SPOTLIGHT: J. Vitalie on Story Construction
Josh Vitalie, aka TheRake and author of New World Underground, is one of my favourite SciFi writers. He is as yet unpublished, but I think that you’ll agree that is the market’s great loss.
Vitalie’s novel is one of intense emotional drama, wonderfully three-dimensional characters – even the minor characters who are written out after a chapter or so are fleshed out with meticulous care – and gritty realism. All in all, this is one dystopian thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat.
Here’s what people thought of the novel’s twists and turns:
… Yes, alright. It’s good. We get the message. Now calm down, shocked montage.
Especially you, shocked montage cat.
I thought that his frank explanation of his process was brilliant, so I’ve reproduced it in its entirety here.
J. Vitalie’s A-2-B
As you know, I work on one singular expansive epic, so my process is probably very specific to the story more than to writing in general but here it goes.
I start with the world and the characters. I then write biographies for every character, plotting out every major life event and how it affected them on a personal level to make them the people they are when the story begins. A list of strengths and flaws for each character is useful. Knowing this stuff allows me to fully understand what kinds of decisions and reactions they will have to things within the story, and what kind of personal journey they need to take.
All of this in place, I plot like a mad man. A beginning, middle, and end are imperative so I begin there. Then I create the main plot, outlining every twist, mystery and major event that moves the overall story from beginning to middle to end seamlessly. Then I detail plot, I plot every character’s personal inner journey, beginning middle and end, from point A to point B. Then I outline subplots and minor story arcs that move the major plot forward at all times. This generally leaves me with stacks and stacks of notes, outlines, and post-its.
Then it’s time, as Briony said, to figure out the needs to accomplish the plots, that includes all conflicts and resolutions. I figure out the needs first, then the wants. I never ask what I, as the writer, want for them, I ask what they need or want. My characters need certain things to push them forward, and they want certain things, which also motivates them through a story to do certain things. I write all of this down and go back and rewrite an outline to include all of these things, like putting together a mosaic of mini-stories that power the main plot machine.
I then work backwards from end to beginning to find out where the best beginning should be and mark it, though I typically write unused scenes leading up to the beginning that never see the light of day, but that’s just for me to feel where their headspace is when the story begins. I then take the plot elements and arrange them like a puzzle so that I can create mystery elements, and reveal little tidbits and clues at certain points in the story. I then alter plot point to become more of an evolutionary arc for the characters, using the laws of cause and effect to fill in gaps. Then it is back to write a full outline including all of the information I’ve accumulated.
I go over the outline again, rearrange things as needed, move characters around, figure out where everyone needs to be and how their needs/wants got them there. Once I have a very spider webbed painting on my wall of my entire story, including things readers may or may not ever see or know, I write. If I have a problem, I go back and consult all of the information, like research.
For me, personally, writing in a non-linear fashion (writing scenes out of order) is just something I won’t do. Character headspace is important, and I can’t get a grasp on the nuanced emotions of a character in a certain point of the story if I write them out of order. For me to write effectively, it’s more beneficial for me to follow the chronology in the same manner as the reader. The reason is to avoid any plot holes that might develop, and it keeps characters from ever acting out of character, and it solidifies continuity in my mind more than random scenes being pieced together. For me, the puzzle is already big enough; I don’t need to make it bigger.
New World Underground
“We are fighting against misery, but we are also fighting against alienation” – Che Guevara
The Red Wars ended nearly twenty years ago, ushering in an era of Imperialist tyranny that spread throughout the world like wildfire. The war might have been lost, but for a handful of hopeless faces from the gutters, hope was not. The Resistance movement continues to fight against a global Empire that would see them executed as terrorists.
With Execution Day fast approaching, the Resistance prepares to rescue an old friend from beheading, but first they must recruit the help of a bad-tempered, fugitive smuggler from the slums to complete the mission.
When Execution Day arrives, Kate Brennan must decide if she will become the leader she was always meant to be, or if she will walk away and leave the world to its fate.
Meanwhile, the mysterious Yozumi Takahiro is hunting down and murdering senior executives of the Empire’s officially contracted mega-conglomerate, Bryman Corp, in her quest for survival. With the help of a Bryman Corp ally, Yozumi discovers a new path to ultimate power.
The battle lines will be drawn and the sides will be chosen as the war to save the human race begins.
This story is adult-oriented and deals with extremely mature subject matter of adult social themes, explicit sexuality, graphic violence, drug abuse, and adult language. It is intended for a mature audience. No part of this work may be reproduced or copied without express permission of the author. © 2011 Josh Vitalie. All Rights Reserved.