Sunday, July 29, 2012

Outlining Madness #3: Time Keeps On Slipping

Tip of the Day: Taking a long family vacation? Buy Dramamine before you go. It can be tough to find it on the road.

As you outline your new story, think about when the story takes place and for how long. Your outline can be your guide as to how much time will pass in your novel, but the time of year is so important to your setting. For example, here are the last two novels I read:

Men At Arms by Terry Pratchett: Tempers are high as the city suffers through a record heat wave. The summer drought allows people access to subterranean tunnels that are normally underwater.

The Fox Inheritance by Mary E. Pearson: Fake bees used for springtime pollination show how the main character reacts to pain, an important plot point. Later, spring rains cause the main character to use a city-provided raincoat, marking him without him knowing as part of a certain caste.

So think about the time of year and the weather and how it directly effects your characters. Here are some ideas to get you thinking:

1. Tie the weather to your location. Snowstorms in Montana are different than snowstorms in Virginia, and they can both be very interesting. Don't concentrate on making the weather convenient for your characters or putting your characters in a neutral weather season. Let the weather screw them up.

2. Use holidays or upcoming family gatherings for deadlines and tension. My last novel takes place on the Moon underground. No weather, but the book opens with my store-owning family needing sales stock for the Christmas season. Holiday plot possibilities are endless: Halloween, a Bar Mitzvah, a family wedding, Valentine's Day, birthdays ...

3. Where are your characters at a certain time of the year? If your characters are in high school, you may be avoiding summer for a school story, or placing your whole story in the summer to avoid school. Rather than completely avoiding a subject, try to start with a natural beginning. A summer job story might start with the job interview rather than the first day of work, for example. Why does your character need this job?

4. Not sure when to set your story? Research. Let's say you want to write a story about a farming community. Each of the four seasons on a farm has a different rhythm. Which is best for your story? Even if you grew up on a farm, you might need to brush up on different crops or time periods. Reading will give you fantastic ideas. Maybe your Dust Bowl idea would be best set in the summer, but your modern factory farming idea would work best in the fall.

Have a fun time with this part. Maybe your characters celebrate birthdays in a quirky manner. Maybe they have a unique religious observance people would love to learn about. Maybe they get stuck in a tornado shelter. Maybe your story takes place over several years but Valentine's Day always sucks. Maybe your story takes place in the future when the planet is hotter or colder.

So be specific, do some reading and research, and come up with a definite "when" for your plot. It will add another layer of interest and give you fresh plot ideas.

-- Kate, Miss Perfecting the Pages

1 comment:

Andrea Mack said...

Thanks for these great tips, Kate!