The Devil is in the Details: more is better

People start new stories a myriad of different ways. Sometimes it’s a flash of a scene they see in their mind’s eye or the lyrics to a song that sparks some dialogue. A specific smell might trigger it or the way someone is dressed.

I don’t know if it’s true of everyone but I like to believe that writers have a stronger connection to certain parts of a story than others so when inspiration strikes, that strength comes to the foreground.

For instance, you could be thumbing through a magazine and see a beautiful cursive type font and suddenly you see a young woman from Jane Austen’s world penning a letter over a scarred and ink-stained desk, a tendril of copper hair escaping her severe bun. Or you can hear the distant refrain from some classical Russian Ballet soundtrack and then you’re meandering down cobblestone streets, carrying a basket of fruit and bread down an alleyway to take home for dinner and you look up to admire the cloudless day in between the white washed buildings.

One is character driven inspiration and one is world driven.

When I write, I tend to be more character driven. I love the process of picking out names and giving the blank slate mannequins different personalities. I used to be really bad at creating believable characters. I would pour into them sugar, spice and everything nice on top of all my personal hopes and dreams. Guitar playing? Yep, since childhood. Knows several languages? Bein sûr! Can run 5k marathons and hike Mount Everest–without oxygen? Cake walk! And that’s just the main character.

Yeah I know >< We all start somewhere. (Keep that in mind when you’re writing!)

I’ve since learned to spread those qualities out among the entire cast. I’ve also learned that they really do need annoying habits and quirks to make them believable. I created a character that pretty much hates everything except music and death. He’s my first anti-hero and probably the most extreme character I’ve ever created. I’ve also made a character that sacrifices so much of herself for other people that she never figured out what she wanted out of life and has to journey to figure it out. Another extreme.

It was some big personal growth for me realizing how one-note my cast was and fixing it, adding to it and balancing them appropriately. I was pretty proud! I could re-read my drafts now and nod approvingly. Yes, these could be real people walking down the street. Yay me! Gold star on my forehead!

I still have more growth that needs to happen though, naturally. I realized this as I was trying to go back to writing one of my NaNoWriMo stories, “Hourglass”. In a nut shell, I abhor details.

Lemme explain.

I had my three main characters set up in this story. They had names and personalities that played off each other. They had importance in the story and provided plenty of conflict. All seemed well until I came to a flash back. Ahh crap. This means I need to provide BACKGROUND. And here, my friends, is where my downfall is while creating my characters.

Background. History. Family. Childhood.

Now these things don’t seem like they’re important in most stories. Unless you’re writing a biography or writing a lot about the character’s history, you’ll only ever really write about key events from their past to explain their current behaviors. Minimal effort put into the background may seem sufficient. Plus, this is a lot of extra work, writing down background stuff that may never end up in the story at all.

BUT MAYBE IT WILL.

I had an instance where my character basically had to go back and visit her husband in the past. She had to get answers from him that would determine her future actions. It is a rather pivotal scene that I’ve been stuck on for a long while because I never gave her enough history to augment this dialogue.

Creating history for your cast or characters can only benefit you in the long run. And the beauty of it is that you can make it as detailed or as simple as you like. If you don’t know how to start, there are tons of questionnaires out there on the internet. You can google it and come up with hundreds of results. There’s no shame in using them! There’s also no shame in changing details when you need to. Great aunt Mildred can become Great Aunt Tessie. Daddy could have died of leukemia instead of sickle-cell anemia. Favorite childhood snack could be popcorn instead of brownies.

The point of it is, to have the information on hand when it’s needed. Or even when it’s not needed. Often writers will have secrets about their characters that no one else is supposed to know, not even the readers, but sometimes they slip in anyway. Go for it! Details like that make them seem more alive and personable.

Plus, creating a character background allows you to be on-on-one with your cast. You can really get to know them, ask them questions and get answers. You’ll be able to know exactly how he/she will react in any given situation because you know them so well. They won’t act out of character when a bomb blows up their car or they’re passionately kissed by a stranger because you, as a writer, took the time to familiarize yourself with their personalities.

Yes. This is more work on top of everything else a writer is “supposed” to do but think of it as building a foundation. These details will build your stories brick by brick until you’ve created a mansion for readers to frolick through and enjoy.

Put in the work, reap the rewards!

the pit of despair–AHEM– THE PIT OF DESPAIR

A fine start to this 2016 NaNoWriMo I’ve got. Didn’t even get to start on day one. YAY FAMILY, THANK YOU! Playing catch up has been fun. HA. But I’m not going to lament bitterly on my fumbled start to what I assume is going to be a great month! 50K FTW! A rough draft hopefully completed (or at least 80% completed)! Huraahhh!

Ahhh but…here’s the thing. The proverbial “other shoe dropping”. Ever hear the quote “The devil is in the details?” Course you have. We’ll it’s true and it hasn’t been more apparent than starting a new novel for NaNo. Most of what we novelists have as we plot and outline (or pants on our word processors) are general ideas with a few details sprinkled here and there to remind us of our intentions.

I kinda had the OPPOSITE problem coming into this year. I planned on writing book 2 of my trilogy and I had so many details coming in from the first book I finally backed up and looked at the whole of book 2 and realized….I got nuthin’ but devils. Whoomp, there it is :/ The sad truth that pushed me to finally start my 14 year WIP instead.

DETAILS. BLEH.

I mean we’ve all had that point in writing when we look at all the notebooks, computer files of notes, notes jotted on napkins/scraps of paper/ receipts, documents full of notes, ripped up scraps with tiny sentences penned on them and we go WHAT THE HELL AM I DOING? What is happening here? Is that even my writing?

Welcome to my current problem. I call it the PIT OF DESPAIR. Or, as some would say, “losing the forest through the trees”. (Chock full of witticisms today aren’t I? Har har.)

Background information you may never use. Characters you may only meet once but you include in a list SOMEWHERE in case you need to recall hair color or last names at a later date. Notes on which historical era your book is taking place. Actually, make that a whole 60 page separate document on that Era just so you don’t miss anything. You catalog every single allergy the aliens have and you memorize the Greek alphabet because your heroine is trying to impress some hot Grecian language tutor.

Eventually, you drown in your own writing. You collapse into an abyss surrounded by tiny whispering voices like a hundred radios all tuned to a different station and suddenly, you can’t see what your story was about at all. You sigh, push everything off the bed into a heap on the floor and take a nap. Or you yank the power cord to your computer and watch Netflix.

This is an entirely acceptable reaction and I encourage it. That’s right. I’m saying chuck it for a while. *GASP!!* The procrastinator is telling you to chuck it and procrastinate! Yeah yeah but hear me out. It’s LEGIT. Your brain isn’t going to slog through this mess with all the little devils whispering to it. It’s the same thing with any important work you do whether it’s paying bills, working retail, sitting in a long meeting or dealing with noisy family members. Everyone needs a break to calm themselves and get centered again or they are going to cause bodily harm.

Now I’m not saying take a week or two and forget everything that happened and start a new novel. Nuuuuu never that. But you do need to get back to basics. Because of this experience I’ve decided it’s a great idea to make a separate document labeled “ROUGH STUFF (__insert book title here__)”. This includes all the very basic things my novel has and where it needs to go. I have to remind myself of the over-arching plot so I don’t get lost trying to figure things out. This is the North Star of writing navigation, lemme tell ya. I now have a copy taped to my bedroom wall near where I write along with a copy of the Snowflake Method and a version of a Plot Structure Template that works for me. All these things keep me on track and focuses my brain more than a herd of screeching little devils.

So when you feel like you’re sinking and your brain is scrambling, trying to swat all the details out of the way, take a break and get back to basics. Don’t let the Pit of Despair take a year off your life!

Also, don’t let the muggles get you down 🙂

And not everyone who wanders is lost….

Okay I know, I know…Happy writing all and good luck with NaNo if you’re participating! You can buddy me at any time: IsikkahJai on the NaNo website. I’m more than happy to help (if/when I have the time).