I never used to do this, but whenever I’m hesitant to write, I try to peel off that top layer of procrastination to get at the core. I’m sure that’s part of my growth as a writer.
Anyway, more times than not, the hesitation comes from the fact that I don’t feel I know enough to write effectively. The common “fear questions” that creep up are good indicators of this:
“What if a reader thinks the characterization is shallow?”
“What if the reader knows something I don’t and throws my book in the fireplace because I couldn’t get my facts right, but then quickly tries to put the fire out because they realize it was an ebook and now their Kindle is burning-up-oh-my-God-please-my-brand-new-ereader-aarrrgaggaahghahg?”
My recent encounter with this is when I sat down to write scenes for Wolf’s Tail. I don’t believe I’ve actually posted a synopsis here, probably because it’s changed so much, but the story involves a group of Japanese villagers that escaped a great famine in Japan during the 1830s and wound up founding a settlement in Alta California, specifically in the Western foothills of the Sierra Nevada.
As of last week, I knew I had a handful of major characters in that group; the rest were scenery. But as I began to write, I found that characters acting against a faceless background were not interesting. I needed to sit down and learn more about this clan as a whole.
As our friend Nacho would say:
So came the rash of questions: Just how many people are in this village? Would the whole clan have up and left Japan or only a portion (it was illegal for peasants to abandon their farms)? How old is everyone? What are their marital and familial relationships? What are their duties in the village? And so on and so on…
So many of these questions are important because their answers govern the behavior of my major characters.
The best place to start is a high level view. How about an org chart?
To put this together, I found a tool created by the Scrivener developers named Scapple. It’s similar to a mind map, but in my opinion, is much more flexible in that you’re not forced to have a central node to branch off. The app is a little rough around the edges at the moment, but I anticipate it will improve over time.
And now, friends, I would love to hear how you approach peeling off your procrastination layers.
What freezes you up and have you found a way around it?