Over the past two weeks I’ve been battling the flu. Now, personally I’m not a believer in the often derived “Man-Flu.” It’s derogatory, and insulting. That said, this flu is by far the worst one I’ve ever had. I’ve barely been awake for the past week and a half and when I have I’ve had the energy of a newborn kitten. It’s been annoying.
It has left me however with a lot of time to think. One of the preoccupations my mind has been playing with is The Temple of Sarantine, the first in my Darkened North Series. This is definitely understandable, and one of my key areas of focus has been the ability to look back and see what I should have done differently, and what I will be doing differently on my next writing adventure.
The second thing I’ve been focusing on is my next writing adventure. As I come closer to the point of writing “The End” on the first book of my series, my mind has already started searching for it’s next journey. Or should that be my muse rather than my mind. Either way, I’ve gotten to the point of deciding what I want to write about, and am now trying to determine whether or not the idea I like has the legs to get it to the finish line.
Back in my earlier writing life – well my attempt at it – I did a lot of courses on screenplay writing and even successfully completed a couple of full length movie scripts that went nowhere, mostly because they’re still sitting in a drawer in my room.
I did ask for help on one of them, a mockumentary style comedy about a group of people putting on an amateur musical, once. I had an Uncle who was a director. I asked if he’d read it and give me some tips on how to make it better. I never received any feedback and took that to mean it was garbage. One of these days I’ll go back to screenplay writing, I actually have one in mind and was toying with the idea of it being my next writing project.
In the end I’ve decided to write a “cozy mystery” with a twist. Instead of the usual cast of characters, my amateur detective is going to be a a young, gay porn star. I’m going to combine erotica with comedy and smattering of romance to form a different type of story and see where it goes.
If it works, it will be my first self-published novel. The Darkened North Series will first be sent to every publisher in the Universe in an attempt to have it professionally published. I want to see it in the local bookstore, all shiny and new.
Anyway I got thinking about setting up the background of the story over the last few days. When I used to put together the outlines for my screenplays and short films I had a set series of steps I’d undertake in order to get the visuals correct. When I began writing Book 1 of Darkened North I basically threw myself into it blind. That’s a mistake that won’t be happening again.
In order to even scratch the surface of the world of my amateur porn star detective I need to understand the world I’m putting him in. The point he’s a porn star is really neither here nor there beyond giving him an unexpected career and opening the novel to the opportunity to have some “fun” times beyond dodging bullets.
I’ve decided to combine the way I used to create screenplays with the way I write novels for this piece. As such, here are my top tips for preparing for you next writing adventure.
Character building is one of those jobs that I never take seriously enough. I like to uncover the character as I go. But there are some easy to implement ways to get the basics of your character down on paper.
Firstly Google is your friend.
There are about 200 Gazillion images floating about in cyberspace. Whenever I’ve set out to write a screenplay I first find pictures of the actors I want to play the characters. I set up a folder on my desktop called Characters and I do two things.
Firstly I source images of that particular person, not just movie stills but random shots that have been taken by the paparazzi or the fans who spot their favourite celeb buying coffee after yoga. The visual of the character is then taken care of.
In the Character folder I also set up a folder for each character individually. I save the images there so I can pop over and have a look whenever I need inspiration. The other thing I set up inside the Character’s individual folder is their life history.
It starts obviously with name, date of birth, and an image but I also use various things like Astrology charts or the Chinese Zodiac to give me a list of strengths and weaknesses, as well as individual traits. By doing this – and only really if you make sure to pick a different one for each character – you can ensure that your characters are individuals, with different strengths, weaknesses and challenges to overcome in the story.
My new novel is set in and around Los Angeles. My knowledge of LA is pretty much non-existent. I’ve never been there. I know no-one who is there. The friends of mine who have been there have all described it as big, impersonal and difficult to get around if you don’t have a car. I’ve got no idea when – or if – I’ll ever get there. Money is tight, work at the moment is less than secure. I just don’t have the resources to get to where I need to be to give it the personal touch.
This is where Google comes in again. The information in this day and age is at your finger tips. Maps, street view, restaurant reviews, hotel reviews, you need it, you can find it simply by typing it into a search engine. Lonely Planet guides are also helpful for adding a touch of realism to the world you are creating.
I’ve chosen LA for the home of my character for a very specific reason. Setting the book in Australia, which while easier, doesn’t have the same resonation with an American audience. I have a friend who released an eBook on Amazon and got flooded with 1 star reviews about spelling mistakes. It took us ages to realise that the American readers where complaining about the fact the book was written with Australian spelling, not American spelling. If the majority of my readers will be in the US then I’ll target the book to them from the beginning. One day I may bring the character to Sydney for a nice little murder mystery, but for now LA is his home.
Set up a folder specifically dedicated to locations. Be it the characters home, where they work, or just places they go during their adventure. The buildings themselves don’t need to be in your chosen location unless they’re iconic. By collecting the images of places you’d like to see in the novel it helps to ensure the world you build has a touch of authenticity. It can be hard to write your world clearly, and if you’re writing something set in contemporary times anything that will aide you in building the world clearly in your readers mind, is worth it.
If like me your idea of a fashion label is drip-dry, create another folder in your main folder dedicated to fashion. It doesn’t need to be designer chic, unless your character can afford it. Sex in the City is a prime example of fashion as a character. The clothes and designer labels are as much characters in that TV series as are the four main women.
While your novel may not require the use of a fashionable label or designer shoe to die for, collecting wardrobes for your characters helps to again set them up as individuals. I create a folder within the characters individual folder on my desktop and save images of clothes I think they’d like in there. It saves you having to reinvent the wheel every time you need to change their clothes.
I also tend to go wandering around the make up department in department stores, smelling the after shaves and taking samples home. I find smell is one of my primary senses in my personal life. I may not refer to the brand in the story by name, but I may say something about the fragrances contained in it. No one really needs to know what the actual scent is, but if you use it sparingly you can make it as much a unique descriptor of your character as say, the colour of their hair.
I find the setting up of characters more tedious than anything else in the novel. It’s so easy to just jump right in and get started on the writing, but as I’ve written about previously the details are what makes the characters real.
In my current work I had the crushing realisation that all my characters were long-haired nudists. The sheer amount of work I’m going to have to do to dress them and make them different from each other is staggering. If I’d followed the steps in the beginning, I knew worked in screenwriting, Darkened North would be much more realistic and far less in need of an Anna Wintour style intervention.