Writing ideas strike me with the grace and comfort of a bullet– I have to stop whatever I’m doing, write it down, chew my lip, add to my initial thought, and mull it over some more. If for some reason I can’t immediately write my ideas down, I play the thoughts on repeat in my head, so I don’t lose them. It’s like holding your pee.
Once I have my baseline, I take literal pencil to literal paper and give the idea a skeleton. This could be anything from character names, plot line, premise, or just a single scene. I’ve written many stories, simply because I had a specific ending in mind first. Sometimes, it’s nice to know what your finish line looks like. And sometimes, it’s intriguing to see where your mind will lead you throughout the process of writing the flesh.
I used to write manuscripts without first planning. Four unsatisfactory drafts of The Pretenders and four years later, I decided to plot my story arc on paper. I found this to be of a tremendous help, almost a sort of schedule. It’s not a strict schedule, of course. I can’t tell you how many times I wrote an outline, only to take the next scene in a completely different direction than what was originally planned. However, having that plan keeps your writing organized.
I like doing all of this on actual paper because I’m in the sciences and “mistakes don’t exist.” I don’t like erasing. Crossing out old ideas leaves footprints of your past thinking, which may influence your current thinking/planning as well. You never know when a “bad” idea will guide you to a “good” one. At the very least, reading over your old plans provides comic relief later. My first five+ drafts of The Pretenders are just atrocious…
Once I feel like I have a good grip on my story, I write. I don’t know how to put this aspect into words, except that starting a new story is like building a new universe (even if the setting is present-day planet earth). At any time, you can jump into it and escape your own life. It’s better than a movie, a book, or a video game because you’re responsible for everything that happens within. If you’re not a writer, this may sound like complete nonsense to you, but some of you know what I mean. Let the imaginative imagine.
True account: I was having a conversation with someone from my seminar class earlier this week. I asked him which historical figure he would like to be, and his almost-immediate response was, “Not a writer. Because writing is all they would be doing.” Personally, I don’t see a problem with “written consumption.” In fact, I prefer it.
So I develop my ideas, characters, and universe further. This is really all up to the writer. The freedom to create is undeniable. However, when constructing a universe (especially one that isn’t the typical, present-day planet earth), it’s important to have a believable system. Megan Whalen Turner does this best in her Queen’s Thief series. Though her world is purely fantastical, it draws heavily on what we (as readers) would call Greek and Roman culture in early historical eras. When your “bones” are familiar to readers, it creates a point of reference– and a strong foundation. If your foundation is solid, then you can focus elsewhere, such as character development.
When adding unique laws or inhibiting factors, I find that the repetition of these “special rules” is critical to the reader’s understanding of its importance in the universe/plot. For example, if J. K. Rowling mentioned only once that Apparating is reserved for wizards and witches over the age of 17, then the reader would most likely forget that detail and wonder why Harry couldn’t just Apparate whenever he wanted to. By repeatedly sprinkling this rule throughout the series, Rowling builds the reader’s understanding of the rules of her universe. The fact that I was even able to recall this tidbit is evidence enough.
Even when my ideas are developed, I lay in bed at night thinking about my next moves. Currently, that would be the cover art for The Pretenders (I may need to purchase some goldfish). Before that, however, it was: What should so-and-so do next? How much should I reveal to the reader, and what scenes could write to convey that? Most nights, I fall asleep with pleasant thoughts in my head, such as those. Of course, sometimes this backfires and I get so excited for the following scene, that my mind does not cease generating ideas. That’s when the Notes app on my phone comes into the picture. Seriously, it’s one of my most frequented applications. Besides Google Docs.
As author Jennine Capó Crucet told me last month, “You’re always going to be a writer. And the sooner you own that, the better off you’ll be.”