I’ve been blogging about planning stories, from ideas to first draft. At the bottom of this post, there are links to the other topics. (If you’re reading this as I post, some of the links might not be live yet.)
Before I keep going, I want to remind you that this is just the way I write and if you plan books (or don’t) differently, that’s not wrong. There’s no single right way to write a book.
When it comes to character personalities and voice, I can’t do much planning. Those things show up when I start writing chapter one. If I try to force it too early, I almost always get it wrong.
But there are things I can (and should) know ahead of time. I focus on:
Names: Oh man. Naming people. It’s almost as awful as naming things and places. It’s only not as bad because sites like Behind The Name exist. Usually, before I start a story, I run through Behind The Name and grab a few names I like and fit with the world I’m trying to create. Main characters get named first. I grab other names while I’m there so I can give them to secondary characters, otherwise I know that when I start writing and come across my MC’s friend/parent/arch nemesis, I’ll freeze and go crying back to my favorite name sites.
Appearance: I’m not very good at faces. (Okay, I’m really bad at faces. My husband puts up with a lotof “who is that?” when we watch movies/TV.) Fortunately, I have a friend who loves assigning looks for my characters based on my vague descriptions.
Me: Hm, I don’t know. A boy. Dark hair. Or light! Handsome. Two eyes, a nose, a mouth — all that.
Her: Ah! I know the perfect boy. *provides pictures*
Me: Oh, yes! That’s him exactly.
The truth is, if I don’t do this immediately, I’ll end up scrambling at the last minute to show the reader what characters look like. I don’t think Sam had hair or eye color besides “dark” until the copyedits of INCARNATE. I wish I were kidding.
Morals: Do they have any? What lines won’t they cross? Where do these morals come from? (Parents? Religion? Experiences?) If I know characters’ self-imposed limits, I can test them and make them work harder to maintain their moral code. (Because I’m cruel like that.)
Motivation/goals: What drives the characters? What do they want? What are they willing to do to get it? What compromises and sacrifices will they make? The characters’ goals should inform everything they do in the plot and their interactions with other characters, and either take them closer to those goals, or farther if they’re sacrificing something for a stronger motivation.
History: Before I can write their story now, I need to know where my characters came from, how they were brought up, whether there are Traumatic Moments I can exploit . . . things like that. Sometimes the characters don’t want to fess up until I’m writing the story and we get to the point they either need to tell me or we’ll turn this tale around and go home.
The more I know about my characters to start with, the better chance I have at getting them right(ish) the first try. Knowing what they value most — and what they want the most — also helps with the next topic.