Saturday, May 21, 2005

Writing "Zion" - Creating the Story

In my last post I spoke about discovering NoNoWriMo and its impact on my decision to write a novel. The first obstacle I had to overcome was determining what I would write about. After deciding to base my story on a brief, (albeit intriguing) reference, I realized I needed just a few more elements, namely, a plot and characters. And despite the fact that I went about solving those issues all wrong, to my pleasure somehow it worked out!

The first thing I did was choose my locations. While the climax would occur in Charleston - a decision based on the actual events - for some reason, lacking in logic even to myself, I chose the deltas of Louisiana as a starting point. This left me with another obstacle: how to get my as yet determined characters from point A to point B for the finale. Lacking a solution to that conundrum, I decided to think about that later. Next came the characters. Again, the actual events drove the decision as to what type of people were going to be involved, but the plot was going to have to drive the remainder, including the pro- and antagonist(s). After much contemplation, and an epiphany that I'll reveal along with Marching to Zion's release, I finally had my main character: a young woman I named Antoinette. Bit of a dramatic moniker I know, but it serves its purpose. Once I settled on her, choosing the remaining characters became a lot easier.

Now it was time to create the remaining characters, and I allowed myself to have a bit of fun with this. I fashioned two of the main characters, Charles and Abigail Roseau, after my two terriers: Charlie, a Jack Russell and Abby, a Westie. The characters were given many of the critters traits, (usually the unpleasant ones :o): Charles, like Charlie, is fun-loving but usually makes bad decisions and Abigail, like our little Abby, is responsible but...a bit crabby. To my surprise these traits worked in the final storyline. I was totally grateful.

It was now the end of August, and with NaNoWriMo just two months away, it was time to create the overall storyline and start my research, (I didn't want to sound like a complete idiot when writing this book!) It turned out one often had bearing on the other!

While not a Civil War tale, the story takes place during that time and obviously some of the events of that tragedy would affect my characters. I had to know when Louisiana ceded from the Union, and how the war affected the state. To my surprise, New Orleans fell fairly soon after the war began. That helped. I also needed to know little things such as what type of foods were eaten, what type of dress did they wear, what the transportation routes were, and how long it took to travel via wagon/carriage/coach from one place to another. Since two real-life ministers were to make cameos, I needed to know a bit about them: what did they look like, were they in the place I said they were when I wanted them to be? And much, much more. So I purchased a spiral notebook, cranked up my computer's modem and began doing research online.

The story began to become alive as I began finding documents and information regarding the places and times that would be in my book. I created a system of folders and subfolders to keep these links organized, which I placed on my IE toolbar for instant access. I also began a reading list that included diaries and first-hand accounts of life in that era. And here's where I was most fortunate: I was also able to consult with the professor of history at the seminary where I work, who happens to be an expert on the subject of Girardeau and the church he preached at - Mt. Zion. I'm sure I'll say this more than once, but I now have a better appreciation of what an author goes through to write a book; it's harder than it looks!

By the end of September, I had most of what I needed to begin the actual outline. I failed to mention this before, but there are two rules of NaNoWriMo: write 50,000 words in 30 days and everything you write must be original; nothing written before November 1st is permitted. Outlines however, are allowed. Go figure. Not trusting my extremely short attention span to guide me, (I've already forgotten half of what I planned to record on this blog) I knew that was one resource I would need. So in typical outline fashion, I began putting my story down on paper.

Next Post: National Novel Writing Month

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