I'm writing this for three main reasons:
1) Memories are fallible, and if I don't write this down, I'll probably forget a bunch of it. Plus there is liable to be evolution over time, so later I can look back and see what my previous opinions were.
2) I'm hoping that some people will look at this and think "yes, I have those same issues", and thus maybe I can help, or at least make sure people aren't suffering alone.
3) I'm hoping that other people will look at this and think "Wow, that's the way you write? I never thought about it that way" or "I guess it's not as straightforward as I thought". In particular, I don't think I'm cut out for NoWriMos (even though I got past 50,000), but I'll get to that.
Part 1 - Before Writing
Before I get into writing something, I need to have a sense of the characters, and the arc, before I begin. The key words there are *a sense of*. I don't have the climax laid out in my head, that would screw me over, as my characters always evolve by the time I reach the ending. I don't have the character genealogy worked out either, because that way if someone needs a particular moment included in their history, I can insert it later without much difficulty.
But I do need the framework.
For anyone who follows my "Taylor's Polynomials" series, it may be of interest to know that I spent most of June 2011 sketching the characters out, literally and figuratively, before launching in July. (Even then, I had to make a last minute adjustment the day before Slope's first appearance, as I realized part of her hair curved the wrong way.) I had a fair sense of a year's worth of material at the time too, across 3 Series', even though it wasn't all written at the time.
So coming into JulNoWriMo 2012, I narrowed my options down to three - the Virga story I went with (which had three previously completed shorter stories), Cherry's Story (involving some memorable characters but an aborted storyline), or completing the Magical Girl story I wrote 52,000 words for in August of 2010. These all had well established main characters, and a basic idea for a plot arc. (I suspect I'm more of a character-based writer.)
There's another story I didn't pitch, which relates to my "Time Trippers" two volume set (over 220 pages). It would have involved looking at those characters a couple years after the fact, using a time loop plot. (I love "what happened to them later" stories, I think that's partly why I'm so fond of the anime "Magical Lyrical Nanoha".) But I didn't have a clear sense of the setting, plus I'd have to pick up on where about a dozen characters had ended up after high school, so I judged that to be too much.
Having picked Virga (a few of my friends voted, thanks!), I then combed back through the three prior shorts on June 30. I would have liked to do it sooner, but I'm a high school teacher, so June is bad even if you don't add my webseries on top of it. Anyway, I created a file with key information about the main characters (mostly appearance and historical facts), all the minor characters (I planned on cameos), and information related to their universe and the plot arc.
Without that, I wouldn't have been able to start. If you're someone out there who can simply "start writing", more power to you, particularly if you can do it without wandering all over the place. I need my framework.
Next: Starting Out