The Creative Writing Process: Part 2

The first thing that I encountered in writing my novel was the idea. Before I had a single word down, I had a few lines describing something I thought sounded cool. From that idea, a story grew and developed, shedding and adding things as it went through its metamorphosis. But without the initial idea, no matter how vague, none of it would have gotten written down. It seems so natural to get an idea and run (or write) with it but the idea that you start out with may not be the one you end with. As I said in the first part of this series, don’t be afraid to change your mind. You have to follow your instincts when it comes to writing and the idea phase is the first opportunity you will have to choose between many possible paths so you can give your attention to just one that you will take the time to develop. So, what can you do to develop your ideas and find the right one?

I always look for ideas though perhaps, “look,” is a bit of a strong word since it implies I am actively chasing ideas. This isn’t quite correct. I do spend a lot of time asking the, “What if?” question, a very useful method for finding ideas. Just ask yourself, “What if this happened?” or, “What would happen if some person encountered this? How would he or she react or cope?” This is a very easy and almost sure-fire way to come up with something but it is too close to the surface. I do ask this question and wonder a lot but it isn’t the questioning itself that does the most work. What usually gets me something is just looking at the world and picking up on things. There are a lot of very common occurences that can be turned into story elements or you may hear a story from a friend about something he or she had encountered and realize that there’s something in there, something beyond just the story as it’s been told to you. You could add to it and turn it into something else. Then there’s what you read. I can’t stress enough how important it is to read and not just fiction. Read science articles, art criticism, go through random links in Wikipedia (the great thing here is that it doesn’t matter if what Wiki is telling you is true or false since you’re just looking for that one thing that grabs you by the eyes), and anything else.

The next step is very important and it took me a while to get in the habit of doing this. Write everything down. Any observation, dimly imagined image, or fully fledged idea needs to be recorded. You may think, “Oh, I’ll surely remember this,” but you won’t. Ideas are just like patterns in clouds. They look substantial but they dissolve into something else before you have time to appreciate it. Get a book or a pad of paper and write things down as they come to you. This idea book will serve another crucial function later when you have an idea that you really like and want to work on.

The process of writing is accretive. In other words, you start off with one idea, a core idea let’s call it. For me, I thought that nano particles getting into people’s heads was a cool idea. So I started thinking of a story that would fit with that. In order to facilitate this, I picked up my little book of ideas and started perusing. Soon, I had created a web of interconnecting ideas that, though it incorporated the original idea, went in a totally new direction that I could never have anticipated. An analogous occurence happened literally yesterday. I was scanning through my very, very large folder of pictures, opening one then another when something hit me. It’s a wonderful feeling, sort of like there’s a clarity of vision and thought, a second where you see the idea in outline, without the details but still there in front of you. I had two fantastic/sci-fi themed pictures situated side by side and the contrast between them hit me. I put whatever else I was doing on hold and started writing down whatever came to me. By the time I was done, I had an opening scene that I later resolved would come somewhere in the middle of the story. But it was enough to give me a sense of what the project would look like. Just so you know, I wouldn’t suggest writing your novel without at least a treatment of its plot though testing the water with just a scene or two, just to get a feel for it, isn’t a bad thing at all, especially if you’re still in the grips of the rush of creating something new. In that case, let your unconscious free, taking everything down as quickly as your fingers can move.

So, this is essentially my process for creating and developing ideas. Once you start writing, the demands of continuity and the development of characters may force you to modify your idea further. You’d be surprised how good characters are at knowing what they need to do and some times they want to do just the thing you don’t want them to but you should probably listen to them since they  can serve as the mouthpiece for your unconscious thought process.

While it’s great to come up with legions of thoughts, at some point we have to get practical. The next post I write will deal with how to get started on your novel and say what things I did to get the ball rolling.

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