In my Sanity Snippets series we’ve been progressing through H.R. D’Costa’s steps in creating a story outline (based on her excellent book, Sizzling Story Outlines). If followed, these steps will produce a viable first draft outline. D’Costa refers to this as “the first iteration” (two other books detail the second and final phases, “iterations” of her outlining process). I hope to continue creating posts (every 7 to 10 days) that track each step in the “first iteration” book.
However, I’m at the point I need to start planning my next novel. Although I’m still a few weeks away from completing the final edits of The Boaz Stranger, my mind is daily tempting me with random thoughts that could reveal the makings of a new idea. To capture, clarify, and organize my mental wanderings, I intend to Beemgee.
What in the heck is Beemgee? It’s a story development tool I recently discovered. That’s also the name of the company. From its website: “Tell a Better Story. Your tool for character development and plot outlining.”
After publishing ten novels (with the eleventh one due by November 1st) I can honestly say I need a story development tool. As you might have gathered if you are a consistent reader of my blog, I’m trying to transition from being a pantser to a plantser, possibly to becoming a plotter.
My story writing tool of choice is Scrivener. It too has many features that enable a writer to develop his story before beginning to draft. Features such as the Corkboard and the Outline views are excellent. However, Scrivener isn’t designed to provide a library of craft information.
This is where Beemgee excels. It provides a virtual storehouse of writing theory and instruction. Whether you are new to creative writing or a veteran, you will find interesting and instructive guidance on how to “[t]ell a better story.”
Beemgee’s focus is two-fold, character and plot. These are the two main characteristics all stories require. I’d safely declare that Beemgee offers a graduate level course in how to develop both character and plot. And, since it asserts that plot arises from characters (their actions and their interactions/conflicts with other characters), let’s start with character.
First, let’s get grounded. As stated, I’m at the initial stages of planning my twelfth novel. I intend to use Beemgee’s powerful software development tool to prepare before starting my first draft in Scrivener. If you are considering your first novel, why don’t you come along?
Again, to find a viable novel-length idea, we’ll start with our characters. Just so you know, this isn’t a universal approach. Some writers start with a chosen genre (mystery, romance, thriller, sci-fi, etc.), or a story seed. Since Beemgee is firm in its position that plot is produced from characters, that’s where I’ll begin.
Although my previous random thoughts have showered me with a vague picture of one of my main characters, he is sizing up to be the story’s antagonist, not the protagonist. For you, it might be different. You might one, few, or no clue about your story or your characters. That’s okay. I choose to trust the Beemgee process. I hope you will do the same.
To me, Beemgee is unique because of its approach to character development. It doesn’t per se start with the character’s backstory. It starts with his external problem. What do I mean by that?
Notice, I said “external problem” not internal. The internal problem/need comes later. Beemgee defines external problem as follows: “[t]he external problem may be a predicament the character suddenly finds him or herself in or a mission set to her or him.”
Think of a detective in a mystery story. Usually, there is a murder early on. At some time shortly thereafter, the private investigator is hired to find the killer, or the detective of a police agency or prosecuting attorney is assigned the case. Now, in this context, we know the external problem. It’s external to the private investigator or detective. And, as Beemgee says, “[m]ost stories begin with the protagonist being confronted with an external problem.” See how plot evolves from character and we’ve only addressed the first question in Beemgee’s character development tool.
So, what problem will your protagonist solve, or attempt to solve, in your novel? Of course, the list is endless, but I have a hunch it has something to do with yourself, not necessarily your personal problem, but something you are aware of from the news, or maybe a twist on a short story or novel you’ve read. Right now it could be as simple as a politician (say a U.S. Senator) with an addiction problem.
Take out pencil and paper and start brainstorming potential external problems. Don’t worry that you know virtually nothing. Don’t worry about the problem’s insignificance. That issue may reverse itself when you create another character, say your story’s antagonist. Stories thrive and survive on conflict. So think of characters who are opposed, they are on opposite sides of the external problem. For example, our detective wants to find the killer. The killer wants his freedom and will do whatever necessary to avoid being caught. And, maybe to kill again. But, that’s a different horse for now.
As you brainstorm, don’t forget to look at your own life, or that of your spouse, friend, barber, doctor, or other acquaintance. Does one of them have an external problem? Fiddle with it, manipulate it. Turn it into a problem your character wants to solve. Here’s an example. Is your friend’s boss battling a financial problem? Is the boss on the verge of declaring bankruptcy but needs to find a better alternative. Define the boss’s external problem. What will he do to ‘solve’ it?
If you brainstorm and drill deep but still come up dry, try Google. Read a few newspapers. Most every article can be fictionalized.
Writing a novel is messy work. It’s difficult at best. “I hate writing, but I love having written.” This quote is attributed to many writers, including Dorothy Parker and Frank Norris.
There’s nothing more challenging and rewarding than completing a novel. Well, that might be a stretch but at least you know what I believe.