However, it does make my outlining a whole lot easier.
Developing characters is crucial to your story. Your theme should be lived through your characters. What you want your readers to take away from will show through your characters! When your future readers start their fan blogs they’ll be drooling over your characters!
I mean, how many of us have found that one amazing book character and seem to start screaming…
And that my friend, is why I spend most of my time here.
Okay writers, phew, that was a long article! I hope you gained some wisdom, tips, or even some humor from it!
To summarize, we covered the brain purge, the main topics, and how I outline characters in my story binder.
Thank you so much for reading today! Remember to check out last week’s article if you missed it and subscribe so you can immediately receive next week’s. Also, check out my new Pinterest account so you can get updated there as well!
Love you, guys, and see you next week!