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April Round Robin Discussion – How do you establish a story/character/setting?

When I started Tapped I knew I was going to be working with a larger series. I knew I wanted religion outlawed and an underground railroad put in place for refugees. I wanted to pose questions that would take more than one book to fully answer.

But I wanted it to mean something.

You can run out and find thousands of essays on the subject of religion, but those can only touch the surface and very rarely come with the emotional impact one can find in fiction.

Thus entered Devon Barlow, a young man travelling with his parents on a hauling vessel called Zephyr. I knew he was young enough to still be considered a minor, but old enough to chafe under that restriction. And I knew his parents were hiding big secrets.

Beyond that, Devon showed me who he was with each draft. I didn’t know he was courageous until the end of the first draft, when he insists on saving his mother against hopeless odds.

Once that first draft was finished, I had the basic shape of the story, so the only thing I can say about establishing a story is to write the rough draft. Once that’s done, you have round upon round of editing to help tighten and sharpen the story until it resembles something decent.

Establishing the character is a little different. The rough draft is a first date, so to speak. You have coffee or a light lunch with your main character, listening to them as they give basic highlights of who they are as people.

With Devon, learning he was courageous meant I had to show that possibility earlier in the book. Thus entered the spelunking scene on Pluto where we get to see him react to a horrible accident.

The second draft is like reaching the third month of a relationship. You know their basic personality from before, but now you start to find all those quirks that seem to have no explanation.

Devon noticed ships and blueprints in the first draft, but it wasn’t until the second draft that I understood why. He wants to learn how to design space vessels, which leads to a conflict over schooling (aka – a major plot point) and reveals his talent as an engineer.

By the third draft you’ve entered into the permanent status of your relationship with this character. You not only know who they are, you can anticipate what the absolute worst scenario will be for them – and if you’re evil like me, you then plop them in the middle of that scenario and watch them scramble.

Establishing setting is an altogether different beast. I confess that this is a weak spot in my writing. I am working to remedy that and envy authors who are able to describe their settings with a few brilliantly placed words.

That being said, a trick I often use is to make sure the settings are described in the character’s POV. For example, Devon views Zephyr as a labyrinth of secrets. His parents are hiding things from him and that is proven even in the vessel’s blueprints.

But when Jorry (his mother) describes the ship it is always in terms of a safe haven, and a home. She lingers on the notches in the wall where she measured Devon’s height as he grew up, and the security measures put in place to keep him safe.

Take a peek at what some of my fellow authors do to help establish their characters and stories…

Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Dr. Bob https://wp.me/p3Xihq-1eg
A.J. Maguire  https://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/ (YOU ARE HERE)
Marci Baun  http://www.marcibaun.com/blog/
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
Margaret Fieland http://margaretfieland.wordpress.com
Connie Vines http://mizging.blogspot.com/ 
Rhobin L Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com

5 thoughts on “April Round Robin Discussion – How do you establish a story/character/setting?

  1. Enjoyed this insight into how you developed this story. It is interesting how anything in a story can change and develop unforeseen depths with each draft.

  2. Interestingly, although I’m still pretty much a pantser, my first book was totally by the seat of my pants and like you, I discovered who my characters really were after that first draft was written.

  3. I hate revising, although I recognize it as a necessary evil, so when I write that first draft, it’s pretty clean. Not that things don’t need to be adjusted and cleaned up, but I really don’t like going back and rewriting. However, I’ve joined a beta crit group, and the comments made in it have really enhanced the story. Having more than one set of eyes on a story is very helpful, otherwise, I see my work as something given to me directly from God/the gods that is perfect. (Bahahaha! Not really, but it’s amusing to say such silliness aloud.)

    I’ve always said that, when you’re in a relationship, the first six months should be all rosy. If they irritate you before then, it’s a bad sign. (grin) I guess the same can be true for our stories. We need to love our story and characters first before seeing the flaws that need to be fixed or we won’t finish them.

  4. I enjoyed your post and how you develop the story and characters through the revisions. Like Marci, I hate revisions although I usually do at least one ore two, because when I finish that first draft I have a feel for my characters and where the story is going.

  5. Interesting that you use a stepwise process. That’s never occurred to me before. Oh, I do revise endlessly; insert prequels to make sense of something later on or sow a seed like you’ve described for courage; move scenes around, and so on.
    Doing it as a regular, structured activity is an excellent technique.

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