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Monday, September 21, 2009

Starting a New Manuscript by Diane Gaston

I'm continuing with my September theme of New Starts (See my blog of Sept 7). I think September is a perfect time to start a new manuscript, like starting school.

I don't have any consistent way of starting a manuscript. Sometimes I start with a story idea; sometimes, a character; sometimes, just an initial situation.

The Mysterious Miss M, my first book, started with a desire to sell a book. I was entering lots of romance writing contests at the time. Most contests are judged on a first chapter so I decided I needed a first chapter with a big WOW factor. What could be a better WOW factor than starting with a sex scene? From that idea the characters came to mind and then the story.

Other books started with a character. Both A Reputable Rake and The Vanishing Viscountess began because the heroes in those books were secondary characters in earlier books and they simply would not stop trying to take over the book. I had to promise them books of their own.

This time I set up a trilogy involving three soldiers. The original idea grew from watching The Lives of a Bengal Lancer but all I took from that was the idea of three soldiers who all experience the same traumatic event that affects each of their lives from then on. I'm working on the third book so I had the hero and heroine who appear in the first book, only I didn't really know much about them. (shown is Gallant Officer, Forbidden Lady, the first book in the trilogy, to be released Dec 2009)

Before I was published I started a book with whatever idea or character that gave me a beginning. I was the classic seat-of-the-pants writer and I liked discovering the story as I went along. Now that I'm published, though, I have to write a proposal. So to start a book, I have to have enough of the story to create a synopsis. No more "pantsing."

Do you start a book with a situation, a character, or something else? Do you plot out the story before writing, or do you fly by the seat of your pants?
If you like a story, what captures your attention the most-the characters? the plot? or something else?

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At 8:11 AM, Blogger Terry Odell said...

When I read, it's almost always the characters, characters, characters. Plot comes in somewhere around fourth place.

When I write, I need to know my characters, although I don't know them in great depth until I start writing.

At 10:16 AM, Blogger Sewicked said...

I have one story (WIP, still) that started with a single scene, with just 3 words.

I really read for the characters. I want to know these people, what's going on with them, what's next.

At 12:49 PM, Blogger Trish Milburn said...

I kind of start out with a combination of situation and characters.

BTW, I love the cover of your December book.

At 1:04 PM, Blogger Judy said...

I start with a character that captures my attention. I've a dozen WIPs, some of which have only names and one or two sentence descriptions, usually what they do. A pantster or scene sewer. Yes, I like to see where the characters take me, but I have actually written then end well before I'm even half way through, then I'll add scenes that may end up shuffled.

Terry stated it just right: Characters, characters, characters, then plot.

At 2:04 PM, Blogger Terry McLaughlin said...

Interesting topic, Diane--I'm always curious to know how writers launch their stories :-).

Some of my books have been pulled from others (secondary characters who've been given their own stories). Some of my tales have started with a fictionalized version of a scene from my own life (a float plane landing, an event on a street in Paris). Sometimes I start with a favorite movie and play with variations on the premise.

I used to dive into a project with the thinnest of premises and discover my characters and story as I progressed. Now, with synopses to produce and deadlines to meet, I find I'm more focused on plot and structure--not a comfortable fit for a pantser.

At 2:17 PM, Blogger Diane Gaston said...

sometimes my story ideas don't start with characters, but they are always important to me. I know I've got them right when they feel like real people to me.

(I love my bookcover, too, Trish!)

At 9:52 PM, Blogger Christine said...

Diane: your trilogy sounds so great. Must find time to read again! Characters are central to me, but the plot must be well-balanced. I want, need, action. But in first draft mode, I am in my peoples' heads. I am struggling right now with a revision. Not sure if anyone will be interested in the story (and I'm not published so having interest is important). But I told my CP today that I can't give up on these two people. The plot issues are hanging me up, but the reason I wanted to tell their story hasn't changed. I decided that even if only I, and my beloved CPs read this one, I must write it for my hero and heroine. They deserve for their story to be told.

Okay, I am nuts. But I do love these two people. They make me weep at the end and that is all that matters to me. Maybe an editor or agent might not believe their story is compelling enough to sell, but I believe their story is compelling enough for me to write it.

At 10:01 PM, Blogger Diane Gaston said...

Christine, I can totally relate to what you are saying. I know I'm on the right track when my characters feel like real people to me.

I know I felt so strongly about Maddie and Devlin of The Mysterious Miss M that I could not give up on them. That's why I entered it in the Golden Heart a second time. It won and it sold to the judging editors.
And I was on my way!

So believe in those characters and work with them until the story works!

At 10:59 PM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

Great blog, Diane.

When I read a book it's the characters that draw me in, absolutely. When I write a book though it is a combination of character and plotting that gets me started.


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