Jessie: In NH watching for the first frost of the season
For the last few weeks I’ve been poking around and working on a new book in a new series. I’ve been brewing up plot and summoning up characters. I’ve been thinking about places and dreaming up spaces and enjoying all the possibilities the story could mean and be.
I’m enthralled. I’m also exhausted. Every possible choice twinkles and sparkles with its very own sort of allure. But not all choices stand up to scrutiny and many don’t play well with others. Every decision I make requires other decisions but it also eliminates many other possibilities.
This will be my fifth novel and this time I am determined to do the better part of this sort of thrashing and handwringing before I begin to write. I always start out a new project with a fresh notebook and a gel pen. I begin by writing question after question in the notebook and answering them in a variety of ways. When I hit on an answer I like, I circle it. The answer invariably leads to more questions and before long I have a huge array of possibilities.
After a while, as the story sorts itself into order in my mind I get an itch to begin. This seems to happen when I have about a third of the scenes for the story in mind. When it gets to the point I have to scratch, I write out individual scenes with the goals I have in mind for each on index cards. When I am happy with those I transfer the information to color-coded sticky notes and start arranging them on my office wall. I rearrange them until I like what I see and then I set up a new file in Scrivener and begin the actual writing.
Usually, by the time I’ve gotten to the end of that first third of the story I’ve been back to my notebook and have come up with the next third. The process gets repeated once more and finally, I reach the end. It works for me but it also requires me to make plotting decisions right along with all the word and pacing choices. Sometimes the possibilities blur the road before me and I just wish I had a map and a flashlight.
So rather than wishing, this time I’m building the whole road and the map. I’ve slathered myself with mental Calamine lotion and have ignored any itching. I’m still using my notebook and my wall of stickies but I’m finding it is easier for me to discard an idea that is no more than a single line on a yellow square than it is to slash and burn dozens of fully fleshed scenes. I’m using a goal of finishing a sticky note outline by the last day of September to keep the urge to actually write at bay. I think it just might work so long as the local office supply store doesn’t run out of sticky notes.
Readers: Do you have decisions that overwhelm you? Writers: Do you have a favorite way to develop your own stories?