I’ve been playing with an idea for a futuristic novel because I’ve been reading Ms. Atwood lately. That’s how my book ideas usually start. Once I have an interesting idea the process is like that ad on TV about those mops that attract dirt! For me, this political nonsense that’s been going on breaks down into something that the founding fathers knew more about than people do today. When they tried out the Articles of Confederation, they found that a group or confederation of states with a weak central government was bad for trade and currency and a lot of other things. We could end up with a strange future if some of our more vocal politians have their way. I’m still waiting for a few more ideas to attach themselves to this union of the political unrest we’re experiencing and a futuristic world. That’s a good example of the beginning of my creative process.
In the past, my first idea has come from a source as common as a newspaper article to the marriage of knights and a building in downtown Baltimore. You just have to let it all come together in its own good time. I don’t usually start writing until I have three or four ideas. My Terrifying Miss Bascom was not like that but I think that book will always be a bit different than others I might try. I was blessed by a lightning strike.
For me, this “clumping” of ideas doesn’t stop until the book is completely finished. Even in revision, I’ll think of new ways to demonstrate a point or understand a relationship between my characters. I believe that’s what people call growing a plot “organically” or maybe it’s even the same as when authors talk about how their characters take over their books. It doesn’t take me long before my characters become very real to me and I know what they will or will not do. Once you know that, you only need to have a direction to help with your selection of the tone, is this a happy conclusion, a sad one, mixed results? And some inciting incidents. The first one, where things start to change, is the most important. But you will need others throughout the book. When in doubt, just think about how you can get your character into more trouble. Does he walk into a bank when it’s being robbed? Does he see his mother with her lover? You get the idea. I’ll talk about plotting in a later post. If you figure out where you’re going to start, you’ll have a much easier time during the first week of November or whenever you begin your project. One little gem that was spoken this summer by my great workshop leader Margot Livesey is that your writing needs to make people react, must evoke strong emotions. Choose a topic that you feel strongly about and you have a good chance of conveying that emotion in your writing.