OK, it's January 7th -- time to get over the holiday excuses and get back to work. Actually, I've done quite a bit of work over the past three weeks, provided it's fair to call thinking a form of work. I've been mentally planning the next book, collecting scraps of information that I hope will fit somewhere, and trying out some new software designed to help writers.
Why haven't I just started to write? Well, I'm in the process of making the shift from pantser to plotter. Remember those terms? In case you don't, a "pantser" just applies seat of pants to computer chair and starts writing, in the hope that a story will develop and take her places she didn't know she wanted to go. A plotter studies story structure and maps out the characters, the problems, the challenges, the antagonistic forces, the crises and the resolutions, and then fits the story to the outline.
My previous books have been based on the real-life stories of people, so it has been fairly easy to be a pantser. After all, when you're writing about someone who actually lived, you already know the problems, the crises, and the solutions. You even have the order of events, so you can start at the beginning and tell the story that you already know.
You can also rely on life itself to have done some of the work for you. After all, most people live to suffer the consequences (good or bad) of their actions. Everyone who lives grows old, or at least older, with all the accrued benefits that experience brings. Individual circumstances make your story a tragedy or a comedy. The events of your story have some logic to them, even if they seem cruel or fantastic. In other words, the writer of biographical fiction does not have to have a high degree of creativity. In fact, being too creative will spoil the story. I've had it easy.
This time, I'm trying my hand at real fiction -- that is, my new story is still set in the real world of South Carolina during the Civil War. But in the new book, the characters are all fictional, except for a few historical figures like generals or Lincoln. Oh, some of them have been inspired by real people I've read about, but each one's appearance, personality, challenges, and final outcome must come from my own imagination. They must seem like real people, their fates must be logical, they must grow and develop -- but there's nothing to tell me what "really" happened. I'm finding that both challenging and a bit frightening.
Never fear, however! The magical world of electronic devices is full of tricks to make this whole creativity thing easier. I've been drawing mind maps, creating timelines, photo shopping and shopping for photos, filling out character sketches, and plotting map movements. In the coming few days, I'll fill you in on which software programs I have found most useful. Among them: Scrivener, Evernote, Dropbox ( my old standard programs), with the addition of Easy Timeline and Scapple. Stay tuned.