Writing: starting up a new book

I have the first draft of Spinners of Fortune ready to give to my critique partners.  It’s as good as I can make it at the moment.  While they red ink it, it’s time for me to start plotting out my next book.  If I immerse my head in the third Enoch & Voronika story, it will give me enough distance from Spinners to look at it more objectively when I get my friends’ remarks back.  The added bonus is, if I get the plot lines and character wheels finished for the new book, I can let them noodle in my head while I do rewrites for Spinners.  Good for both books.

So, how do I start a book?  I just read Jayme Beddingfield’s writing process, and it’s pretty close to what I used to do when I wrote mysteries.  http://jaymebeddingfield.tumblr.com/post/61736583352/how-i-build-a-story#  This is one lengthy, thorough process of plotting.  For mysteries, it served me well.  In its own way, it gave me a great feeling of freedom.  I could do anything I wanted to bring each scene to life as long as I hit the vital plot points.  Characters still surprised me.  Things didn’t always go as planned on paper.  For urban fantasies, however, I have even more leeway and flexibility.  So my plotting’s changed.

I start with the kernel idea that brought the story alive for me.  I let it squirm in my mind until I sit down to write it.  Enoch met Voronika in the first book in the series, Fallen Angels, close to the same time that Danny and Maggie met.  In Blood Battles, Danny and Maggie get ready for their wedding, and Enoch wants a commitment from Voronika.  He won’t be happy until he gets one.  In the new book, Maggie’s going to be pregnant.  We already know that Voronika was pregnant when Vlad turned her into a vampire, and she lost the baby.  Maggie’s pregnancy is going to make Voronika yearn for what she can never have–a child of her own.  Vampires don’t birth babies, only more vampires.  Enoch, a fallen angel, doesn’t intend to father children either, so they need to find a way to resolve Voronika’s feelings of loss.  That’s the starting idea for the new book.  Now, I just need to figure out how to make that story happen.  Once I have the idea for the story and the starting incident and some idea where the story’s going, then I sit down to look at my characters.

For writing, I need something visual that I can glance at and “see” the person I’ve created. I started using character wheels when I went to a workshop given by Shirley Jump.  She gives awesome workshops, by the way, if you ever want to sign up for one of them.  She offers them online.  Over the years, I’ve kept the main concept she taught (along with much, much more), but I’ve made it my own.   I draw a 2″ circle in the center of a piece of typing paper.  In that circle, I write my character’s full name (and nickname, if he has one).  Under that, I put his age and physical description.  You’d be surprised how many times, after I’ve changed stories a few times and then go back to write the third book in a series, that I can’t remember if I gave someone brown eyes or amber.  What color was his hair?  One I glance at his wheel, though, I know.  From that wheel, I draw 7 lines–sort of like the sun’s rays.

The first “ray” is for info about his family.  What were his  mom and dad like?  What did they do?  Did he get along with them?  What about brothers and sisters?  Any aunts or uncles who were special to him in a good or bad way?  Cousins?  Etc.

The second “ray” is for education or training and his career.  Did he like school?  Barely pass?  Get a degree or certificate or join the military?  Each decision he makes tells me more about him.

The third “ray” is for where he lives and what he drives.  Does he rent an apartment or own a house?  Does he take care of it or is it a pigpen?  Is his car flashy or functional?  Or does he own a truck or a Jeep?  Where he lives and what he drives says a lot about him.

The fourth “ray” is for relationships–his past or current romances.  Did he fall in love in second grade and stay a romantic?  Is he player who dodges commitment?  How many women has he known/been serious about?

The fifth “ray” is for close friends (at least 2).  What’s their friendship like?  Easy?  Do they meet to play pool or work out at the gym?  Is my character a leader or a follower?  Does he put up with too much crap when he knows better?  Each of those traits is a line that connects with his ray.

I draw lines from the sixth ray for each of his quirks or hobbies.  Does he love to cook?  Go camping?  Go to a shooting range?

The seventh and last is for antagonists or enemies.  Has he rubbed some people the wrong way?  Is there someone he competes with who’d throw him under the bus to get ahead?  Is there a journalist who wants his story?  Or a cop who thinks he’s guilty when he’s not?

When I finish the wheel for that particular character and move to the next, I consciously try to make the new person different enough with a different agenda that the characters will have built-in conflict when they meet, even if they decide to work together.

Once I have my characters in mind, I can finish the main plot points for the story.  I won’t start a book until I have the book’s big question, the inciting incident, the turning point at the end of the first fourth of the book, the turning point for the middle of the book and then again at three-fourths point, and finally, how the book ends.  If I can fill in a couple of scenes for each fourth, so much the better.  That gives me a lot of flexibility.  But whatever you do, however you write, enjoy the process.  I do.  Bringing the book to life in your mind is a wondrous thing!

2 thoughts on “Writing: starting up a new book

  1. Hi Judith –
    it’s so interesting, discovering how other writers go about putting their plots together. This is what I’m studying right now – plotting. I spent too much time in my early writing days learning “micro” stuff – like sentence structure – and never got to the “macro”. I’m reading Johnson’s “The Story is a Promise” and it is awesome.
    Thanks for the character wheel – that sounds like another “macro” tip I can use!
    cheers –


  2. The fun thing about writing is that there’s always something else you can learn or some other writer who can inspire you. It’s a constant learning process. I like that about it.


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