As my first manuscript is undergoing what I hope is the last revision before submission (cross your fingers for me, peeps) I am beginning another one separate from that series.
A whole new world to explore, a whole new set of characters and a a new protagonist who likes to make herself known, very different from Lexi in my first book. But the idea for this novel, again for middle grade readers, spawned from a series of photos as a setting, not a story line. So I took the setting, brainstormed a protagonist who might fit into it, and just a whispery spidersilk of an idea.
So, how to flesh this out? How do I get to know my cast of characters and see where this takes me? How do I find out what my spunky Octavia has to say about what’s going on around her and to her?
A favourite author of mine uses scrapbooks and a journal to collect images, research and notes about her stories. I decided to adapt that to my use.
Since the story idea sprung from images, I created an album of pictures that could populate my story: buildings, scenes, people and actions. I knew I wanted Octavia to live with her family in a mansion of some sort with a village nearby. I searched for mansions on google maps. It’s amazing how close you can zoom in. I found a small castle that fit the image in my mind, but it was in Belgium, so I “moved” it to an area of England that suited my needs better. In Kent I found a little village with a river alongside and room for the castle on the other bank of this river, (that part’s important,) and voila! I printed maps of the area, tailored to suit my needs and printed them out large. Bits of fact and bits of fiction.
I love journals. So I bought 2. A dollar store one for rough, off the cuff notes and scribbles, bare bones ideas and questions. The second is a nicer one with a hardboard fabric cover that lies open beautifully for easy writing. This second one has become Octavia’s journal. In it I write, in her voice, totally random scenes that I am exploring for possible use in the story. I also wrote up a list of people’s names from which I can draw when I need a barber, or a shopkeeper, or an electrician or a school bully.
Like a scrapbook, I insert pictures–from the internet, magazines, catalogues–that inspire me and I use those like firestarters. And so I write all sorts of things that might go through Octavia’s head, things she might experience. I explore her relationship with her cousin, her friend, her parents. I discover how she reacts in situations. It’s like whenever you make a new friend or acquaintance–you don’t know them all at once, you have to go through hell and high water to understand them. And when I know my protagonist well, I will understand what she needs thrown at her to make her story worth reading.
Besides that, this way it’s a heck of a lot of fun and keeps the journey interesting!