Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Building a Story

How does an author build a story? I've heard and read a lot of different analogies. Here's mine.

Below is post from August 6, 2010 (on my old blog on Goodreads.com). It explains how I conceptualize crafting a story. I wrote it as I was finishing up the first draft of PROFESSOR BARRISTER #4: THE COLORFUL CAUDIPTERYX. I really like this post and wanted to share it on my new blog, especially now that CAUDIPTERYX has just been published.

Give it a read and let me know what you think.

Today was a good example of why you don't submit your first draft. But to fully explain, let me step back a bit into how I conceptualize the writing of one of these books. It's like building an animal from the inside out.

First, you decide what animal. Dog? Cat? Zebra mussell? That's the genre. Mystery, romance, or in my case: children's chapter book.

Second, you build the skeleton. That's the basic story. These characters do this to solve that problem. Here, Prof. Barrister and the kids, Nate and Emily, travel back to Cretaceous China to see if the professor's theory about feather colors is correct.

Next, the muscles. That's the story line that pulls the story along. Where does the story start (the professor's lab), why do they have to go back in time, how will they solve the problem, what additional problems will they face?

Then it's the organs. The parts of the story that are unique and self contained. They could encounter any number of different dinosaurs, but now that I've settled on a Sinosauropteryx, exactly how do they come across it, what happens with it, how does that interaction propel the story, how does it end?

Next is the skin. This is where the story gets smoothed out in a nice attractive package. This is the editing. Work out the kinks, fix those words and phrases that aren't quite right.

Finally, the clothes. That's the illustrations. Not necessary, but visually appealing. And if done right they accentuate the best features of the body (story) underneath. (Yeah, I know, animals don't wear clothes. Well, some do, and anyway the metaphor works here.)

So as I was editing the final dinosaur scene, I realized I had put the wrong organ in the body. It was a nice, well written organ, but it was in the wrong animal. Like a beautiful set of fresh, pink lungs ... in a fish. I had written it so the professor solved the problem and saved the day, but I realized the kids should solve the problem. A few edits later, Emily and Nate had saved the professor instead of vice versa. My fish had a wonderful set of gills and the story was immeasurably better.

To see how this particular animal turned out, get your hands on a copy of THE CASE OF THE COLORFUL CAUDIPTERYX.

In the meantime, especially you writers out there, how do YOU build a story?