Writing- Where Does It Come From Anyway?

My friend, Random Blogger, has written asking the following, very good questions:

"Ok, so how do you get to the point where you can write enough of anything to write book? I can never write more than a few pages on anything. How many irrelevant details do you add to build on the character and situation? Mentor me Nancy. If nothing else I want to tell the story behind my photos."

And just when I was wondering what to write today... ;-)

Sometimes I wonder myself where the ideas come from but I've learned to stop focusing on how the characters appear and let my mind roam along with them.

There are lots of "what ifs" in my head but few of them become novels. It seems to work like this- A thought occurs to me, or a character pops into my head. With my Sierra Lavotini books, Sierra herself appeared, fully formed and ready to tell her story. Sometimes it's an idea or a situation.

For the past few weeks, I've been thinking about the cabin and what it would be like to live there full time. Then I wonder how my boys would like me living there full-time. Would they come visit? What if it was Christmas time? Would they ever come for Christmas? I'm not so sure they would.

Then I started thinking about the characters I've met up there and how the locals say they don't like folks who "ask too many questions." I live in the heart of Moonshine country. What would I do if I met the Moonshiner? What would he be like?

I let my imagination noodle around with these thoughts. I throw in my fears, my wildest hopes and see what happens. If the idea sticks with me longer than a few days, I begin to think about how I would tell the story. Where would it start? Who would be the best one to tell the tale? What would keep the reader interested? What would keep me interested.

But I don't begin to write until I hear the main character give me the first line. So for a week I lay awake at night, waiting to hear the first line. I call it getting "creatively constipated." You can't tell the story until you're fairly bursting with it. You can't write until you absolutely have to or die. I wait until I see the opening scene as clearly as a movie and then I'm off and running.

Sometimes, like Random Blogger, despite my best intentions, I lose interest and walk away from the project. Sometimes I get excited and tell the story to a friend. That is the kiss of death for me. If I've already told the story, I see no reason to write it. It's just one of my quirks. I can't write something I've told out loud.

So, Random, if you're wanting to tell the story of your photographs- step inside them. Feel them with all of your senses. If you keep coming back to one particular picture, maybe sit down and promise yourself you'll only write about that picture for ten minutes, then you're free to let it go. If at the end of that time, you feel like continuing, go right ahead. But if not, ask yourself why. Then ask yourself what you really want to say and write that down.

Pretend you're describing your photo to someone you love with all your heart, only they're blind. Give them the gift of your words. Bring your picture to life. No detail that brings the picture to life for the reader can be called "irrelevant." To paraphrase Elmore Leonard, try not to write the parts you and your reader usually skip over in your search for the good stuff.

Or look at the picture and free associate...

"It was so cold that day, the frost clung to the pond behind my house, too shy to rise up into the gray, winter morning. It was the day after you left me and all the world was as still as death."


"The morning after the first night we made love, she baked cinnamon buns. I heard her downstairs in my kitchen, rattling pots and humming an old Allman Brothers song. The warm scent of yeast and coffee slipped inside the bedroom, crawled beneath my covers and reminded me of the way she'd looked in the summer moonlight. I closed my eyes and tried to pretend she wasn't leaving. But in my heart, I knew she was already gone."

I don't know the best or right way to do it other than to apply the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair and have at it.

Maybe one of my readers has some words of wisdom to offer here, Random. Maybe they'll send in a comment or two. Please....


Anonymous said...

That's very good advice, Nancy. Anything that sticks in your mind, that you mentally start playing around with, is potentially a good idea for a work of fiction.
O.Henry's two rules for writing a story:
1) Write stories that please yourself.
2) There is no other rule.

random blogger said...