Sunday, May 5, 2013

Writing What You Don't Know Yet

It happens to all of us: we get to a point in a story where we don't know what comes next. A new character comes in, and you have no idea what her name is or what she looks like. Or your epic fantasy hero finally reaches the city he's been trying to get to, but you can't descibe the palace yet because it's not clear in your head. Or your ancient scribe is ready to go off on a dissertation about some subject, but you haven't researched that subject yet to write that dissertation monologue. Or your prince is being crowned king, and he's inheriting a list of titles but you don't know the titles. There are all kinds of little details that can hang you up while you're writing, and it'll take an hour of thinking, or two hours of research, or longer to get past that hiccup.

I hate it when that happens.

This is my way of handling when I come across one of those snags.

In writing the first book of The Blood of Princes trilogy (I'm still working on the trilogy, by the way, so don't go looking for it yet) the High Prince did indeed get crowned King. During the oppulent ceremony, he was announced to the kingdom with a list of titles. Those royals do love their titles, and he needed some doozies. But I'm not a royal. I had a little bit of a problem.

I had no idea what titles he'd gained. It had never been part of my world-building. By the time I got to that part, I was on a roll with the writing. I was in the middle of NaNoWriMo (yet again, yes- this was NaNo 2012) and that kind of snag can really get in the way when you're trying to hit that word count. But I wasn't about to let that snag get me. So what did I do? I wrote as much of the announcement as I could, and when it came time for the titles to be listed, I wrote this:


That's all. Hours of delay solved in one word and a couple brackets. New character that I can't think of a name for? No problem. You'll see a bunch of [NAME- male 1] and [NAME 1]. Why the 1? Because if I have another character without a name, it'll be easier to tell which one needs to fill that bracket when the time comes.

Some other ones I have used in the past include [MAKE UP SOME FAMILY HISTORY], [DESCRIPTION], and [YOU SERIOUSLY STILL HAVEN'T NAMED THIS GUY YET?].

Hey, sometimes you just have to yell at yourself.

Yes, I tend to leave them in all caps. There's a reason. It helps set it apart from the prose around it. It draws attention. There have been times when, in reviewing what I already wrote, my eye will be drawn to those caps, and BOOM! the answer pops in my head. Or maybe I'll be in the mood to pop in that city or palace description or whatever. But normally, once a bracket is on the page, I let it go. Sure, sometimes later I'll be in the shower and that new character's name will come to me. Then, it's easy to do a find, set it to match case, and boom, I can change [NAME] into Brody, or whatever the character's name is. I usually don't do a replace all. To prevent typos, I'll go and change them all myself so I can be sure I'm changing the right ones.

I finished the first draft of the first Blood of Princes book, and it's pretty much ready to go to beta readers for its first edit. Except there are brackets. Don't want the readers seeing those. So when I get my editing cap on, what do I do?

That's right: find [. And one by one, I tackle the brackets when I'm not trying to just get words on the page. When I have the time to sit and think about the content of the bracket, there it is. I don't use brackets for anything else in my writing, so I know that what I find are edits I couldn't make on the fly.

Once the processor can't find anymore brackets, I know I'm done.

Have another method for this sort of thing? I'd love to hear it.

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