Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Where is the starting line?

Okay, so I'm at the start of plotting a new series of stories to pitch at the ACFW Conference, and it occurs to me, after practically bathing in craft books, that I've created a quandry for myself.
I think I might have been educated beyond my intelligence!
Where do I start? Characters? Plot? Setting? How do I go deeper, put in more layers, symbols, arcs, subplots, subtexts, tension, moral premises, and so forth? Names? GMC? Backstory? I'm trying to create a bigger story, writing a better novel than any I've turned out before.
I'm swimming in options. It's time to start choosing from the options and narrowing the focus of the story. I just finished reading The Moral Premise by Dr. Stanley Williams. Man, I felt like a mental midget when I finished that book. I think I understand what he's saying, and I'm anxious to apply it, but the first half of the book, where he was discussing the moral premises of everything from Socrates to Seinfeld (Seriously!) I was barely keeping my nose above water.
So, I've got this US Cavalry officer, and this spinster nurse, and we'll see what happens when I give the story a moral premise.
Behaving with dishonor brings guilt, regret, and loss, but behaving with honor brings inner peace, contentment, and a sense of self-worth.
This is what I've come up with so far, after some soul searching and hashing over of philosophy with my DH. It might need some fine-tuning, but at least it's a start.
Where do you start with a new story? And have you ever read a new craft book and felt way out of your depth???
I'm going to go read GMC again. THAT one I get!
Photo from Flickr by Rennett Stowe


  1. Oh, Erica, you are not alone!!! I know exactly what you mean. I read that book too, and several others got me the same way. I do like your moral premise, though!!!

    I think that overeducated issue is a big reason why I haven't submitted anything yet. I see how horrible my work really is when there are such enormous expectations out there and so much more to learn! It's very scary!

  2. Starting a new book and pulling together everything is really challenging. I'm still in that process somewhat myself. For me, once I have the plot basics and have an idea of where the story could go, I begin to feel ready. But I never feel completely ready until I KNOW my characters. I have to really know them before I can start. I might not have all the research done, or the setting flushed out, or minor characters developed. But if I know my MC's then I can start, and a big part of that for me is knowing their GMC's.

  3. Oh goodness, I hear ya girl!! I've been reading so many craft books too, and i completely understand what you are going through! I think your goals are awesome though, and I love the moral premise. Hmmmm...would you recommend that book. I'm always looking for a good craft book to read, and sometimes I think I'm lacking in the symbols/theme aspect of my writing.

    I also agree with Jody - I really have to know my characters before I can start writing.

    My judges really liked your first line, BTW. :)

  4. I am right there with you! I am just now editing my first WIP and my goodness, all the information from all the writing books I've read just about paralyzes me!

    BTW, stop by my blog today. I left you a surprise. :)

  5. Mental midget?! LOL!!! What a hoot. Uhhh...I've so been there, but could not have described it as brilliantly as you.

    For me, I can have an idea (premise) and start to have a plot, but the hardest thing for me is the names. Now I have to think about a moral premise too? LOL! Maybe I'LL go back to Writing for Dummies.

  6. It all starts with a character. At first he or she is completely cardboard with a name and I have a basic idea of what they look like. From there the backstory begins to develop. Out of that backstory come other characters and if I let it ruminate long enough the GMC shows up, the lie they believe appears, and then hopefully a novel-worthy conflict.

    It's all about the characters with me. Very rarely have I tried to create a character to go with a setting I want to write about. I want to write something set in the court of Catherine the Great, but so far nothing is showing up.

  7. Sometimes I just have to let craftbooks compost until I finally get it or as my teacher says: you'll understand when you're old enough

  8. There must be something on the airwaves giving all of us who write the idea that we MUST devour every craft book that comes down the pike. Granted, they've all taught me great things and improved (hopefully) my writing. And I feel your pain, Erica. Where exactly do you start when you are in possession of all that "cool" knowledge?
    For me, it's not the moral premise, although it's good to figure that out in the beginning.
    Usually I start with a character or two and some sort of dilemma. The two books I'm brainstorming now actually came to me with the problem before I started adding characters.
    If I've learned anything via all the craft books, it's that I need to do more pre-planning rather than starting w/ the actual writing.