This is the first in a 4-part series about The Big Magical Process of Making Words According to This Author.
Writing a novel is an intricate, complex machine of moving parts and pieces, tasks and goals. Of the entire complex machine, to my mind there are three tasks that stand out as extraordinarily important… the foundations, the tenets, of the entire process: Setting, Characters, and Plot. These three tenets appear deceptively simple on paper. First, you must build a world. Second, you must meet the people who exist in it. And last but certainly not least… you must learn how to tell their stories.
A larger tenet looms yet higher, almost obscured from view because of its all-encompassing enormity, seldom in the limelight, often taken for granted, rarely recognized for just how vital it is. I call it Spark. (NOT the Allspark, fellow geeks… although… now that I’ve said it…)
Before we can delve into any one of Big Three, it is important to think about what sparks the movement within the machine in the first place. Think of the setting/characters/plot combo as the How of your novel… the (All)Spark is the Why. In other words… where do the ideas come from?
I have a somewhat disappointing answer to this question. During a lunchtime conversation the other day, a colleague asked me (innocently) how I come up with ideas for the stories I write. Turns out, I had an obnoxiously difficult time answering. The experience was obnoxious for him, I’m sure. Emotionally harrowing for me, indeed. After a few rambling half-hearted expository vocal blerps from out of my brain-mouth connection, ultimately my coworker walked away from the conversation with… nothing resembling a true answer.
Since then, I’ve been wondering about my process, trying to pinpoint where the sparks come from, the sparks that ignite ideas. Some are inspired from life experiences, sure. Some, less so (I’ve never been a pirate, nor have I ever manipulated magnetic and kinetic forces via my hands, as two recent examples). As a fantasy/speculative fiction writer, I spend a lot of extra time exercising my imagination. I’m drawn to the challenge of taking fantastical and impossible concepts and turning them into relatable, probable occurrences within the scope of their universes. With this, context is everything. More on this in Part 2.
The best analogy I can come up with, to explain what happens in my head, is that once in awhile I see or hear something that clicks (connects, sings a siren song, pick your metaphor). When it clicks, I am drawn to a weird little fuzzy place in my brain where I witness an idea materialize, and watch as it sort of crosses some sort of imagination bridge and becomes a story.
More questions remain: How do I coax those ideas forward? How do I pick and choose which idea to coax forward? Why do some cross over into Novel Land, where others stay in the gray and abstract Land of the Unrealized? (This analogy is getting weird.)
But along those lines, I can’t be sure I even know how to articulate where some ideas come from, even less how I recognize them when they’re little fledgling half-formed storylings. I spent So. Much. Time. trying to hash this process out. As difficult as all of this is to articulate, the answers might emerge from this series of blog posts, answers that could hopefully address how the Spark manifests itself in my process, within the context of the stories I’m writing right now.
This is an experiment of sorts, dear readers. A real-time study of one writer figuring out The Big Magical Process of Making Words Happen, According to Herself.
And it starts with the Big Three: Setting, Characters, and Plot. As it always does, and always should.
Part 2: A Universe in My Head (or: The Intricacies of World-Building)
Part 3: I Sometimes See You When I Look in the Mirror (or: The Peculiar Coincidences of Character Development)
Part 4: Our Journey Begins Now, and Why (or: To Plot or Not to Plot)