It’s August 1st and the start of my four-part weekly blog on writing process and the development of my debut novel Sleeper Protocol. When I started really writing – by that I mean writing with the intent to publish – I had no process whatsoever. Back then, I’d had the idea that eventually became my previously self-published novel Runs In The Family and I wanted to start writing it and had no idea how to do so. I enrolled in a creative writing class to try and refine my skills and storytelling ability. What I got in return was a sampling of how to develop a creative process.
So, how does it start? It depends. I’m not trying to be vague, but how a story comes together for me starts in a lot of different ways. Let me give you a few examples:
1. The character in your head. For Runs In The Family, I distinctly heard my main character’s voice in my head. She was pretty snarky, at first. When I combined her voice with the perfect image of a very different her at the beginning of the book, I was able to start writing her effectively. The downside to this was the story I told started in the wrong place and I took several drafts to figure out where that was. I had a vivid portrayal of the character in my head, but the story did not match up.
2. The perfect starting line that wasn’t. For my novel Sleeper Protocol, in the original draft of the story I’d come up with what I thought was the perfect starting line. “I remember being born with great clarity.” The way I envisioned it, the line created questions and intrigue from the moment the story started. During editing, my editor and I labored over this because while it sounds good, it could have created the wrong types of questions in the minds of readers. I tried to expound on the scene immediately following the line to build clarity. As it turns out, we were able to clear up the scene by removing that line. When I started the novel, that line got me going. In the end, it’s not a part of the book at all, but the intent behind it is.
3. The wild idea on the highway. Driving along the interstate in western Kansas several years ago and watching thunderheads blossom in the skies around me, I had the idea of a guy wearing a winged “flying suit” not unlike those used by BASE jumpers being sucked up into a tornado. Neat idea, right? The trouble was that I had no context for the story until a couple of years ago when I was asked to consider submitting a story to the Extreme Planets anthology. I wrote two stories. As I finished the first story (which was rejected), the context for the tornado jumper story hit me squarely between the eyes. I wrote “Maelstrom” by hand over the course of two days. I edited and typed as I went and submitted it very near the deadline. The story was accepted with very slight editorial comments. The idea resonated and stuck with me and when presented with the right context, voila!
All of these examples have one thing in common. The starting point of the process is simply writing. When someone asks where the ideas come from, it’s very easy for me to say “by writing.”
You can start writing in the wrong place or throw out the entire perfect start you thought you had as long as you’ve started the process. Only in certain circumstances do the stories we wait to tell ever come to life. Being open to that will help you. If you have an idea that just isn’t coming together or you can’t make the characters be who you want them to be, write something else. You don’t even have to have a plot structure or an idea of where the story needs to end. Start writing. When you do, you’re ready to face the ultimate question. Pantser or plotter? For Sleeper Protocol, I started by just telling a story without a thought to structure or plot. My response to that question changed midstream and the story is better for it.
We’ll discuss story structure as the most integral part of the story next week. I hope you’ll join me. Please consider signing up for my newsletter. As we draw closer to the release of Sleeper Protocol, I’ll be sharing more specific information there.