Climbing into Bed with Strangers

The other day over on Facebook, I was involved in a brief discussion with an author who, as part of a novel proposal package, was writing her synopsis before working on the sample chapters.

Yikes, I responded, though I've done it myself upon occasion. To me that always feels as if I'm climbing into bed with strangers. I like moseying through my opening chapters first: a snippet here, a deletion there, a rewrite coming from another angle. It's how I get to know the characters so I'm comfortable enough with predicting what they'll do to put together an outline of their journey in the synopsis. In the opening pages, the story's themes and tone gradually reveal themselves to me as well.

It's not the way I always write, and as I've previously discussed on the blog, I rely on an ever-evolving number of prewriting strategies to focus my energies on the characters and their relationships. None of these methods, or anyone's methods (including starting off with a synopsis) is the perfect, inviolable, correct way, any more than any one of them is wrong.

Instead, it's all about making the process work for you, in the service of fleshing out the most compelling characters and the most engaging story possible.

So how do you get to know your characters? Or do you prefer "jumping into bed with strangers" and letting all the arms and legs sort themselves out? ;)


Lark said…
Jumping into bed with strangers, huh? Hadn't thought of it that way.

I write a few chapters with a basic premise in mind and let the characters go where they need to go. Then I work on backstory, IC, goals, etc. when I have had a chance to get to know the main characters a bit. Those first chapters always get re-written,or at least drastically revised, but they help me get direction.
Mylène said…
I jump in with cadavers. Everybody is cold and lifeless. I try to animate them with my warmth, I push and jostle and nudge and tickle and slap. It takes a while to wake the dead. Curiously, this is the case whether I do an outline or not, make pre-writing notes or not. I have to write several drafts to get the blood moving. Such a laborious way of doing things. I don't recommend it. But it is my process. And why it takes me so long to write a novel.
I usually start writing with characters in mind rather than plot (which is why I struggle so much with plot). I can't often start until I can "hear" the characters voices, although sometimes I have to. Ironically, for this novel, I wrote an outline first in order to satisfy my dissertation director, but it wasn't until I heard the voices that the draft really took off. And then it went completely away from the outline, but the characters really did come to life. In my second draft, I knew them much better, but then new ones appeared during the rewrite, so now I'm using this third draft to get to know those (and putting a moratorium on new characters!). I'm with you, Mylene. My process is not really very efficient, but it's my process. When I'm having trouble entering someone's head, though, I do tend to gain a lot from finding an image that represents them. Or sometimes I do what I call "character collages," where I'll put one image of a character in the center and then put other images that are associated around that one.

Great post!
jeanna Thornton said…
I am *character driven* so there's never a struggle there... but plenty in organization. Ha! Can't imagine synopsis before the struggle.
Anonymous said…
I write scenes as they come to me, whatever order. Then I make an outline of what I have and figure out where the scenes go and piece the story together and fill in the gaps. I'll admit this is probably the worst way to write, but if I try to put anything on paper to begin with, I freeze. I don't and can't understand it, but all my creativity leaves if I have anything planned.

Suzan Harden said…
ROFLMAO! Mylene, I love your description!
Cadavers, huh, Mylene. Whatever you do to reanimate them, it's clearly working. I'm reading The Deadwood Beetle now and it's running on all cylinders.

But if you really get stuck, you could always go with zombiedom!

Kathryn, I'm with you on having to "hear" the characters' voices in my heads. It's the main reason I've never written British characters. They won't quit speaking with a Jersey wiseguy accent or a Texas twang!

I'm enjoying hearing about everyone's processes. Thanks for sharing.

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