By Danica Cornell
Many thanks to my dear friend, Enn Kae, (a.k.a. @zeekworldnet on Twitter) for inviting me to share what goes on behind the scenes in my creation of the DARK STAR sci-fi/fantasy series. I’ve decided to use this unique Q & A opportunity to describe step-by-step, how it is that I go about writing a novel. And while I’m aware many authors undoubtedly dive in and immediately begin their manuscripts, I’ve learned that in my case, a lot more structure is required. 🙂
How do I start my writing projects?
1. The Spark
For me, every major writing project begins the same way – from a spark of an idea that sets my imagination ablaze! These “sparks” can come from anywhere: Movies, news stories, books, billboards, songs—the list is practically endless!
2. The Think Tank
Once I’ve settled on a story idea, I make a point to write down everything that comes to mind. In other words, the Think Tank step is basically a non-linear, highly chaotic, stream-of-consciousness, brainstorming exercise designed to generate additional ideas and research questions. All I can say is, it definitely works!
3. The Master Organizer
Thankfully, coming up with sci-fi story ideas, (including characters and sexy, futuristic technologies) has not been an issue for me. I mean, not at all. Instead, my challenge has always has been in finding ways to sort through and organize all of my Think Tank material. Fortunately, I’ve learned to accomplish this task by separating all of a story’s related ideas into the following five categories: Story, Story World, Technologies, Characters, and Research. The story’s title is used to create a folder which houses all of these five items.
4. Playing God by Building My Story World
Once my materials have been organized, I set out to create my story world. This is accomplished by imagining the time and place my story will occur (i.e. the month, year, geographical location, weather, etc.). I also consider the different cultural groups within this world, (i.e. wealthy, impoverished, those with top-secret security clearances, alien species, etc.). With my story world in focus, it’s a lot easier for me to see the backdrop for conflict as well as the story’s theme.
5. The One Sentence Summary/Storyline
Now that my story world has been formalized, I set about the task of writing a one sentence storyline/summary, which serves as the foundation for keeping my ideas in check. (I cannot over emphasize how important this step is for my uber-creative brain!)
6. The One Paragraph Three-Act Structure
Looking at my one sentence summary and Story file, I begin to loosely map out my tale by way of the three-act structure. The result of this exercise is one paragraph, briefly describing my story’s three disasters: The call to action, the disaster to support the middle, and the final disaster to force the story’s end.
7. Character Creation
Referring to my Characters folder and three-act structure, this is when I start bringing my major characters to life. The beginnings of this process are admittedly humble and include naming each character and defining their role (i.e. villain, hero, etc.), ambition, story goal, conflict, lesson learned or change in character. Afterwards, I’m able to craft a character summary. Even as a beginning writer, I’ve come to realize I’ve already had a lot of these points figured out ahead of time. So far, this step has merely helped to crystallize my ideas.
8. The Short Synopsis
At this point, I construct a short synopsis, (approximately one page in length, maybe two) using the one paragraph, three-act structure as a scaffold.
9. Character Expansion
Armed with a clearer vision for my story, I now set about the task of expanding my characters by way of character sketches. This is where I fill in the blanks with regard to each character’s backstory, ambition, story goal, conflict, lesson learned or change in character, and character summary. This is also my favorite step in the planning process, no doubt because of my background in psychology!
10. The Long Synopsis
For me, the long synopsis is the most challenging step of all! Moreover, since its function is to capture high-level details, I strive to keep the long synopsis to roughly five to six pages in length, going back and forth between characters and plot. Also, if I haven’t already started my research (often related to advanced technologies), this is definitely the time I’ll buckle down and get serious about gathering any necessary facts and figures.
11. The Character Bible
A couple of days later, (after I’ve calmed down from the long synopsis!), my next step in the planning process is to create a character bible from all the information I’ve assembled. This will include everything from each character’s date of birth, middle name, physical description, education and work history, any disabilities, their greatest fears, dreams and hopes, as well as their history (backstory). Many of these ideas have already been generated as part of the character expansion, so I simply transfer this information and fill in any remaining blanks.
I should probably mention, the reason I take the time to create a character bible, is to help insure my characters come off as conflicted and flawed. I’m specifically looking to create characters with competing values and ambitions. There must be a reasonable dose of intra- and interpersonal conflicts, otherwise the characters will emerge as flat, boring, and frankly, unbelievable. Furthermore, if any character doesn’t meet my rigorous sniff-test, I go back to the drawing board–and will keep doing so, until I get them just exactly right.
12. The Scene List
Next, using my long synopsis, I focus on generating a scene list—what I consider to be the second most challenging step in the entire planning process. The scene list is basically a simple outline of how the story is planned to unfold. (Generally, there’s a scene containing a goal, a conflict, and a setback. This is then followed with a scene containing a reaction, a dilemma, and a decision.) Additionally, this is also when I finalize my decision regarding what point of view I’m going to use.
13. Scene Analysis
Before beginning my manuscript, I analyze each scene to make sure I have a goal, a conflict, and a setback followed by a reaction, a dilemma, and a decision. Additionally, I’ll once again look at my three disasters, to be certain they are doing what they’re supposed to (call to action, support the middle, force the story’s end). This may result in some rearranging, but I’ve learned the hard way, this step can save me a lot of time later on!
How do I continue my writing process?
Thus far, I’ve been editing as I’ve been writing. And while this may not be the preferred method for many, as a beginning novelist, this approach has helped me to refine my voice through a lot of experimentation. It’s also taken me about four times longer to wrap up this project than it normally would’ve, I’m sure! But in all honesty, I’m okay with this. Why? Because for me, learning the writing process and putting out a quality product are the only two things that matter. Everything else is secondary.
How do I finish my writing projects?
Before I reach the point of being psychologically ready to hand my manuscript over to an editor, (and/or beta readers) I need to be certain my manuscript is in the very best shape I’m able to attain on my own. To reach this point, I carefully scrutinize my story, using a detailed checklist I’ve created. (As of this writing, accidental head-hopping is my number one writing boo-boo.)
Include one challenge or additional tip that our collective communities could help with or benefit from.
Before I sign off, I’d like to share with you the following time-saving list of transitions. By the way, I keep this list on my desk at all times and use it quite often! And for those of you who may be new to writing, transitional words and phrases allow writers to express different ideas in ways which are clear to readers. Okay, so here it is, as promised:
Danica Cornell’s List of Transitional Words and Phrases
- In addition
- And yet
- Even so
- For example
- For instance
- In the same way
- To illustrate
- All in all
- In brief
- In conclusion
- In summary
- To summarize
- What this means is
- Thus so
- As a result
For those of you who have additional helpful writing tips/techniques, I hope you’ll feel comfortable sharing these here, so we may all benefit from your knowledge and experience. Thanks so much for stopping by and taking the time to read my post, and I hope to see you again real soon!
Until next time…
ABOUT DANICA CORNELL:
Danica Cornell holds a BA in Psychology from Argosy University. She is the visionary president of Mano Nanotechnologies, Inc., who is busily penning the forthcoming DARK STAR Sci-fi/Fantasy Series, soon to be published by Cool Geek Books. To learn more about Danica’s work, her love of dogs, and her support of UNICEF, please visit her website at www.danicacornell.com.
CONNECT WITH DANICA:
Danica Cornell is proud to be a member of the RAVE REVIEWS BOOK CLUB and the Fantasy Science Fiction Network