The Process: Beginning a WIP

• Decide on the genre and sub-genre.
• Decide on the approximate word length, basic market aiming for with the manuscript.
• Decide on the working title.
Build a working notebook for the story. My notebooks are arranged in this order: Photos of Characters, Character Grid, Character Contrasts Chart, Story Progression & Outline spreadsheet, setting details, clothing details, occupation details, vehicle details, etc., and printed copies of each chapter.
• Create a basic storyline theme in 100 words or less.
• Choose names for the main characters and most important side characters.
• Fill in the Character Grid for the heroine, hero, and villain (if there is one) with information as it pertains to each character under each of their columns. The information includes the Inciting Incident, Long Range Goal, Short Range Goal, Character Flaw, Relationship Barrier/Conflict, Black Moment, and Realization.
• Find photos of all characters, particularly the main characters to visually refer back to for details. I scan the photos into my computer, use Publisher to create a sheet with all the characters, save that to my manuscript’s file, and print it out for my story’s working notebook.
• Fill in the Character Contrasts Chart with very basic details for each of the main characters: name, nickname, age, height, hair color/style, facial unique features if any, color of eyes and anything unique, unique body details, sound of voice or accent, some personality details (birth order, family, education, work attitude, strengths, weaknesses, favored style of dress, occupation, marital status). Sometimes I fill it all in to get a “feel” for the characters. Sometimes I fill in part of it and maybe add to it as I write and the characters reveal themselves to me.
• Set up the Story Progression & Outline spreadsheet and fill in basic plot elements to aim for in specific chapters, remembering that anything can be changed and moved to another spot. I use a basic spreadsheet set up for what I commonly write, 5-7 chapter novellas of 25,000-35,000 words or 12 chapter novels of 50,000-60,000 words. I refer to the spreadsheet for the basic plot flow elements that might occur in a specific chapter, and I fill in the chart as I finish each chapter with what actually happened, who was involved, setting(s), and when (my story timeline). Since I work on more than one storyline at a time, I can not only read the previous chapter to get my head back into the story again but also I can use the basic summary of each previous chapter to do the same thing.
• Decide on basic setting details and find photos for visual referencing; such as sample ranches with building layouts, the main characters’ places of residence (house, condo, etc.), offices involved (actual main buildings in a particular city for details, office furniture, etc.), scenery details (mountains, beaches, particular details to an area), vehicles (pickup trucks, cars). I’m a very visual person and having pictures helps me with descriptions. Sometimes I scan in the detailed photos and print them out, sometimes I just put the pictures from magazines, etc. into my notebook, and sometimes I just write down the details I might need and put that in the notebook. Maybe I use the information and maybe I don’t, but it helps to have a basic idea of details before I begin. And I add to these details when necessary as they come up while actually writing the story.
• Do basic research for specific information I will deal with in the storyline: occupation details and appropriate lingo (cowboys, ranching, common lingo; fraud investigation, how it’s done, what is involved, terminology), time period details (type of dress, furniture, inventions up to that time period, social manners, language, etc.).
• Sometimes I add a spreadsheet that details specific items for this manuscript such as overall deadline and chapter deadlines, because most of the work I write and sell is sold either as a whole finished product, or as a whole product but published by chapters. If the manuscript is submitted somewhere else with the hopes of a sale, I list where it was sent, when, and any responses. And for my business records, I list the type of payment or amount to be received (or received).
• WRITE. Actually sit down and plant your hands on the keyboard and let them fly as you write the story.

NOTE: The charts I use are all available as pdfs or Word or Excel documents on my website


Reese Mobley said...

WOW! Starla you have it down to a science. I bow to you! I hope to continue to learn from you. It's no wonder you are a machine when it comes to producing so much work. Thanks for sharing this with us. I plan to try these things when I start my next book. XOXO

Joan Vincent said...

Double WOW! I do a lot of the things you've written about but not quite so organized. You inspire me to do better. I'm printing your post out to keep me on track as I begin my new WIP. Thanks also for sharing all the forms.

Roxann Delaney said...

Make it a triple WOW! I also have a notebook for each story with tracking sheets included. The sheets I use the most are in plastic sleeves so I can pull them out as I'm writing without having the notebook spread out on my desk.

Starla, I think you have me beat on the forms. LOL I'm going to check out yours and see if I might be missing something I might need or could revise mine to work better.

I do a calendar for each book, using Word's calendar template, so I can keep track of the timeline. Chapter and scene number are on the date the scene(s) take place, along with a few words about what the scene is about. I've found it invaluable with the series I'm working on right now.

I also have a Character List, which includes not only characters who appear in the book, but also anyone mentioned. With a series, I create a Master Character List in addition to the invidual one for each story, with all characters in the series and in which book they appear or are mentioned.

I also have a chart for the main characters' ages, so I know when they were born and when major things happened in their lives, such as HS, college years, death of a family member, when the H/H met, etc.

And then there's my storyboard, which I couldn't live without!

I won't even mention the sheets for tracking pages written, goals, submissions, and the rest. (grin)

Yes, I'll definitely take a look at yours, and thanks so much for sharing them and your process!!

Nina Sipes said...

Wow more! I've been keeping all this stuff in my head! No wonder I don't have time to think. Or rather maybe it is more a space issue. I don't have room to think! How wonderful to get it out there where all you have to do is create! I gotta try some of this. Thank you for sharing your processes--all of you.

Starla Kaye said...

Everyone has their own system and I always enjoy learning how others work. Roxann, I, too, use sheet protectors for the info I look at most and especially to protect my character photos.

On my Story Progression I keep track of settings (month, day number of the story development, season, and, of course, where). Keeping an actual calendar might be interesting, I'll have to think about adding that.

I keep all of my information on whatever computer I'm using (the office one, my laptop) and backed up several places (on the computers, my big external hard drive, and the flash drive that is always with me). But I like using a notebook to hold hard copies for each project.

I work in a number of places (the office, at home, on my porch, occasionally in a bookstore, a hotel room when travelling, etc.) and I sometimes pull parts of my notebook out to take with me for a visual reference.

I generally work with two monitors, as that is what we have at the office. At home I use my laptop and often also use a second monitor. It is really nice to have several programs or parts of my projects up at the same time, rather than toggling back and forth on just one monitor. It's funny how you get spoiled...and I'm seriously spoiled in that way.

Roxann Delaney said...

Starla, I noticed the sheet protectors Sunday in the notebook you brought and chuckled to myself. Brilliant minds and all that. LOL

We track much of the same things, but in different ways. I used to use a chart-type tracker for timeline: scenes, where they took place, time of day, which day, etc. And I didn't do it with every manuscript, just the ones where kept getting lost. It wasn't until I wrote my first HAR that I tried a calendar.

Working on a series demands keeping track of so many things. Not only do I have a calendar for each story, there's a master calendar too, along with the master character list.

Two monitors? Wow! I've hooked up two computers to one motitor before, but never tried that. Whatever works best. :) We're definitely creatures of habit.

Penny Rader said...

Super wonderful post, Starla!

Thank you so much for sharing with us. I love having everything in one place, especially a portable place, so I can carry it with me.

I haven't mastered scanning in photos of my characters, but I'm always pulling pics out of magazines to use for my characters, their homes, etc.

Having two monitors at work has really spoiled me. For a while we had two monitors on the home computer, but my son removed one and I can't remember why. I do miss it.

I used a calendar with my historical, Sapphire and Gold. It helped me keep track of time so I didn't have something happen on a Thursday only to discover we were still on Wednesday.