On Monday, our own Mindy Klasky started a series on how she writes a synopsis, which I am dying to read because … uh … I have no idea how I do it. I mean, I do it, I write them, but I don’t know if I do it right. I know I must have my own way of constructing a synopsis because I have never read anyone else’s synopsis. Synopses. (shrugs) I’ve learned a lot from the other writers here at MagicalWords.net, and I am looking forward to her process.
Through MW, I have discovered one major way in which Mindy and David (and probably everyone else for that matter) do character research and planning in the pre-writing phase. They have their characters histories fully fleshed out, sometimes down to their childhood sports injuries, their pets’ names, the schools they went to (the characters, not the pets) and their favorite teachers. They know how the characters react to stresses, parents, love interests, and the events that triggered their growing up. They know their characters’ favorite foods, their shoe sizes, and their job histories. They know their favorite ice-cream. Favorite TV shows.
I don’t. I seriously do not do that sort of character research. Not any of it. It seems that I am the only one who discovers the character herself or himself in the writing process, not ahead of time. When it comes to character creation, it fear that I am (gasp) pretty much a pantser.
When I start the creative process for a novel, I start with three things: a character, the place in her soul where that character is broken, and the pivot plot point that will challenge that brokenness. That’s it. My synopsis is simply the method I use to build a plot around that pivot point.
All I know about my character is the stuff I need to build that plot synopsis. I may not know her eye color, her hair color, or how tall she is, unless those things pertain to the plot. If she has to fine a weapon, I decide at what point in her life she learned to shoot and why and who taught her. If she needs to be scarred to drive the plot, I decide how she was injured. But I don’t think about how any of those events affect her. That part of the character building is for the actual writing.
Sometimes that methodology creates minor problems down the road. Case in point is the female character who is six feet tall but only wears a size seven and half shoe. Really? How does she balance on those tiny feet? I admit that it isn’t impossible to be tall with small feet or short with large feet, but it isn’t as likely as a tall woman with larger feet. Size ten at least. But I digress.
The few times I planned out ahead of time exactly who my character was, I got bored with her too quickly. Early on in my career, I realized that as a writer, I didn’t mind knowing everything about the plot – everything – before I started writing the novel. But I wanted to discover the character as I wrote. I wanted to watch her bloom like orchids opening along a stalk, one petal at a time, one flower at a time. I wanted to get inside her head as the reader did. I wanted to be surprised!
For me that is the joy of writing – that surprise, that discovery. So that part of the pre-writing process I won’t change. But I am eager to find out how others write synopses. Because (it isn’t a secret) I don’t think that writing synopses is very much fun. It is the nuts and bolts of writing for me. It is about as much fun as dry-stacking a stone wall, but without the dirt, the blisters, and the calluses.
For Jane Yellowrock, when I started the synopsis, I knew she was Cherokee, a skinwalker, had been on the trail of tears, (making her about 170 yrs old) liked guns, had commitment issues, had amnesia, and rode a Harley. That was it. The amnesia was a way to fully discover who she was, because she didn’t really know who she was herself when the series started. It’s been a wild ride and this latest book has taken me places I did not see coming.
I just turned in a JY book to my editor this morning. BLACK ARTS, number 7 in the series. I will start a Jane Yellowrock novella later on this week. The synopsis already looks daunting.
I hope someone else can teach me a way to inject some fun into the process.