Ok, are you ready for more good stuff? I’m just bursting with it lately. Again, during that horrible weekend of the miscarriage, I had an important breakthrough. I finally thought of a good plot idea for a novel.
A little background: I’ve wanted to write fiction for as long as I can remember, but I basically just gave up the idea for about 15 years because, well, I suppose I just didn’t have the courage to try it. About a year and a half ago, I read I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What it Was, by Barbara Sher, on the recommendation of Jean Moroney. You can read my About Amy page to find out how that influenced me to start this blog and to try to do non-fiction freelance writing.
I’ve completely dropped the idea of freelancing for magazines as I had intended. I love writing my blog. I love it more than I ever could have imagined. But I have no desire to write the kinds of articles I read in magazines. It’s mostly tripe. I might be able to make money from it, but I wouldn’t enjoy it. There are opportunities for writing quality, substantive articles, but to make money doing that you really do need to have some kind of specialized knowledge, which would defeat the whole purpose for me. So I’ve been looking for some other way to write as a career.
Then, a couple of months ago, I re-read Ayn Rand’s The Art of Fiction and participated in an on-line book club discussion about it (thanks, MOBsters!). My desire to write fiction returned full-force and I’ve been working on ideas ever since. In the past, I’d always been able to write good scenes, but never to construct a plot or even to find a plot-theme that seemed worth exploring. I’d just get stumped and wouldn’t be able to move forward. My breakthrough was finding a seed of an idea that I am excited about enough to keep plugging away at it. I like this idea. It’s not too ambitious for a first effort but it’s not superficial. The theme is very meaningful to me personally. The events draw on knowledge that I already have (I don’t have to do a ton of research on designer molecules or the history of Albania). The situation presents a wealth of potential conflicts to explore. I like thinking about it. I am loving the actual work, not just the abstract thought of finishing a novel. And finally, I seem to be able to accept that I need to work on it incrementally. It doesn’t bother me one bit that this might take me 10 years, or that I might have to scrap this particular idea and start over. I can even accept that I might fail. I must have made some progress on my time-sickness!
I’m obviously not going to share the actual story idea here. For one thing, it is constantly evolving (it has already changed about 80% since my initial thoughts about it), and for another, I think it would hinder my thinking about the actual work to be reporting on it directly. But I do want to share something of what I’m doing here on the blog, because, well, I think it is interesting, and maybe you will too. (If you know of any writers who blog about their day-to-day work process, let me know – I’d love to read them.)
So to kick off this “Writing Files” thread, I’ll give you a little idea of what my work on this story consists of. For now, I use my mental down-time (showering, walking the dog, driving) to think about the story. I usually have to spend about 5 minutes bringing the full context of what I’ve already accomplished into the forefront of my mind. This is difficult and takes an act of will. Usually, as I’m doing this, I recognize what I need to work on next but sometimes I have to do a lot of thinking just to figure out what to think about next. So far, I can hold all of this in my head without sitting in front of my notes. I’ve already spent a lot of time on character development and clarifying my theme, and I’m still in the early stages. But this is an interative process and now I’m working on the plot – more specifically, I’m looking for a climax. In The Art of Fiction, Ayn Rand gives this invaluable advice:
When you construct a plot, the first event to figure out is always the climax…First devise an event that dramatizes and resolves the issues of your story, then construct the rest of the plot backward, by asking yourself what events are needed in order to bring your characters to this point.
I actually already have the general idea of what my climax will be, and I have it in terms of action, not just something like, “the character realizes she must choose X or Y.” But as I’ve used that climax to start working backwards, I’ve been realizing that I need to get just a bit more specific before I can really move on. The ultimate conflict needs to be stronger or deeper or something. I’m not sure what yet. My next task is to make a “laundry list” of things that would be the most difficult, painful, dramatic, and intense conflict possible for the character I have in mind. (Another tip directly from Ayn Rand.) I won’t assess these ideas until later. Right now, I just want to make a list and see what my subconscious brings up for me.
So that’s what I’m working on now. In future Writing Files posts, I plan to talk more about issues like how I get these ideas recorded before I lose them, how much time I spend each day working, any mental blocks I encounter, etc. This has become a big part of my life now, so of course, it needs to be blogged. I hope it holds some interest for you.