While I wasn't looking, someone stole summer. The maples have turned red, the beeches dressed themselves overnight in little golden coins, and now they're taking it all off. Even my trusty oak in the backyard is in on the conspiracy: it's gone all rusty and is trying to kill me with acorns!
But the change in the weather has brought some good: CS Harris is doing one of her *very* cool workshops over on her blog. This latest series is about adapting screenwriting techniques to novels.
Part one is the premise, what I like to think of as the Golden Spine. This last novel, I wrote it first, then went looking for the spine. I think next time, I'm going to work from the spine outward.
I can see some real advantages:
Last week the Dynamo and I went out for lunch and chatted about improving the WiP. I pitched my idea for a change in subplot, and she liked it. In fact, she thought maybe that should be the main story. Good pitch.
Now all I did was take a character who was sort of unsympathetic and reframe her-- M. wants ___ because ___. This thing and this other one are in the way, and she doesn't realize that ___ is actually the truth.
Classic premise, right? It got her on board, eager to find out how the story will turn out, now that M is more interesting.
2) Navigational Aid:
Whether or not you plot ahead, writing a novel can be a confusing process. Keeping your spine in mind (Doc Savage wants to stop the Nazi Overlord from using the Sacred Spear to doom mankind) will help you in those moments when things go wrong. For instance, you're less likely to write ten pages of Doc Savage brushing his teeth, rating his own good looks in the mirror and trying to start the Gyrocopter. He's got a world to save! You're also less likely to send him haring down some sidetrack that makes no damn sense at all in light of the Nazi Overlord and that spear!
Being clear on a character's goals, it's easier to keep them from wandering around like yard dogs. Also, it helps if ALL of your major characters have their own premise. After all, the Nazi Overlord is pretty sure he's in a story about delivering Earth into a bright new tomorrow. He just has to keep that damned anarchist from messing up his plans...
3) Small Talk.
It takes a wee while to write a novel. Takes a wee bit more to revise it. Quite a long time, really, between people being able to read your efforts. In the meantime, family, friends, the postman, the checkout operators at the supermarket, all ask the same question:
What's the new one about?
If you've got your premise nailed down early, you can stand up tall and declare, "A string of apparent suicides in an abandoned nunnery have the whole village in a panic. It's up to one ten year old girl to save all life on earth from the Coming of the Old Ones."
WHich beats my answer on this latest book, which was to press my palms flat against my skull and shout, "LALALALALALA CAN'T HEAR YOU!"
Next time, I'm building from the spine outward...