In March, I gave a seminar at the LDStorymakers writer's conference entitled, Creating Your Inner Writing Team. One point I discussed was the way one's natural preference (right brain or left brain) can affect the process of writing. While most people have and use both sides of their brains (hee, hee), our natural preference affects how we go about a project. I gave the example of folks who find it easy to outline a paper and then write it following the outline and folks who are frozen at the prospect of beginning with an outline. They have to write the paper first, then the outline!
So now Nancy and I are working on a project (Lael's writing a YA novel for the national market), and the question of how to begin raised it's head. When writing my earlier novels, I had an idea, and then sat down in front of the typewriter or computer and started writing. I often only had the vaguest notion of what characters besides the protagonist would populate the novel and what the plot points would be.
For example, when I wrote my first novel, The Broken Covenant, I wanted to explore why and how a "good" LDS woman would move from being a devoted wife to having an affair. I had no idea how to begin, so I started writing the conversations I knew this character would have. With the man in question, her husband, her children, the bishop, etc.
I followed much the same process with my other novels. However, working with Nancy as co-author requires a different plan. Outlining and plotting first! Oy vey! Nancy came up with a great idea. Through brainstorming, we knew who the main characters were and what the general plot line would be (a road trip/development novel). But we had to go far beyond that so we wouldn't waste time going down paths that were unproductive.
Luckily, about that time I got a copy of The Writer's Journey/Mythic Structures for Writers by Christopher Vogler. What a fascinating book. Basically, Vogler shows how every successful work of fiction--humorous, epic, whatever——has a character arc that can overlay classic idea of The Hero's Journey. There's been much discussion, for example, of how The Hero's Journey can be seen in the Star Wars trilogy.
So I used the points on the character arc that Vogler outlines in the book as a scaffolding to begin plotting the new novel. The points are,
1. Limited awareness of a problem
2. Increased awareness
3. Reluctance to change
4. Overcoming reluctance
5. Committing to change
6. Experimenting with first change
7. Preparing for big change
8. Attempting big change
9. Consequences of the change
10. Rededication to change
11. Final attempt at big change
12. Final mastery of the problem
I was amazed at how working with these points opened up all sorts of possibilities. Before long, I had a basic structure on paper. Now Nancy and I can have fun filling it out and refining it.
Of course, even with this outline, new ideas and unexpected plot turns will come up in the writing itself. I'm looking forward to seeing where we'll end up, but happily we have a good idea of where we're going!