Image courtesy of Idea go

     When I come up with a concept for a series I typically have a broad overview of the story.  Think of it like looking at the earth via a satellite image.  You get the big picture, but you really need to zoom in to see the details.  The very make up of the planet is virtually invisible until you take a closer look. This is where I encounter problems when I sit down to write.

     I have yet to come up with a concept that I feel would fit into a single book.  Each concept I have come up with spans a minimum of four books.  So I know how the series will begin, I know how it will end, and for the most part, I know the major conflict that my MC will overcome to get from point A to point B.  What I struggle with, are all of the “molecular” details.  A series can’t consist of just one high level conflict.  And stretching a single conflict out into four books would be overkill on the reader without giving them something more.  That would be like giving someone a 20 oz bottle of water and sending them off to spend a week in the desert, during the peak summer months, with nothing more to sustain them.

Image courtesy of James Barker

     This is where subplots come into play.  Rather than rushing through a story that spans several years in a single book or painstakingly plotting every minute detail to bulk up the four (or more) books, it’s all about finding that right balance.  Subplots can help drive the story forward or help take it in a whole other direction when needed.

     As I write this blog and research subplot creation, it brings to mind something else that contributes to my struggle.  Often you hear that outlining is essential to novel writing.  I have attempted this before, but it has never panned out and the story tended to go running in the opposite direction causing me to abandon all the prep work I had done.  But perhaps this is because I have a very limited view on how to outline.  In school, I was taught to outline in chapters.  The story should be broken out into chapters and for each chapter, you write a brief description of what will be discussed in that chapter.  This technique has never worked for me.  Picking apart a story, chapter by chapter, makes more sense than building one that way.  I know, it sounds crazy, but until I actually sit down and start writing, I have no idea how many chapters my book is going to have or what each of these chapters will consist of.  My brain refuses to cooperate in this fashion and prefers to tinker and rebuild whenever possible.

     But after doing some reading on subplots, the concept of the arc (and no, this is not the first time I’ve heard of an arc) got me to thinking.  Perhaps instead of trying to force myself to do this chapter outline that seems to be the bane of my existence as an author, I could try doing a sort of graph outline, one that plots the main story arc and each of the sub plot arcs.  It would seem that this is where my Accounting and Finance background will actually help my writing, something I never thought possible since I write fiction and none of my characters work in related fields.

     I am now excited to boot up Excel and toy around with graphing out my story lines.  I

Image courtesy of sheelamohan

can already see how this will help me with my newest book, the first of four books in a coming of age series.  Aside from the main arc of the MC’s development, there will be several subplots that explain how she becomes the person she does.  Each book will focus on a different stage of her growth, but the subplots will be the driving forces behind these stages.

     If this works out well, I will give it a shot with the Eye of the Vampire series that is still a WIP.  Maybe it will help me get past some of the hurdles that are making it difficult for me complete the edit of the first book and complete writing the second and third books.

     Off to the drawing board I go.  Wish me luck!

Image courtesy of sattva /

     Before you can truly tell their stories, you need to really get to know your characters.  Most people might think, as their creator, you would know your characters better than anyone else.  But as most writers can attest, characters are not “created” so much as they are met.

     Having never taken a creative writing course in my life, I am not going to go into the technical roadmap of character development.  There will be no numbered dos and don’ts list.  I don’t pretend to be an expert, I just share what I learn through trial and error and try to put into layman’s terms the reasoning behind it in hopes that I might make someone else’s journey slightly smoother than my own.

     If your approach to writing is anything like mine, outlining consists of a very high level summary of the story jotted down in a few sentences along with random notes of stray thoughts that can come at any given time.  You have an idea of the overall concept of the project, be it a short story or novel, but there is no in depth scene by scene outline.  As a “percolator” (See Pantser? Planner? Percolator? blog post) you don’t create a roadmap that you stick to when writing, but you also don’t just come up with a story and bang it out without any prior thought process.

Image courtesy of Master isolated images

     When writing a novel, it can be quite easy to become inconsistent if you don’t have an outline.  You might find yourself asking questions like “What color were Amy’s eyes again?” “Did Bob grow up in Michigan or Minnesota?”  Simple questions that when you first set out to write, you have a clear and concise view of the answers to.  But throw in a few more characters, a couple of locations and a plot twist or two and it can be easy to lose track of the answers that were so clear in your mind last month or even last year when you first started writing.  You get so deep into the story that it can be hard to remember what happened a chapter or two earlier.  And if you are writing a series, you want to be sure to keep things consistent from one book to the next, because trust me, even if you don’t notice, the readers will.

     Please don’t tell me I have to create an outline, you might be pleading right about now.  If you are, don’t worry, the answer is still no (at least, not for the story).   What you will need to do, is create character bios.  A character bio can be as simple or complex as you want it to be.  The pertinent information that you should included are stats like, name, age, height, weight, eye color, etc…  I would also suggest that you put anything that is important to the story line.  

Image courtesy of digidreamgrafix

For example, if your character is a pro athlete and has been traded several times, you want to keep track of the various teams they played for and the years they played for those teams.  If all of this information is kept in an easily accessible place, you will avoid the hassle of trying to skim back through the story to find this information again and again when doing consistency checks.

     If you use a writing software like Scrivener or Celtx, they come with handy character bio templates.  

Character Sketch Template in Scrivener

Character Profile Template in Celtx
     I’m sure if you are using some other writing software, it will have a similar feature available.  And for anyone that uses a word processing software like Word or WordPerfect, there are templates available for those too.

     I also find it helpful to add a picture or pictures of people that fit the vision you have of the character.  This can make the characters seem realer and more relatable, making the job of conveying their story easier.

     When I first started writing my series, I thought that character profiles were just nice to have.  But the further I got into the story lines, the more I saw their added value.  Other than using the bios to keep track of stats, they can also help to remind you of the character’s personality.  Would Jennifer really go sky diving if she is afraid of heights?  Is it believable for Joe to profess his love for Melinda when he normally has a hard time talking about his feelings?  I think you get the picture.

     What are some tricks you use to get inside of your characters’ heads?