Writing Checklist

This is the writing checklist. Here, I will keep track of two things. Firstly, the writing techniques or problems which I need to work on and improve before I can write novels, and my progress on them. Secondly, I’ll keep track of the things I’ve succeeded at which I’m happy with. If you have suggestions for additions to the checklist, please let me know.

ARTISTIC CHECKLIST:

  • Figure out why my recent beginnings all feel like they lack dialogue and emotions, creating a feel of isolation.
    • Probable cause could be linked to attempts to include too much introduction at once. Try linking this with the dialogue stuff below – that will help.
  • Find better synonyms for ‘stared’ and ‘looked’. Or better yet, find more descriptive ways to handle one person looking at another, since it happens regularly in my writing.
    • Glanced
    • Considered
    • Or use emotion: Glared, turned hateful eyes…

TECHNICAL CHECKLIST:

  • Structure
    • Assemble a working outline for every character arc, as needed (multiple outlines?).
      • Positive outline created
      • Flat (and Shatter) outline created
    • Get a clear understanding of what constitutes an emotionally resonant ending, and how to create one reliably.
      • Examining source material. Parts currently listed:
        • The climax concerns people who are emotionally impacted by the events. Their essence can be threatened, or their relationships with each other, or even just the setting. Think about what is lost. These are stakes. Consider hitting both the protagonist AND the antagonist, and putting THEIR relationship on the line (if it’s that kind of story).
        • Loss. Loss throughout the story deepens the victory when it arrives. A final loss which seems like the end and then twists to victory can compound this. Alternatively, loss snatched from apparent victory hits harder, making the final victory (after the loss is realized [Endgame]), even better when it comes.
        • Revelation of characters will always happen with character arcs.
        • Understanding, and new understandings for characters and audience will always happen with theme.
        • Don’t force the parts. Not all stories are conducive to all of them.
  • Theme
    • Be able to show any character realization, decision, reaction, or thought, with no dialogue, and/or with no action (benchmarks: watching sunset silently, single powerful action, single clear line).
      • Untested. Confident I can deliver.
    • Be able to create passive themes. Preferably quickly.
      • Process theoretically works, but has so far failed to yield a working setting. This might be due to a faulty theme, and not the process. Work on this, even if its for just a few short stories. Make sure it actually works. 
      • While a concrete example has not yet been written, I have spent enough time considering this that I know without a doubt that it is possible and works. It is tricky to get the right setting, but the idea theoretically works just fine.
  • Development
    • Be able to identify and create the cores of a story (based on character arc/structure) quickly.
      • Success.
    • Ideally find a way to catch and omit, but at least be able to find at the climax (and surrounding area), superfluous details to the story which are nonetheless important enough that I have to resolve them. Best way to do this will probably be to watch every resolution carefully. Watch for convenience. That’s the noted problem. You don’t want any convenient resolutions (these can work against the MC too).
      • Examples: Utgar: Boom, army’s out of the picture; HiS: Utgar defeated via distraction; Dilmir: Alfimir conveniently doesn’t refute Dilmir’s claims.
      • TAF notes that it works if you have it as a result of the characters being smart and outplaying the villain, which is set up beforehand.
  • Writing
    • Find a way to have all the relevant information in front of me while writing.
  • Stakes
    • Define Deepest Personal Stakes
      • Indications suggest the stakes are the character, by putting either who the character is, or who they might become, at risk. If there is a principle or belief or code they adhere to which defines who they are, this can come to represent the essence of who they are. If the reader can see what they can become if the succeed/fail (either good and/or bad), this also puts their essence at stake.
      • Consider: traditional high worth.
      • Consider: Marlin and Hiccup. Both can be better or worse – Marlin is at the worse stage and must get better; Hiccup is between stages and must choose.
      • In theory makes sense. Currently untested.
    • Define the baseline for personal stakes.
      • When the character acts at the Commitment.
    • Have a surefire way to increase stakes.
      • Practicing identifying base and highest point. If you can go straight from one to the other, do so. If things need to change first, those are levels. It also seems like stakes need to be refreshed every so often, though that might just be me.
    • Be able to easily show a character’s reaction to ultimate loss; ie, when they lose who they are or what they are about (aka, Marlin). Many deep stakes seem to come down to this, so I must be able to show both the loss and the fear of that loss clearly, and convey to the reader what that fear is of and why it drives the character so far.
      • Source material discovered and logged. Not yet tested.
  • Character
    • Get better at creating real, complex, organic people. Characters currently come down to a few base traits, followed by some (sometimes vague) secondary ones. Backstories have helped. Find that missing ingredient. 
    • Be able to create anti-author characters (characters who are not just parts of the author projected onto the page).
    • Be able to create character dialogue which tells you who the character is and what the setting is (all though their lens).
    • Be able to create character dialogue with uses voice and diction to establish who the speaker is (benchmark: use zero dialogue tags in a 3+ person conversation).
  • Series
    • Be able to work with character arcs within a series of any number of books.
      • From research: two methods: multiple arcs or spread out arc (only for planned end series – Primary example, original Star Wars).
      • Currently untested.

INVESTIGATE/EXPERIMENT:

  • Structure
    • Investigate/experiment with a purely external (plot?) darkest moment – that is, the character has fully changed, and now the Old World has come to return them to the Lie, in which they would doubtless lose all that they have become. Traditional darkest moments are internal – that is, the character has NOT committed fully to the Truth and must now make the final choice to leave the Lie and old world behind forever.
    • Investigate if an outline of the general 3-act structure is needed in addition to outlines of character arcs. This would be for the plot half.
  • Character arcs
    • A character adapts to a situation instead of changing who they are at the core. They change outward methods instead of inner motivations.
    • Trying to say something through a complete lack of change – they don’t change, and are subsequently destroyed by the new climate.
    • The character stays the same, but an inner need, defined by unchanging character, is met or failed.
    • Double arcs. Arcs where the hero follows one to the Midpoint, then swaps to another based on the Midpoint realization. This might be How to Train your Dragon: Hiccup might be following a positive arc, then switches to a flat arc when he tells Astrid yes, he will keep the nest a secret to protect Toothless. This fits, because he immediately starts to get punished after the Midpoint, something which should happen with a traditional positive arc, but does in a flat arc.
  • Plot
    • Investigate twists. Specifically how much they are needed (what they contribute – do they maybe stretch an otherwise short character arc into a long thing?), and if they are needed, how best to fit them into the 3 act structure (have main plot, divert, then twist back).
      • Twists should definitely not be included just for the sake of it. What they CAN be used for though, is to keep the reader from prematurely guessing how the story will resolve. They can also keep the characters going in the wrong direction until ALL of the plots and subplots are ready to end at the same time.
      • It seems that climaxes regularly contribute a large amount to payoff. This might just be their nature and placement at the end though, and not anything they actually contribute… not sure.

NOTES:

These are notes I have accumulated from reviews.

  • Find a way to avoid killing characters the moment their arcs are completed. Better yet, find a way to keep them involved. (primary example: Gill from Finding Nemo.
    • Well one could, you know, just… not kill them. Gill’s arc is done, he does nothing other than apologize. But he’s still there, in the background. That’s probably the answer.