Blogs by Howard Hopkins
Anatomy of a Novel part 4:
12/8/2004 11:13:45 AM
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Anatomy of a Novel Part 4:
This is the phase where I start sketching out the rough plot, scenes, characters and all that. I usually buy a packet of colored recipe cards (I use colors so I can separate my characters, locations or other info for quick locating during the novel writing. I tape them to the cabinet above my computer, so all I have to do is look up.) I grab a cushion and scatter the cards on the floor in front of me, along with a lined pad and a file folder.
It's hard to say what comes next. Sometimes I'll end up staring at the cards for long moments, my mind basically empty space (I get accused of that a lot anyway). Sometimes a scene will pop into my blank world. Sometimes a character. Maybe a bit of dialog.
In this case I came up with some basic characters, players I wanted to populate the novel and work against the two protagonists. First was a woman named Catherine (using the first name of one of the Ripper victims). Catherine. What does she look like? Who is she? Good or bad? It didn't take long before she told me who she was, at least in theory. It turns out she used to know our hero, Hannigan. She knew him very well, in fact, and this looks like a possible source of conflict between him and his lovely partner, because Hannigan has received a wire from Catherine, asking him to come to Miller's Pass to investigate some gruesome knife killings. It creates an instant triangle, shades of jealousy and turmoil between the two leads. Catherine is a useful character. At this point I am not quite sure what she looks like, but I feel that she has to be some sort of lady of the evening, something that would put her in direct line of fire with the threat in the story, i.e., the killer. And something she became because of her past with Hannigan, at least indirectly, if not even more acutely. And guess what? She wants Hannigan back after they meet up again. More conflict, more plot potential.
A few other characters occur to me, all springboarding from actual Ripper-associated names, There's Annie O'Dell, the luckless first victim of my wild west slasher. There's Art Seckert, the newspaper owner with a penchant for manufacturing news (astute Ripperologists will recognize which names go with which Ripper suspects and players), then there's Marshal Severin, a lawman with a no nonsense attitude and an eastern European accent; Doc T Frances is the local sawbones, who doubles as an early medical examiner; There's an Indian character, an animal skinner with a violent temper who just happens to be seeing another one of our potential victims, Miss Polly. Last, there's a man who recently escaped jail, a man skilled with a knife, who is stalking Hannigan, looking to get even for the ex-manhunter having put him in jail in the first place. A few more soiled dove names pop into my head, all of whom get their own recipe card.
A handful of scenes jump into my head, all of which get lined up on a page of the legal pad. Most are disconnected at this point, suggested by the characters' relationships to each other, and the villain or villains' motivations and the monkey wrenches they will throw into the mix. There are some left over threads from the previous novel, regarding the protagonists' relationship that I can work in somewhere. After another half-hour of daydreaming, I still don't get a solid plot framework, so I put that aside. I have much of the basic material though, the players, the stage, some scenes. They just have to simmer a bit longer, and sometimes the best way to let that happen is to do something else, like write a blog!
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Anatomy of a Novel: Endgame - Monday, February 07, 2005
Anatomy of a Novel part 4: - Wednesday, December 08, 2004
Anatomy of a Novel Part 3 - Monday, November 29, 2004
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