|Brainstorming from ITHAKA RISING|
And it's not the only process I use. But it's basically the one I've used for my last several novels.
It starts with my version of the old board game Clue. Only, instead of Miss Scarlet in the Drawing Room with a Candlestick, I have a character in a situation with a problem.
In a short story, that will be all that I need to get the piece moving, and more than enough. For a novel, especially one with a sweeping story and multiple points of view, I may have this basic premise worked out for each character.
For ITHAKA RISING we had:
- Jem, who needs a neural implant, but who can't get one because he's too young and the risks of putting one in a head injured patient are too great.
- Ro, stuck back on Daedalus without resources, and a ship with a broken jump drive she can't fix.
- Barre, playing second fiddle (see what I did there? LOL) to Ro, struggling to figure out what he does next, now that he's a full citizen and estranged from his family.
Nomi and Micah were part of the story, as well, but they didn't have clearly defined roles and problems when I was doing the initial brainstorming.
The next step was to figure out what drove the story and how all three of these characters' issues would intersect and complicate one another.
So I had Jem run away and contact the black market to obtain an illegal neural. Barre (his brother) is desperate to find Jem, and the ship Barre and Ro operate is broken.
Now, all of those are internal conflicts, and I had a larger, overarching story to tell about the political situation in the Commonwealth and how unresolved events from the war 40 years ago complicate the present day. So in my brainstorming, I tied the problems with the ship's jump drive to an old spacer's tale about a missing planet. And I started sketching out some of the history of the Commonwealth and the initial diaspora from Earth that set up colonies, tightly controlled by Earth's multinationals. Then I created a conflict that was essentially the Revolutionary War, except that in this war, the colonies lost.
Once I had those basics, it was a matter of tying the macro story to the micro, and getting Ro, Nomi, Barre, Jem, and Micah tangled up in still-simmering 40-year-old conflicts.
From that, I start to put together a draft of what will be the back cover blurb. Yes, it seems completely backwards, but having a 10,000 foot view of the story keeps me on track.
When Jem Durbin disappears, his trail dead ends at the black market. Ro Maldonado and Jem's brother, Barre, race to fix their derelict ship, desperate to locate Jem before he sells his future, risking his mind for an illegal neural implant. But they're not the only ones looking for "The Underworld" and its rogue planet, Ithaka. What they find endangers more than just the three of them and forces them to confront a very different truth about the war they believed was ancient history.
Some of the mechanics of how I use the portable/foldable whiteboard pictured in the image above:
I create a column for each main character and enter their starting place and their main goal On the back, are columns for world building and history. Every time I had an idea that intersected with the story somehow, I jotted it down on a relevant spot on the board.
I don't formally outline before I start writing. But I do think of the story broadly in quartiles. Having a starting place and an initial problem(s) gives me my opening scenes and the first 25% of the story. From there, I do very broad brush outlining and write additional scenes to connect the dots. While I may not know all the way points in a plot, I do know the basic shape of the ending, and by continually assessing what's missing between where I happen to be and the end allows me to fill in the gaps.
Make no mistake, this is not a simple process. There were places where I backtrack, places where I wanted to throw my laptop out the window and ragequit the story. I did find that having the whiteboard as a touchstone and a brainstorming device kept me on track. And bonus points because it's portable.
When I bought these, I bought a bunch of them and I have several in my office. If you'd like a chance at having one of these foldable white boards, leave a comment either about your writing process or a question about my process. On Friday, June 26, midnight EST I'll pick three random winners and announce it on Saturday, in honor of the official release of ITHAKA RISING. Giveaway is open to anyone.