Last week, my sister posted this video of Diana Gabaldon on Facebook and tagged me:
The video really surprised me, because my own cold start process is day-and-night different from Diana’s.
When I’m trying to pick back up after being away from a work-in-progress for a while, I figure out what scene needs to happen next and work on that.
So, while Diana is examining the way light falls on crystal, I’m thinking:
Which characters are in this scene?
Which characters have a stake in this scene? That is, they don’t just happen to be there, they have a goal to accomplish.
What are their scene goals? The scene needs to have both a protagonist and and antagonist with mutually exclusive, or at least competing, goals,
Next, I work on the beats of the scene. What will each character do to attempt to achieve their goal? What will the other character do or say to block them and advance their own goal? I try to identify at least three beats (attempts to meet goal).
At this point, I’m ready to try actually writing. With this skeleton outline of the scene up on my secondary screen, I start letting the characters talk to each other on my primary screen.
If my head is actually in the game, the scene generally takes a left turn as I write it. The characters don’t do or say what I have laid out for them. They have their own ideas. That’s how I know I’ve tapped into my creative side.
My first drafts are generally 90% dialogue. To be honest, my finished product is probably still 75% dialogue or body language. I go back in and add setting when my critique partners complain that they don’t know where they are.
So what happens when my patented technique doesn’t work? I go back and reread the manuscript from the beginning, tweaking. This isn’t my first choice because, as the manuscript grows, it becomes time-consuming.