Hello to ALL of my fellow writers out there (new and seasoned)!
I’ve set the goal of delivering one new WriteIT! tip per month for the rest of 2017, so here is your next installment. I hope you will subscribe (at the bottom, right of this page, or my blog website: https://kspaulsen.com/blog-2/) and keep coming back for more. If you find the tips useful, please tell your friends and colleagues about my site. The more writers I can help to motivate, inspire, or assist, the more inspired and motivated I become to share more content. And as always, please feel free to post comments and ask questions specific to your project, as I would be happy to answer them if I am able.
Now that you’ve got a story burning to be born and a target audience to receive it (from Tip #2), the next step on your path to publication is laying down a solid foundation on which to start building your story and the world within it. The structure of your foundation includes essential frameworks such as timeline, length, format, and medium. Together, these form the natural infrastructure of the collective ecosystem you are developing. As with all creative endeavors, we must leave room for expansion and redirection, so I am not saying that you must know every detail of your foundation before starting. Rather, when you have enough information about your foundation, it is much easier to pick a starting point and head in the proper direction.
So, what do I mean by timeline? While, it is generally a good idea to lay out attainable and measurable goals for yourself about how much time you will allot each day/week/month to work on your project, and even to decide if you will need years to do it justice, or just a matter of months, this is not the timeline to which I am referring. Timeline refers to how much time will pass within your story. Are you writing a story that spans 24-hours, several days, a week, a year, a lifetime, or generations? Are you writing a power-packed thriller in which we only have the span of hours to get to know your characters and how they will handle the harrowing experiences you throw at them, or can we luxuriate in the more subtle aspects of the characters, getting to know them slowly as they evolve and grow across time? Establishing your timeline up front can be very helpful in figuring out how to move your characters from beginning to middle to end within a reasonable number of pages, words, or sequels.
Timeline, as a foundational structure within the ecosystem of your story, affects other structural properties of your project like page/word count, body format, and medium. Without first knowing your approximate timeline, you may end up having to stop somewhere in the middle of the project and overhaul your entire approach to the story, shoring up a foundation that was never solid enough to support where you have ended up, and bridging seemingly insurmountable gaps that could have been avoided with a little pre-planning.
Does your story flow best in a linear timeline that moves chronologically from A to Z? Or do you need the flexibility of frequent time travel back and forth between linked realities, eras, or characters? If you want to depart from the linear timeline and play with something more complex, you will need to establish and adhere to a pattern and body format that helps your reader make smooth transitions and keep up with the changes in time and location. Timeline can often dictate the overall length of the work by default; a fast-moving story with few characters and a short timeline may only need 150 concise pages, while a saga spanning generations of a large family may require three separate works, each over 300 pages in length to do it justice.
Body format, another key structure in your foundation, is the metaphorical bones of the story. Will you be writing a series of short stories that can stand alone but when woven together into a thoughtful collective can form a larger work? Are you writing a 500-page novel that requires well-ordered chapters of varying length and complexity, which may need special attention to pace and distribution of action and information in order to keep the reader coming back for more? Does your story take place in a single location that does not require much real-estate (pages) to set the scene, or does the location change frequently, requiring more real-estate to create clear pictures in your reader’s minds? Will your story flow best as a series of consistently short, succinct chapters, or do you need longer chapters interspersed with occasional short chapters to provide sufficient action and detail throughout your story? Key decisions about body format, up front, can help you organize your story from the very beginning and save you time and effort in the long run.
Another important aspect of body format is making sure that you have a clear beginning, middle, and end as your story develops. Some writers employ creative devices such as starting at the end with a shocking and perhaps perplexing scene and then quickly running backward in time to the beginning and proceeding forward through the natural progression to explain the ending in a new light with deeper understanding. Some prefer to follow a chronological order, and others flash through time in a logical or sometimes random order, cherry picking what information to give the reader and when. Whatever format you choose, these decisions can affect which verb tense you use to tell your story (past/present/future, or a mix), as well as tone, perspective (point of view), and narration.
All of these structural decisions can play a significant role in establishing another key support structure: medium. Are you planning to distribute your work as a printed publication or an electronic publication? If you will have a printed product, how large will your pages be? How many pages will you need, and in both cases, how does this affect your cost and price setting? If you are planning an electronic distribution, will it be large enough for an ebook, or better suited to piecemeal delivery through emails, newsletters, or a blog? Establishing your intentions for the delivery medium at the beginning can save you major headaches later, and ensure that you leave yourself enough flexibility to utilize multiple mediums without inconveniencing your readers.
As you can see, there are many benefits to developing a solid foundation early in the development of your project, but don’t get cemented into these decisions so heavily that they sink you in the end. If this is your first big writing project, I can guarantee you will make changes to your foundation along the way as you find out what works and what doesn’t, and as you realize that something you thought was essential, is actually limiting you or holding you back. Writers, like athletes, must be strong but flexible, adaptable to changing needs, ideas, and requirements, but steadfast in resolve and dedication to keep moving forward to the finish line. If your project is already underway but you haven’t given proper attention to your foundation, it’s not too late. Take some time now to answer these questions and the countless others that will arise as you progress. I promise you it will pay off in the later part of your journey.