Saturday, September 8, 2012
I'm not quiet. I'm PLOTTING.
When I was younger and would write stories in notebooks and single-spaced Microsoft Word documents, I always felt that a premise was enough. Surely an idea for a story (a girl in WWII England rescuing people from bombed-out buildings or the daughter of a laundress in the White House during the Civil War) and a handful of character ideas was enough to base a novel on. Right? Right?
Uh, kinda right.
Sure, it was enough to base a novel on. The problem was that I had nothing to build with. Without plot, my poor stories collapsed and were left for dead before many days had passed. I can't count how many times I set out to write the novel of the century, only to abandon the premise after a week or so and start on something else (which, in its turn, would soon be neglected by its easily-distracted mama).
Since then, I've begun to learn a shocking truth-- namely, that a story really cannot go anywhere with a plot. Remarkable, no? Oh, certainly there have been plenty of books that stemmed only from the barest wisp of an idea, but the truly good ones were then built upon that wisp of an idea. Plots grew from those ideas, and characters from the plots (sometimes vice versa) and thus a story was born.
And no matter how much writing I may want to do, no matter how many elusive dragonfly-ideas flit through my mind when I'm trying to sleep at night, no matter how many characters pop into my brain, I can really do nothing with them unless I know what I want to do with them.
Profound, I know.
In all seriousness, however, this concept has taken me quite a while to grasp. I'm a seat-of-the-pants writer in general-- I tend to write haphazardly and fecklessly, spinning out whatever flows into my head with all the reckless abandon of a baby with a Magic Marker and a fresh white wall. And though free-spirit writing has its time and place and is certainly commendable, I'm finding that for me at least, it's really best to have an outline, to know where I'm going.
You wouldn't take a road trip without a road map, now would you? (Er, that is, a GPS? I keep forgetting that road maps are obsolete.)
So I'm making a road map for Sky, and it's taking a great deal longer than I'd thought. (So what if I don't call it a GPS? I've always been a bit old-fashioned.) I had an idea for this story that's morphed into something much bigger (and yes, I'll say it, better). The whole story shifted back 100 years, to begin with, and the Albigensian Crusade wormed its way in. (I'll wait while you go look that one up.) I realized overnight the overwhelming power of Actual Research (that is, not just reading Wikipedia articles all afternoon) and the stack of Middle Ages history books on hold for me at the library is... well, it's not allowed to exceed five at a time. But as soon as I return one, I can get another.
I've been dreaming about this story, thinking about it while brushing my teeth, scribbling down ideas like crazy. I haven't been doing Beautiful People or writing much dialogue or even writing character studies in my notebook. Yet my characters are coming alive to me as I'm creating the walls and doorways of their story. Finding out how each one is going to deal with the problems I'm throwing their way is, for me, even better than deciding if they prefer tea or coffee. I still plan to do Beautiful People, to save any and all inspirational pictures to my computer, to do character tags and think about how they'd respond to a wacky situation. But it's their story that makes them who they are.
Man, I sound like a refrigerator magnet again. I'm getting good at that. Maybe I should go into the refrigerator magnet business. Does anyone know how much that kind of a job pays?
At any rate, everything I said in this post could be easily summed up in a picture (worth a thousand words and all that):