Thursday, October 17, 2013

Magic Thursday: Controlling the Creative Chaos

by Astrid Cooper


Eighteen months ago I embarked on a new writing direction: m/m paranormal romance. I didn’t realise it then, but I would be creating a monster with my guys (and gals) at Monsters “inK”. A “simple” paranormal series began to evolve, because I like to plot and my characters like to take me on unplanned journeys. That’s a paradox: the author plots and the characters take control.

The simple story line began to layer, to evolve, so much so that plots and characters in preceding stories began to influence successive story lines, in unexpected directions.

Before I knew it I had 7 books in the series, and approx. 220,000 words to keep track of. What colour eyes does Kellyn have? Is Sebastian right or left handed? Does Jaidyn have a tattoo? Does Camilla have dark hair, or is she a red-head? These may not be earth-shattering questions, but I need to know, so I can maintain consistency—to maintain control. And I’d much rather that my limited brain cells store plot ideas, than be overloaded with character trivia.

Each book in the Monsters inK series introduces 2 new characters, and usually a new setting, or a new slant on an old setting – such as the Monsters’ Building located in the renovated warehouse at Port Adelaide. The Monsters’ street now has many shops, owned by Monsters characters, or friends of the Monsters guys (such as Luigi the boot maker (a human) who makes customised boots, shoes, and stilettos for the guys and gals).

Maintaining control is not something new for me. I wear several writing “hats”: mainstream fantasy, romantic fantasy and futuristic. My latest romantic fantasy trilogy wip is now at 500,000 words, and that story pushed me hard to research and then keep track of all the myths, costumes, characterisations – every aspect of the world and culture I had created had to be recorded. It was too complicated to leave to memory.

As a fantasy writer I have always maintained character and location files, made maps, created costumes and props and written storyboards. For any writer, especially a series writer, these “tools” can be invaluable. I even have a dedicated room which I theme-convert when I’m writing those long, complicated series, or epic “stand alone” books. When I enter that room and see the props, my mind is immediately taken to the work in progress. My current theme-room has American civil war memorabilia—for 2 books I am planning.

But back to the Monsters… I did not envisage that my m/m series would need these controlling techniques, with the result that I overlooked some plot points, that only came to my attention when my reader asked me “what happened to the twins?” What twins? Oops. The sister of one of the guys was expecting—her gestation period ended up being the longest in human history. I had to explain away this “oversight” with a bit of creative time management. <g>

So, here are some of the tools I use to control the creative chaos: 


1. Storyboards.

Visual aids to highlight the peak plot moments of characters. Not unlike the storyboards that screenwriters use. They can resemble comic strip like action/character graphics. I also add props to these storyboards: maps, pieces of costume, photographs, etc.



© Igorius | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images




2. Maps.

Can be hand-drawn (or software generated for the really complicated storylines) to show where characters are at any moment in the story.

Historically, fantasy books have elaborate world-building and maps show the created geography of these worlds (such as JRR Tolkien’s Middle Earth, or George R Martin’s “Game of Thrones” series). Tolkien said: “I wisely started with a map and made the story fit…the other way about lands one in confusions and impossibilities.”

This is so true. For example, if an author were to create a world that has high mountains barring one land from the next, but the hero (or heroine) must traverse these mountains to save the world, then the character needs to set off prepared to face the rigours of the next stage of the journey—the author has to devise ways and means of that character getting provisions, clothing, transport to reach the new destination. Maps allow the author to prepare the journey—like a military campaign. To not be prepared will land the author (the worldbuilder), as Tolkien says, in “confusions and impossibilites”.

In my Monsters series, I have developed 3 independent sanctuaries for various groups of characters. Maps help me to remember where they are and what the topography is. I also mark on the maps any special areas of interest (such as the crystal deposits that the Monsters guys tap in to from time to time), and the location of CafĂ© Decadence and the location of the tarot shop, etc. Maps help create my world, and enhance it. The more I work on it, the more “real” it becomes—the more it becomes “possible”.


3. Time lines.

These help to keep track of who is where during each story and what is happening “off scene”, so that I can bring in events and not lose them in the layers of other events (such as the overlooked birth of the twins).


4. Character profile.

Each character (no matter how minor) has his, or her, profile page. Here is a sample.

Character profile

(remember to INSERT PICTURE OF CHARACTER from the front cover, or a photograph of a person that embodies your character – a movie star, model, or whomever)



BOOK TITLE

SERIES NUMBER

NAME OF CHARACTER

MAIN CHARACTER/SECONDARY CHARACTER?

AGE

HEIGHT

WEIGHT

HAIR COLOUR

HAIR LENGTH

EYE COLOUR

TATTOOS, ETC.

STATUS (OCCUPATION)

RELATIONSHIP TO MAIN CHARACTER

MAIN DISTINGUISHING PHYSICAL FEATURE

MAIN CHARACTER TRAIT

PARTNER

RELEVANCE TO STORY




5. Book profile.

Each book cover is attached to this file, with the story outline (blurb, tag line) as well as the main characters and their physical descriptions. This allows quick reference for when I am writing the next book, should these previous story characters make a cameo appearance. I don’t have to spend time searching through the earlier books to find character descriptions.

These are my main tools. I prefer hard copy and I prefer to hand write. I pin up these pages on noticeboards in my office for works in progress, and on noticeboards/storyboards in my “spare” room, for works that I am planning, “brainstorming”, or researching.

Helping the reader or reviewer:

One lesson learnt—the hard way—in writing a series is to make sure that every book cover in the series clearly displays the title of the series and the book number. If a reader buys book 3 in the series and doesn’t know it is a series, then they aren’t going to be happy. The same is true for reviewers. I also list (in sequence) at the front of each book, all the titles in the series, as well as the characters. This alerts readers to the fact that this is a series, not a “stand alone”.


Catalysts for new works:

I am always on the look out for unusual location pictures and interesting people pictures. I store these in a file: these may be the catalyst for a new story. I see a lot of evocative pictures posted on FaceBook. Obviously, because of copyright, you can’t use these in your work, other than as “stimulation”, but a picture is literally worth a thousand words—or, in my case, two hundred thousand words (and counting).

By using tools to control the creative chaos, your imagination and energy can be directed to other facets of your writing: creating memorable scenes and characters.




Giveaway:

Choice of an Astrid Cooper e-book; or a short one-on-one session with Astrid to create a scene.



Please find my books at Extasybooks








3 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing your creative process Astrid I found it intriguing and helpful.

    With so much going on in your stories you'd need a good system and I love the room created.

    Cheers,
    Margaret

    ReplyDelete
  2. This sounds helpful

    bn100candg at hotmail dot com

    ReplyDelete
  3. You've got it down packed, Astrid. Thanks for sharing!

    ReplyDelete