A Sparkling Ring

Embarking on a new book begins with the vaguest of notions. An idea pops out of the ether, and that spark can loop around and around in your head. Along its orbits coalesce related ideas that seem worthy of inclusion. Once this spinning core gains enough gravity, an author can be moved to write down some initial notes about the project. 

The circumstances of the setting, maybe some plotting notes, some ideas about characters can spin out onto the page. I encourage authors to let them come out randomly, since good notes cannot be forced. Or rather, the ones prematurely organized will likely be discarded at a later date. A more profitable enterprise during this opening phase is focusing on who the players in the drama will be.

Such initial notes should concern the protagonist, to be sure, but you may also want to devise some sketches of those immediately around the center. The qualities of the hero will exist, after all, within the context of others. You could spin out long paragraphs about what themes and personality traits you’d like to see, but what good are they in isolation? Is the novel only going to feature one character? 

Opposition to the hero’s desires needs to be found. Otherwise, you would not have any drama. That means detailing at least one antagonist that will specifically create obstacles for the hero. If you examine your notes on what the story is about, you can draw up an ideal enemy that will thwart the hero’s desires at multiple points along the novel’s journey. 

That includes only the antagonist. All of the major relationships must contain conflict of some sort. A happy family doesn’t exist in fiction, or rather, any members of the family that are content should be relegated to background noise, filling out the scenery. Does the protagonist have immediate family members? They could frame how the hero acts, possibly decisively. Choosing a pairing of a mother or father, or older brother or sister, would give you multiple mirrors through which to show different facets of your lead. One of them might be a pernicious influence as well, since family relationships are so complex. So, maybe a minor antagonist because we can’t choose our family members.

What comes of expanding immediately to a ring of characters is that you gain various insights from these different directions. Because writing at this stage is not linear, you may come up with a great idea about the hero because you’re were investigating the best friend in college. Another one pops up when describing a quality of the mother. You can fill out the main portrait from the edges as well as from the core.

Exercise: If you let the ideas bang around, pretty soon the separate pages devoted to a half dozen characters, say, are sprinkled with sentences. They can become paragraphs—all of your coordinated good ideas. You may find that’s how creation works best for you, by fortunate accidents.

“The world does not have tidy endings. The world does not have neat connections. It is not filled with epiphanies that work perfectly at the moment that you need them.”  —Dennis Lehane

Copyright @ 2021 John Paine. All rights reserved.

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Copyright © 2020 John Paine. All rights reserved.