Wednesday, August 31, 2011

4 Ways to Look at Your Whole Story

I recently finished a book and was thumbing through the back where it has the reading group discussion questions. I never really read those--I mean, honestly, I paid my dues in school, I don't need to answer any stinkin' essay questions anymore. But even so, I find that I often skim these questions, especially if I really liked the book.

So today when I was working on the revisions in my WIP, I thought about those discussion questions. I think I read somewhere once that authors have to actually write those. I shuddered with horror at having to come up with discussion questions for my own book--but then I reconsidered. Turns out, they're a great exercise for knowing your characters or plot elements or symbolism better.

And they're just one of the following four things I do to see the bigger picture in my story better:

1. Write your own discussion questions.
I was wondering about the importance of one of my characters, a kind of formal old aunt of my heroine's. So I wrote, "What does [aunt] represent to [herione]? How does [aunt] help or hinder [herione] in her [quest]?"

Naturally, I came up with my own answer, and that really helped me clarify the role of this character. It also helped enhance her place in the overall story.

2. Write your query first.
Lots of people say to do this and I couldn't agree more. A query describes your plot, the characters, and what's at stake. These are the basics of your whole story! I've always told myself that if I have trouble naming those elements, then I have trouble with my plot.

3. Write a quick and dirty synopsis.
Oh, not the dreaded synopsis! But yes--and this one's for you. Just freeform write everything that happens in the book, starting from the beginning. If you're writing an 85,000 word novel, then keeping track of all the events can be like herding cats. Write it down and see the forest for the trees. When I did this, I found myself adding in several elements that I wanted to highlight in the story, which hadn't been there.

4. Save your first chapter for last.
This is one I learned the hard way. I write a crappy first chapter when I start a story--because I know that only after I've finished the whole story will I be able to go back and rewrite it and have it foreshadow the rest of the book. And it really has to fit in with the ending in so many ways. And by the time you've written your whole book, you'll have a really good understanding of your character's flaws and desires, which can be hinted at in the first chapter.

Do you have any to add?

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