Sunday, November 23, 2008

Support Writing 1 -- Micro

[I wrote this as a single post, but it's a bit long so I'm splitting it. The first couple of paragraphs apply to the whole piece.]

Normally I don't outline -- I think I've mentioned that before. I've tried it and it's crashed and burned pretty miserably, on one landmark occasion taking an entire novel with it. Even in school I never outlined my papers unless the outline had to be turned in for credit, and sometimes not even then; I've essentially pantsed major research papers with footnote numbers in triple digits (and gotten As on them) so after a few failed experiments I've never had any particular incentive to go back and try again.

Which isn't to say that every story is created completely within its Word file, with no support writing. Short stories, sure. But for longer pieces and series stories I find I do need some help keeping everything straight, at the very least for the sake of continuity.

Most of my longer stories have a Notes file, usually called StoryNameNotes.doc. I'll jot down character notes at the top -- full name, any nicknames, age, family/friend/work relationships, physical details, plus things like how they take their coffee, whether they call it a "couch" or a "sofa," where they're from, etc. I'll add to it as I go, whenever anything significant comes up in the story that I think there's any possibility I might need to refer to later. The character notes go first in the file because I refer to these most often, usually protags at the top, then supporting characters, then minor characters. Sometimes I'll cluster characters differently, like in my current WIP where I have the bad guy's notes followed by a bunch of very minor characters who are his henchmen and who pretty much are just names and skills/functions; exactly how I organize things depends on what I think will be the most useful for the current story.

Then I'll start adding setting notes below that, which might be more or less detailed depending on the setting. SF or fantasy gets a lot of notes because every time I make something up I have to remember it, while mundane contemporary settings get fewer. So for A Hidden Magic, an urban fantasy set in modern times in the Bay Area (where I grew up, and lived until I got married and moved to Long Beach), I've got the following setting notes, among others:

Underhill or Under the Hill
It's winter
the wildlands, the chaotic territory Underhill between enclaves
the light Underhill was a perpetual dim twilight and days passed only in the sense that meals and sleeping periods came and went.

The first bit is a nomenclature note; I wanted to remember how I wrote it out and what capitalization I used. (I do that a lot, for consistency.) The bit about it being winter refers to the story period; it's not winter Underhill all the time. The last bit is a clip directly from the story; no sense retyping it, right?

Farther down I have some spells I used:

don't-look -- a magical glamour which coaxes the eye away
banishing -- sending creature back Underhill, chanting & hollow BANG! 2 min. when Aubrey does it
obscure -- spell to block someone who's Seeking

The timing note on the banishing is there because Aubrey's one of the most powerful mages in my world; anyone else doing that spell would take longer and I don't want to forget and have some apprentice-type do it in thirty seconds a hundred pages later. [laugh/flail] Most of what I jot down are things like that, for consistency. It's all right for different characters, who might've been taught by different people or groups or traditions, to call the same spell something different, but if I do that I want it to be a deliberate choice because I was adding depth to my world, rather than accidentally because I forgot what I called it last time.

Swords and Shadows, a fantasy set in a world I made up, has more notes about little things:

Ulder Pass -- main artery through Daro Uldrem, the mountain range east of Pilenem, the capital province.

Five of Arden's brothers were at the victory feast

Pilen -- the Molani language

bridegild -- brideprice

Money -- Molani
terran -- copper coin
lunar -- silver coin
solar -- gold coin

Money -- Ruvori
pes -- copper coin
kas -- small silver coin
vas -- larger silver coin
chas -- gold coin

I start out just jotting things as they occur to me, which is usually as I create them within the story, which is why the ordering might seem a bit chaotic. As I collect more notes, I start cut/pasting to get them more organized. In this file, I separated out lists of gods and other religious matters, because all the magic in this story comes from the gods and the main plot is based on the gods messing with the world, so there's a lot of info piling up about the different gods -- their name, appellation (Ashti, a goddess of travellers, is often called Ashti of the Roads, for example) what they're in charge of, how their priests dress, temple descriptions, etc.

I don't necessarily worry about putting in every detail -- the point is to jog my own memory. There's actually very little verbage in my note file about the one god who's stirring up all the trouble, for example, because I've been focused on him all along and I haven't come up with much that I thought I'd have a hard time remembering. This is for my own utility, so I tune it to my own needs. If this ever turned into, say, a shared world and I had to come up with a bible for other writers to use, I'd have to add a lot.

So how does everyone else work? How do you make sure your character who's allergic to citrus in Chapter Two doesn't slug down a lemonade in Chapter Thirty-Seven? Or that a character who says "dresser" for twelve chapters doesn't suddenly start saying "bureau?" Or that your landlocked city doesn't suddenly develop a thriving waterfront at the climax of the story?


[To Be Continued in "Support Writing 2 -- Macro"]


laughingwolf said...

looking good, angie :D

Angie said...

LW -- thanks. :)