(You could at least pretend to humor me and cheer a little.)
To start off, I'll show you my two favorite covers from the ones I posted last week. Both of the girls in these mock-ups have the most expressive faces. There's a lost, haunted quality to both of them that fits the book's atmosphere really well.
(images removed for now)
I think the first one blends a bit better, and it's the "official" fake cover, but they're both great representations of the MC.
So, last week left us with a title - DARK WATER - and presumably an idea to go with it. Ideas are good, yes?
Yes. Yes, they are. They're the building blocks of novel writing, but slow down, Sunshine; an idea isn't enough. When you get an idea for a story, what you've usually got is a premise, and a premise is not a plot. Plot is what you need because it's what your characters actually experience and accomplish.
Look at it like this:
Premise -- Young boy goes to boarding school to escape his dreary life.
Plot -- Young boy discovers he's a wizard, and goes to boarding school to learn magic so that he can defeat the evil wizard who killed his parents.
When you get your idea - your premise - then you have to start filling in the plot. And the first thing you need is an inciting incident.
I'll start with something simplistic: A teenage girl must now live with the father she's never known.
This will be the catalyst for Dark Water. Tons of stories start with this premise to get their heroines in action, and to get them on location. What you want to do is take that basic idea and expand it with details that aren't like the other versions. And I'll warn you -- this is the part of "writing" that makes people wonder if you're actually doing anything "important" because this is the part where you look like you're goofing off.
Go ahead and daydream. Stare into space and try to picture what's going on with your characters. Give them names and see if personalities emerge to match. And never fear looking silly or getting messy because sometimes that's what it takes. When you're talking about a career path that involves playing make-believe, it's going to involve a bit of immaturity. Don't be afraid to drag out markers, crayons, or anything else that helps you get what's going on in your head onto a piece of paper or into your computer.
Brainstorming can be messy, and that's fine. We'll clean things up in part 2.
To flesh out the premise, you'll need to know the hows and the whys and whats.
- WHY is the girl going to live with her father?
- WHY has she never known him?
- WHY now?
- HOW is going to get there?
- HOW does she feel about this move?
- WHAT happened to her mom?
- WHAT is she going to do when she finds out she has to move?
- And, also WHAT is her name?
Keep going with the questions until you have a solid grasp of your character's immediate state of being at the start of your story. (And, sadly, be prepared for 90% of what you come up with NOT to make it into the final cut.) Beginnings are generally not so much difficult as they are tricky. You have to determine the line between what you need to know as the writer and what the reader needs to know to understand the story. Draw that line and cut everything that falls below it.
Here's my version:
(I told you my brain was chaotic, did I not?)
I'll clean it up next week, in the Brainstorming part 2 post where I break out the digital cork board, but this is the raw data.
Basically, since there's no way you can read that, here's what I've come up with:
- The MC's name is London, and there's a reason for this. (You don't have to have reasons for the names you choose, and most of the time you won't, but it's actually a detail worth mentioning this time.)
- London is going to live with Dad because something has happened to her mom (I'm leaning toward forced medical care due to long term mental illness. It's not gratuitous handling of the subject matter, nor is it done without experience. I don't want her mom dead, and I want the MC to have reason to doubt her own perception of things when her world dips into the fantastic/paranormal.).
- London isn't exactly happy with the situation because Dad has another family - complete with a daughter 3 months older than London. No matter how you do the math on that one, Dad was a bad, bad boy when he was younger. It's also not a situation I remember reading before.
- Emotion-wise, she feels lost, powerless, out of place, and betrayed, like she's being swept away with nothing to hold on to. (and no, that's not where the title comes from). She's also harboring fears that her mother's illness is a genetic time bomb waiting to go off in her own DNA.
- And finally, the move isn't just out of her house, but out of her neighborhood, city, school, and even state. Dad doesn't live close by, so it means a train ride. For London this makes it worse, as the only trains near where she lives haul things like coal and garbage meant for a smelting plant, so she equates trains with shipping off cargo for disposal.