Saturday, March 14, 2009

Living in A Story

My lack of posts this week was not due to laziness. In fact, it was quite the opposite. I neglected thinking about other works that I've written in favor of working on the project I'm currently engrossed in. 

I started writing a new novel two weeks ago. It's a middle grade novel whose concept has been floating around in my head for months. The outline was written last fall, but I let it simmer for awhile before tackling it. This was partially due to other obligations and partially because I felt the story was lacking something...mainly, the character. I knew the main character's course, but I didn't feel as though I knew her yet. She was born, but still needed to mature in my head for a bit.

There's a process involved in a novel that takes a different course with each book. But over the years, there's a basic pattern that evolves. It always starts with the initial idea. Sometimes that's just a phrase that I imagine someone saying, or a place that intrigues me, or a random stranger's face that strikes me as one that I want to make up a story for. From there, the real work begins.

I used to jump right into a story after that thought, but over the years I've learned that many of them aren't enough for an entire book. It's a lesson I learned the hard way (see my previous post referring to a closet full of unfinished manuscripts.) Now I always think the idea through enough for an outline. This outline is never written in stone and gets changed almost immediately after I start writing. But the outline process allows me to identify any shortfalls in the story and how to pace the action through an entire book. 

Once I've convinced myself that I'm onto something, I usually need the second spark of inspiration. For this book, it was seeing Coraline and remembering the book as I watched. The whole time I found myself thinking what a great story it was. I walked out of the theater motivated. Writing is weird like that. There's these moments when you feel like sitting down and just pounding out page after page. That's how I felt watching that movie.

Over the next few days, I played with an idea. I wrote a brief scene completely unattached to any previous idea. I didn't know where I was going with it and realized quickly that I wasn't going anywhere with it. But in the process I found that I'd discovered the character for the story I'd conceived of months before. So I pulled out the outline and went to work.

There's always a quick burst once I write that first page. I've always pictured writing like being in a blank room and slowly you start to fill it in with details. I think that's why I always get off to a fast start. I'm so eager to start painting the picture. But as soon as those first splashes of color are there, the real work begins. It's like working on 10,000 piece puzzle of an image of the sky. It's methodical and careful. But soon, it all starts to come together. The world and its characters become as real to me as anything else. At that point, the writing process becomes about navigating through the plot and steering the characters in the right direction and making sure they stick to the parts they're supposed to play. 

I'm smack in the beginning of the middle of this book right now, just at the point where everything has been set up and now the action is starting to roll. It's always one of my favorite parts of the process, which is why I've neglected posting here. It's hard to break away from a story when it's going well. Someone has to keep their eye on the characters and keep them from getting into too much trouble. 


  1. This is really a great blog, Brian. I look forward to it every time you post something new.

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