Not long ago, I participated in a group experiment: several of us wrote a series on our creative processes, each from our own point of view. I have since taken that blog down, but wanted to present them here for your enjoyment. Over the next two months, I will be examining both the creative and physical processes of writing – everything from idea generation to getting the words on the page and polishing them up into a final draft. These posts will reflect my process, how I do it, but one thing is certain – there is no one way to write a story. You’ll find as many different processes as there are writers, and different types of writing might come with different processes. I hope this series will help spark your own process, whatever that may be.
First a little bit about me. My favored genre is paranormal, though I am currently in the final leg of a contemporary romance draft. I’ve also written science fiction and horror extensively, as well as some historical stories set in the Victorian period and 15th century France. My stories tend to be longer, novel length, which means anything from 50,000 words on up. And while that is considered a novel, my friends like to smile and say it means I am long-winded. I’ll take that. I have a yearning to try a novella, however, and have a few ideas waiting in the wings. It should be a challenge, but I am curious to see if I can do it.
Speaking of ideas, that is the subject of the beginning of this series. How do I think up all these story ideas? Where do they come from? Do I write about people and things I know? Well the short answers are: all sorts of ways, from all over, and yes and no. Clear as mud?
The more complete answer cannot be split up into separate questions. Storytellers, and that is what writers are when you get right down to it, find inspiration all over. Sometimes a word or phrase overheard starts the wheels turning. A lady walking by the window in a funny hat could stir an idea. Sometimes a snatch of song turns on the creative light bulb. Perhaps a dream has us waking up and running for pen and paper, or the computer, to make notes before we forget.
This last bit happens often to me. The paranormal I was writing last fall is a good example. I knew all the characters that were to be in the story and was already off to a great start. I woke up one morning with a character sitting in my head. She had a face I could see clearly. She had a name and a whole backstory ready, and informed me that she was supposed to be in this story and what was I doing lazing about instead of in there writing her in? I did as directed. Who am I to argue?
Do I write about things I know? Here is that yes and no answer. The people and places I know may spark ideas, but I don’t write them as they are. They start as the first glimmer of an idea. I make a note of it so I don’t forget and think ‘Hey, that could be cool!’. Then I let it simmer. That’s my highly technical term for tossing it into the primordial soup that is my brain, letting it swim around with everything else lurking in there, and see what eventually bobs to the surface. Sometimes the idea is too small and I throw it back to simmer some more. Some ideas sink to the bottom never to be seen again. But some of them appear shining with the light of inspiration. And what may have begun as a lady walking by the window in a funny hat has become a prince of some unknown land, wearing a large crown, who is the subject of an assassination plot. See what I mean?
The point is this: ideas can come from anywhere at any time. I learned early on to carry a small notepad with me for this very reason. I got tired of pulling notes from pocket and purse that were scribbled on paper, gum wrappers, bar napkins, take-out menus, etc. People always think writers are so much more creative then they are. I don’t think that is true, I think we just are more tuned in to the random ideas that float through our brains every moment of the day. We are more likely to grab hold of them, shine a light on them, and see if they squirm to life. People are natural born storytellers. All of us. It’s just a matter of looking a little more closely at the world around us. You may find, in doing so, that instead of too few ideas, you have too many. I’ll take that any day.