Jilly: Brave New World

Brave New WorldWhat’s been occupying your thoughts this week?

Last Sunday, I reported that I was the lucky recipient of a Bolt from the Blue, a story idea that’s very different from anything I’ve previously tried to write. After a few days of dithering, I decided to give myself a couple of weeks to apply myself and see if I can make anything of it. I’ve learned a lot this week and whether I decide to go forward or not, I’d say it’s been time well spent.

Process-wise, I’m not much of a planner. I’d like to create more detailed outlines, and I keep trying to develop the knack, but so far it’s eluded me. Once I’ve got the central characters, the spine of the story and the ending, I find I have to write the first draft to get to know the main players deeply enough to imagine their actions and reactions.

With the new story, it’s taken me much longer to create enough of a basic structure to start putting words on a page. My contemporary romance series is strongly rooted in what I know. It’s set in today’s London and the Scottish Highlands, and though I have to work out the details, I can immediately picture the general environment. The characters’ names are a product of their backgrounds, and that drives the way they speak. The stories take place in an entrepreneurial business world, so I can easily think of a whole range of plot points that might suit their purposes.

This time around, very little was established Everything was up for grabs, but it all had to tie together in a coherent fashion, so every choice had consequences. I knew the heroine’s situation and her goal, and the hero’s situation and his goal, how they meet and why they are forced to work together, but almost nothing about the setting.

I had to start somewhere, so I started with names.

On the heroine’s side I needed her name, and names for her mother, her father, her mentor, and her grandparents on both sides.

On the hero’s side I needed his name, plus two sidekicks, one brother, two sisters, their parents, the king, the queen and the heir to the throne.

I spent the best part of a day searching baby name websites. I checked out about a dozen before I settled on www.babble.com. The site offers the option to browse by alphabet, popularity, origin or theme, but I scrolled through the whole database. I wanted a strong unisex name for my heroine, and other names that would evoke characteristics (powerful, gentle, sneaky, caring) without being strongly associated with a time period or a place. I made a list of every name that instinctively felt right, without worrying about how I was going to use them. I found a name I loved for my heroine, and once I had that, I went through my list and matched my choices to the characters, making sure I clustered ones that sounded as though they belonged in the same society but weren’t too similar. I got a nice mix of short and long names, each starting with different letters of the alphabet.

Then I found surnames for the hero and heroine that reflect their place in the world. I don’t have any other surnames. I hope they’ll turn up as I write.

Starting with names worked really well for me. I instinctively chose different-sounding clusters of names for the hero’s world and the heroine’s, and that led me to a whole string of assumptions:

  • the hero and heroine are from different countries;
  • the countries are North/South neighbors who are not on good diplomatic terms;
  • each country holds a series of unflattering prejudices about the citizens of the other; and
  • the supposed stereotypes of each nationality flow from the landscape and infrastructure of the country; and
  • the magical or enhanced abilities of the hero and heroine (and their communities) reflect the characteristics of their worlds.

Then I borrowed a few ideas from Maps of the World,  created a map for the two countries, set the border between them (I considered a mountain range but settled on a river), and established their capitals. I needed an idea of distance and terrain, because at the beginning of the story the heroine is traveling by foot. I’ve done a fair amount of trekking in the past so I can imagine her journey.

I still don’t have a name for the countries or the capitals, and that’s annoying me. It seems that my Girls in the Basement work better with names, so I want to try to get these filled in as soon as I can.

Then I started to sketch out a scene or two, and as I did I filled in more pieces of basic world-building. Here are some of the main points:

  • I also wanted a self-contained independent state, home to a monastery or other spiritual community. I looked at images of isolated monasteries, cave monasteries, and all kinds of amazing places before deciding that I want an island with strong defensive capabilities. I had lunch on Friday with a friend who spent some of his formative years on Malta, so I had a good chat with him about the history of the island, particularly the Great Siege;
  • The island and the community need a name and a belief system; I have some ideas about this.
  • I want the island to have a hospital or infirmary as well as a monastery.
  • If I want Kings and Queens, I also need a hierarchy of nobility and forms of address;
  • My heroine needs kick-ass self-defence skills. Fortunately I remembered that a good friend’s husband is a martial arts expert, so I got some preliminary suggestions from him with a promise of more in-depth consulting when I need it;

Finally, I started writing, and found that the story didn’t work in third person. I have a strong hero, but this is not his story. It’s all about the heroine, so I’m writing in first person, which feels weird but right. I wish I had more words on the page, but I think I gave myself a good start. This week will be all about putting words on the page and building out from there. I’ll let you now how I get on.

So…what’s been on your mind this week?

22 thoughts on “Jilly: Brave New World

  1. Wow Jilly, sounds like you’ve made some really good progress. You may not have as many words on the page as you’d like, but getting all that foundation work done should make a big difference when you start writing in earnest.

    This week my historical and my contemporary story have been on my mind. I’m identifying what each of them needs (in order to be done) and which one to tackle first. Today I was working on the collage for my contemporary, trying to see if it would trigger some ideas for some missing scenes in the middle.

    • Sounds as though you have some good momentum going, Elizabeth (I think the Friday improv is definitely helping!). Do you think you’ll continue to work on both stories side by side, or – following the ‘have fun’ principle – will you focus on one and then the other as the inspiration strikes? I’ll be interested to know how you find working on two WIPs in different sub-genres.

      • Jilly – I was planning to focus just on the historical one, because that was the first and I really want it to be done, but I keep getting ideas for the contemporary. For now I’m using the contemp. as a treat – work on the historical for an hour and then I can write what I want. I’m hoping that will benefit both stories, with a little creative fall-out for Friday’s “Detective Cassie” story.

        • That sounds like a win/win/win. Hope it continues to work well and looking forward to next Friday’s instalment of Detective Cassie.

        • Jilly – hopefully inspiration will continue strike regarding Detective Cassie, especially now that Nicolai’s twin Demitri has shown up.

        • Oh, yeah Demetri – he’s started off kind of sleazy, but then Nicolai turned out to be a surprise package, so who knows? Can’t wait to find out 🙂 .

  2. Wow, this sounds like HUGE amount of work. Good for you for accomplishing so much of it.

    And good for me for choosing to write magical realism, so I just have to tweak the world I live in every day. I’m so dyslexic about geography I doubt I could write a story where I had to design the physical world.

    I’m still stuck in Act 2 hell. It’s too long, it goes in too many directions, there are too many scenes that aren’t conflict, just bickering. The low point came yesterday when I realized I had an entire 1500 word scene that I’d included in both Act 1 and Act 2. The good news is, I was able to excise it from Act 2 (thus reducing its unwieldy word count a little). And I think everyone’s motivation is finally coming into focus.

    • I wanted an imaginary setting and I knew there would be a lot of world-building, but I had no idea what that entailed until I started. Now I’m working on the ‘don’t look down’ principle – if I start thinking how much effort this is going to require, I’ll run screaming for safety. One thing I do know – if I can get this whole thing set up, it is definitely going to be a series!

      Sorry to hear you’re battling an unwieldy word count, but there are worse problems to have – and if your characters’ motivation is starting to come into focus, that’s great news. I love the idea of tracking your progress by how many words you’re taking OFF the page each day 🙂 .

  3. I’m glad you’ve got some steam going and that it’s starting to flow for you.

    I’ve gotten myself into Self-Publishing School where it is designed to get your story out in 90 days (that’s why I’ve been abscent for Friday fun and a lot of other stuff lately). The vast majority of the people in there are working on self-help types books, so the 90-day layout and method is quite do-able. I don’t think it’s as functional a deadline for a fiction book, because, as all of us who study the craft know, there’s a heck of a lot more that goes into a good story than doing a simple, straightforward self-help book that’s half the length or less than a novel. But I’ve chosen to do it, so I’m working the program using their methods, even if it might take a bit more time for the writing, editing and such.

    Now, I had some characters and a story idea, it had come from a NaNo I’d done, but I’ve been unable to finish and publish, so far, because as much as I like the characters and story there always seem to be serious structure flaws, so I’m becoming a reformed pantser, because it just hasn’t been working for me, but it has not been an easy thing. They want you to mind map, by hand (not electronically) everything you can think of for your topic/book. First up I HATE mind mapping, I’ve always found it to be not so helpful for me and a complete waste of good time…. But I’m here to learn. I also have ideas for several books, so I wanted to work on a series bible too, at the beginning rather than a few stories in (nothing like complicating things & making it tougher on yourself)… So I have faithfully tried mind mapping in a variety of ways and at different levels… It has been teasing some stuff out.

    I ended up developing a matrix for the story as a whole with all of the players connected.to my two mains- with all of their problems, assests, and enemies, plus the big problems in the middle (& the mains are at opposite ends). I then connected everything to each other and it showed some interesting patterns to me. I then did some basic visual mapping character work on individual characters & it teased out some new & interesting things.

    Next, instead of fighting with the main story (that I did loosely layout what I knew and layer details I knew loosely in place)…. I went to learn more about my bad guy and how he fits into the story by actaully plotting out his story points and where it intersects with the main story – for example, his point of no return #1 is actuall the begining of our story. The body in Lee’s basement (part of our inciting incident to the story) was the baddy’s PoNR#1… as I’ve been plotting out the bad guy’s story, I see more clearly where in intersects with the main story. This has tightend things up & made more sense of things, it also lends to more clear conflict. Next I’ll go back and hit the stories for my other main characters… They each have their story and how and where they intersect with the main story line is the story. It’s been a lot of work, but it is actually flowing. I thought I would be mind mapping the chapters, but the way things are going, I might not have to do that because things are falling into place, by looking at the character’s individual stories.

    I’m a little behind, because there is so much more going on in a fiction story and because I’ve been trying to put together the series bible too, but… I am really starting to look forward to getting the story down and out, and I do think it will go quicker and more smoothly. I’ve been spending and hour a day and it is moving. I will be able to use a couple of my old scenes with a little tweaking, but for the most part I am only able to keep the the main characters, and the story and series concepts. The original story idea was too big and is now the first two story ideas. I just really wanted to commit and get at least one book out this year (although if this works, I think I’ll be able to get two!)

    Part of the process is you have an accountabilibuddy that you set goals with and check in with every week, on a schedule they have set to get things done. Mine is writting a big sci-fi saga, he already had six chapters in when he started, and he is not quite following the method, he is mostly doing his own thing. It will be interesting to see how things come out in the end.

    Wow, that was a bit wordy. Back to the story now.

    • Wow, Penny, you’ve been busy. We missed you, but Self-Pub school sounds really good, even if it’s not quite perfect for fiction. Seems as though you’re getting a lot out of the mind mapping. Jenny C made us do collages as part of the McDaniel course, and I whined at the top of my voice the whole way through because I’m not remotely arty and had tried it before without success. By the time we were done I was a convert and I’m already collecting images for the new story. Hope the mind-mapping turns out the same way for you.

      I’d love to know how you’re progressing, and I bet I’m not the only one here. If you have a spare moment, please drop by again and let us know the latest. A book this year (or two) would be very exciting. Good luck!

      • Yes! Thanks for the update, Penny. Your progress sounds very good!

        I started that McDaniel class with a finished, 40,000 word NaNo, and had to tear the whole thing apart and down. The big thing I discovered is that first drafts are often just the reporting and research part of the job; probably a good idea to turn into a pantser for the second draft.

      • Will do. I just keep finding more layers to add. Everyone has a story and how they tie into the main story and where, starts defining it and tightening it up. I just founf the next layer I need to work on… The following through on the actual investgation for the missing sheriff, the dead girls, and the missing assisant (the details, the clues, the secrets, etc). I may be free blurbing & mapping some more today. But, layering this in should finish filling in the holes, adding conflict and muck, rounding out the story, and showing the reasons for action and change. It’s both heartening and dis-heartening to keep finding another layer, but that’s what we do, right? Gather the layers and the threads, and weave our stories together. I think this is all still a process of me learning how to do this as I transition from pantser to plotter, so, like everything, each time should run smoother. I’m trying to be patient with me and the process, but some days it’s just like “can’t I just get to writing and get the story down now”. It has been a lot more creative and thoughtful in the prep, but it should payoff later in the editing and final prep phases, because I’ve stacked the deck in my favor.

        • Finding another layer is cause for celebration. The deeper ones are where the really good stuff lives, the insights that lift your story beyond the superficial/generic. It is heartening and disheartening, because you can’t get there until you’ve unpeeled the outer ones, and by then it can feel like a backward step. It’s not 🙂 .

          I hope you’re right about the ‘each time should run smoother.’ I asked Jenny C about that in class at McDaniel, and she laughed. She said she’d found a new set of problems with each book.

  4. Everybody’s making so much progress! I’m in awe. Jilly, congratulations on making such great headway on the new world! (Can you tell us the name of the heroine? Dying to know!) This sounds like so much fun. Elizabeth, two books at once! Switching hats can be so hard, and I’ve had that same trouble with collaging. I once did this magnificent collage for a book of which I couldn’t see the middle. And there was this beautiful collagel…with a big hole in the middle. Penny: I love the sound of this class. Maybe you should teach one for novelists. I’d take it. And Jeanne, best wishes on deleting. I’ve been there. 🙂

    I’m struggling with my WIP because I can’t see exactly what it should be doing, although, as always, I know the spine of it–the beginning and end, but not much of the middle. And when I started writing, I got all bogged down, more so than usual. So I’m trying a new thing. I worked up a spreadsheet and wrote in turning point scenes and I’m writing those scattershot throughout the book, hoping it sparks the binding glue that will hold everything together. I’m putting words down, so that’s good. Whether this strategy will work overall, I don’t know. I too want to get away from being a total pantser to someone who can at least minimally plot out a book. We’ll see!

    • Let me get through this successfully and I will be in a better position to help. It sounds like a lot of us are at this cross-over place in our writting, where we want to have a process, some buddies, and get the darn thing done! We definitely need to keep checking in with each other here… We all come up with some good helps and insights. It’s also good to know one is not alone. 😀

  5. Jilly, this is amazing. Congratulations on creating a new world from scratch! And names, yeah, so important for me, too. Once the character has a name everything else starts to line up properly, doesn’t it?

    I’ve come to a whole new place in my writing this week. Finally, for the first time since the very beginning of my writing efforts, everything has come into clear, sharp, focus. I know exactly what I am trying to do and I know exactly how to do it. Add that to my earlier discovery of the voice I want to use and I am set to go for real now. So much fumbling around before, when I didn’t even understand the questions I was trying to ask, much less their answers.

    Seems like this has been a pivotal week for both of us!

  6. Wow! Just, WOW! Great progress Jilly, and Penny, and Elizabeth, etc., etc. I’m living vicariously through all of you right now, so am cheering you on from the sidelines!

    Btw, can you share the names you’ve chosen? Or does that ‘jinx’ the work for you?

    • Hi, Nancy! Sorry you’re still in Day Job Hell. Just think how good it will feel when you get to the other side and can spend quality time with your story again 🙂 .

      I think what I’ll do is try to get some words on the page and see whether the names stick or not, and then I’ll do a post with all of them, talk about my choices and canvas some feedback. Maybe not next Sunday, that’s Valentine’s, but two weeks today.

  7. (-: I am doing much the same thing you are. It’s so funny; I finished the short story last week, and I didn’t have to angst much of it. Then I started a sequel, which went pretty well until I hit 10,000 words and realized I have a much longer work on my hands. So, I have been doing research and digging up names this week, too.

    Names: I wanted magical French names, so I googled something like French magic words. And I got a whole lot of great ideas! I am so tempted to use Madame Baguette-Magique, but I’m afraid it will be too silly. In one of the etymologies, I found Brithon, which is supposed to mean magic wand as well. I think it’s ancient Gaelic or something. But I think she’ll turn out to be Madame Jongleur. (unless that turns out to be something filthy) I put all the ideas in her entry in my Cast of Characters list, so we’ll see what works.

    Another random thought came to me about story: what if the villainess was someone the hero met in 1970s Berlin. I want her to be a mermaid. Well, the stuff I found researching that! Her pseudonym is Nixie Voss. Jack stole her hoard of gold which was hidden in a bust in a cache of condemned-by-the-Nazis artwork. He’s made a ring out of it, which he wants to give to Olivia, but can’t for some reason. (Because it’s cursed, of course. He’ll probably wind up giving her a wire twistie tie once he gets rid of the Damned Ring.) And . . . I don’t know what all. Lots to work through.

    Most interesting: Berlin is a city of lakes, and the Schlachtensee has monster catfish that have been biting swimmers. True fact. I don’t see (yet) how that’s going to fit in the story.

    God, I love discovery! What a nice time in a book’s birth!

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