HOW TO DEVELOP A WRITING PROCESS
One of the most frequent questions I get asked is how I come up with my ideas. I hadn’t thought about it much because usually they just come and then my pen responds in kind. But that doesn’t help the novice writer out too much.
In fact, I often find myself wondering the same thing about the greats: Robin Cook, Stephen King, and the JD Rob types (whom I haven’t read much of but I do respect). I mention these few because they come out with different types of books — not just selling one mega story such as Game of Thrones or Harry Potter. It’s much simpler to continue a story that has begun, but more difficult to create fresh characters and a fresh new plotline that people still want to read.
I’m working on several WIPs that I haven’t made much mention of, so for the sake of clarity, I will keep away from those for now and highlight The Girl with the Scar.
This saga is about a young girl, Genevieve Solace, who has been hunted by a king for fifteen years, and she knows that he is getting closer to finding her.
The entire work birthed from the idea of: What would it look like to write a story where inner passion had a magical persona – where ambition was not just a notion, but a presence?
This concept seems rather nebulous at first glance, but I took some time to mull over what implications such a notion would have in a world ruled by a king and terrorized by his Raiders.
Without revealing too much of the story, I wanted the “face of ambition” to be hidden, not just from Genevieve, but from everyone else in the world too. I felt like that was similar to the world we live in now. Each of us has a passion deep within us, that if released, the potential of the passion could literally impact the world.
My personal passion is writing – something that I’ve always loved, but also something that I had never shared with the world until two years ago when I first released The Pioneers.
So I took this idea – the idea of the “face of ambition” – and I morphed it into a story.
USING THIS SAME CONCEPT
Now let’s take this same principle and see where it can apply to your WIP. Perhaps you don’t want to go as deep as this and you only want to tell a story that has no underlying meaning. It works much the same way.
Let’s say you want to write a novel about a wizard who casts fire. Easy enough right. Well, there have to be limitations to his fire, or else he could potentially burn down the entire world with no consequence. Begin by thinking about what his limitations are and what they prevent him from doing – how they affect him.
If casting a fire spells means that he has to root himself to the ground to draw power, then that means that to defeat him, all a person would need to do would be to get behind him or to flee away from him. This could create some interesting battles and interesting conflicts all of which are based solely on your wizard’s limits.
I will continue with my writing process next time. Let me know what your thoughts are.
It’s always interesting to find out how other writers draw inspiration from topics that to non-writers seem “nebulous” and perhaps even at first glance unexciting or uneventful until the writer has twisted the topic and turned it inside out and upside down, moulding it into something magical and quite wonderful, perhaps even thought-provoking.
Reading the submission guidelines from various genre publishers can also be very revealing…namely showing us writers the topics and plot lines editors, agents and publishers are sick to death of! A common pet hate seems to be plots without underlying meaning and I must say, those are the stories I enjoy the least, too.
I typically work on several WIP, just like you do, and get inspiration from a multitude of sources, such as overheard conversations in a supermarket, an article in a newspaper or an unexplained instance in a historical character’s life I read about in a non-fictional book – combine these ingredients, shake about a bit and with a bit of luck and a lot of hard work, there’s a story brewing before long.
You know, Maria, that’s so true. I don’t enjoy the too many stories that are missing a lot of deeper elements, so not often will I delve into characters who are 1-dimensional. I may read a book or two, but after that I get really bored because the character seems shallow and that’s when I start skimming. And when I start skimming, that’s when I stop caring, and you’ll never guess what I do when I stop caring haha.
As far as the random snipits of information that we glean from life, that’s true too. I’m not always “looking” for a story, but my mind is always open to one, which pretty much is the same thing when it really comes down to it. My favorite is to hear cool one-liners from people. I tend to write those down or commit them to memory. I’ll never forget how this nurse once told me why she and her husband only had two children. “I wasn’t gone’ let them outnumber us!” I thought, “Wow, what a way to put it!”
Oh dear, that nurse clearly thought of her children as “the enemy”. Poor kids, to grow up in a household like that!
But you are right, being open and receptive to the things our radars (meaning ears, unless one of us happens to be an alien or robot) pick up en route. I’m always amazed what makes it into my writing. Things friends tell me about their complicated love life will trigger something or standing in the queue at the post office and listening into an old lady’s tale of “how this is her birthday, but there’s no longer anybody alive, who’d care”.
Personal classified adverts are also great for spawning stories; best one I’ve seen to date: “Wedding dress, £100; never worn”. It practically screams romantic comedy to me!
See, now Maria, you’ve opened my mind up to so much more with those two examples. “This is her birthday, but there’s no longer anybody alive who’d care.” That’s awesome for a story, sad for real life – just the ingredients I need to be searching for.
And I like the wedding dress one just as well. Small ideas like this are ones that I’m officially keeping my eyes open for now thanks to you!
You’re most welcome!
In case there are any children’s writers among your blog readers: Because I’m a children’s writer but have no children or grandchildren of my own, I have to be “creative” when it comes to finding venues with actual living and breathing kids that I can eavesdrop on without getting arrested as a “nasty old woman preying on the young”.
Post offices, children’s libraries and cinemas are safe places, as they are there with their parents waiting in the queue…and bus stops outside sports and leisure centres are also good places to pick up snippets of conversations, interesting speech patterns, mannerisms or local idioms that might come in handy one day, when you’re trying to describe a scene focusing on children’s group dynamics or their competitive spirit or how they like to show off to one another etc. I just stand a safe distance away from them with a tiny notepad and pencil, pretending to write down my shopping list…mumbling things like “one cauliflower, cheese, butter, flour…gin…tonic…aspirin…”
So it’s largely a question of knowing where your “quarry”, speak potential reader, might hang out. The book is meant to appeal to them, so why not use their age group as inspiration in the first place?
The same would also be true for books aimed at adults, perhaps a particular age group such as senior citizens for example. Just hunt them down and observe them in their natural habitat…it always generates some great ideas for stories. AND has the advantage that you end up with fully fledged 3D characters in your story.
Another great idea! I’ll definitely have to give this a try too, especially in the getting the voice of certain characters and cultures. Though I must say that it’s even creepier for a guy to do what you’re doing, even if he’s number his cauliflower and cheese! hhaha
Well, you could always disguise yourself as Santa Claus next Christmas or borrow somebody’s kids for Halloween’s trick ‘n treat, if you wanted to write about children. Another good way of doing this in a non-creepy way is to simply sit in a park and watch the world go by or going to a free event such as a marching band playing or something like that. People are relaxed and notice less that there’s somebody with a wee notepad.
Hahaha a roving Santa – that’ll go over well lol. But yeah, going to the outdoor events is excellent. And now that you mention it, I can bring my girls to the playground and do some watching. Something about a guy with his own kids makes him infinitely less creepy. I’d just never thought to do it before!
Hehe, as Santa you could do a special promotion and give away a gift-wrapped edition of your books I guess…but only to older, wiser and well behaved kids:)
I love implications–When I’m stuck, by going back and mining through the first few pages, I always find ways to put more into the story. You can create a whole world through implications. “What if a tone-deaf person had music magic?” became one for me… it led to “Can she still do anything with her magic? Does that mean physical abilities affect magic?” And then, “How does her problem affect her view of herself and other people? How did it affect her family, and how did she get the magic?” And of course it went on from there.
Limits, too. Limits are beautiful. I play D&D and other tabletop RPGs, and creating a “balanced” system is pretty integral to the game. So creating limits became an essential part of my process, because I want to know how I can game my own system and throw things out of balance to create yet more conflict without breaking the consistency of the world. Mwahaha.
Thanks for the response, Rebekkah. Secretly, I think I’d enjoy D&D, but that’s just my confession. I’ve never played, but I’ve only resulted to the less imaginative RPGs such as WoW and a host of others that I’ll keep to myself so that I don’t get too overly excited and reinstall those oldies. But I digress.
I really like the idea of a tone-deaf person having music magic. That’s such a cool concept. And actually – I’ll reveal this since you brought it up – in the series that I’m workign on now (Dark Connection), Book 3 has a mute person in it who plays the harp, but he actually communicating magically. Shhh don’t tell anyone though. That won’t come out until book 4.
Ooh, I like that harp idea! Brilliant! Music is expressive, it makes sense that it can become a voice… Thanks for the sneak peek; now I’m looking forward to reading book 4!
Any type of tabletop roleplaying is made fun or not almost entirely depending on whom you play with. I love it, but I’ve been lucky to have great groups. Pretty much it’s the social geek game; you hang out with a group of friends for 4-6 hours at a time, goofing off, eating, and creating a story together. So with the right group and a good GM (Game master–more or less the lead writer providing the story setting and the plot as you and the rest of the players provide the characters), it’s awesome. With a not-so-great group, though, it can be boring or even argumentative, and you’re stuck there for 4-6 hours. Kind of like a good book vs a boring book, in some ways…
Dang, I’m really missing out. I know that I don’t have enough geek / nerd friends to generate a D&D, but it does sound like a lot of fun!