I woke up the other day with an Idea. I know this is the cliche of writers, that brilliant lightbulb moment upon awakening, but, I have to say, this never happens to me. My dreams are…well, let’s just say they’re not terribly useful for writing. Unless I decide to have a go at surrealist horror. Then I’ll be prepared.
Anyway, this idea. It’s really the opening couple of chapters to a book, complete with the two main characters and a couple of supporting ones. It’s the beginning of a story.
So. Now what?
Yeah, I could just jump in and start WRITING ALL THE THINGS. And you can get things done that way, no joke. But a lot of the time I’ll end up driving the excitement of that high-octane creative burst right into a concrete retaining wall. And that’ll be the end of that story idea. I will have destroyed it in my eagerness and desperation, like a teenage boy who just can’t keep his damn hands to himself on a date and ends up kicked in the junk. Except in my brain. No one wants to get kicked in the brain-junk.
This is just an idea right now. A good one, I think, but it’s not a whole story. There’s a whole list of shit that needs to be done before I can start writing in earnest.
1. Character development: I have an idea of who two of the main characters are, but they’re not complete yet. Who are their families? Do they have any? What kind of social circles do they move in? What are their bad habits? How do they take their tea? I might not need to answer all of these, but I’ll definitely need to answer some before they’re a real person. And I need some other people, too.
2. Story Development: I have the idea of what happens in the first couple of chapters. One of the characters has ended up in a very bad situation that she needs the other character’s help correcting. But I think there’s more to it than that; this bad situation is only part of a larger bad situation that affects a lot more people. But I have no idea what that larger situation is yet. Seems like something I might need to know before writing the novel. Otherwise, it’s a short story, and not a great one.
3. Setting: That workshop I went to on creating place will come in handy here. I get the impression that the setting will be very important to this story. At the very least, it’s going to influence the pace and nature of events. Some time spent developing that and creating a sense of it in my own mind will go a long way toward making the story—and the characters—concrete.
4. Outlining: About two-thirds of you just groaned, but I’ll ignore you for the moment. Outlining is important. I need one to write anything longer than five pages. Otherwise, I get so caught up in what’s happening right now that I forget where I’m going. That’s where long, loosely-connected story arcs get introduced. And, yeah, sometimes they can be interesting. But most of the time, they lead me astray. And by the time I get back on track, I’ve lost whatever feel I had for the characters and the story. Story telling is like herding cats: they keep trying to wander off and you can only control about 60% of them at any given time. But try to stay on track or you’ll never get them to the cat-barn. Or wherever it is people are going when they herd cats. Cattery? Cat house? No, that’s something different. The point: I need an outline. And I don’t have one yet.
I probably will end up doing some writing over the next few months on this story. Small scenes, mostly, things that I’ll use to get a feel for characters and the story itself. But officially, writing won’t start until November. That’s right: NaNoWriMo time. This year, I’m getting the groundwork done early.
And in the meantime, I’ll just keep sweet-talking that idea.