How Writers Do It: Where Stories Come From

This is the last blog in the How Writers Do It series. I know what you're thinking, "NOOOOO, it can't possibly be the last one!" Well, I'm afraid to tell you that I do not lie (well, maybe sometimes I do, but that's only when it's required in a board game...or is it?). I've enjoyed taking Cory Jackson's enlightening questions, reading the awesome Writing Down to the Bones by Natalie Goldberg, and discussing those questions in the context of the book here on my blog. I hope to do another of these sometime in the future, because I've learned a ton of stuff about myself as a writer and a person in general. I hope you've gotten something out of it to.

So, for the last question of the series, we're talking about where stories come from. Fun times.

From the time you get an idea for a novel to the day you first put your fingers to the keyboard, how does the story come to you?

Goldberg has an enormous amount in her book about where to find ideas in your daily life, like in the cafe or on the bus or at a wedding. It's refreshing to see that ideas might pop up from anything really. So, how does this tie in with the question? What happens after you get that tiny niggling of an idea? What do you do? How do you proceed?

For me, it always seems like a huge undertaking going from a tiny little spark to the full-blown story. It's scary enough that it's easy to decide not to keep going. "Someone else will have some similar idea sometimes, and they can just write about it," you might say. In fact, I often talk myself out of writing because of this very problem (and the AW people kick my butt threaten to shank me calmly talk me down from the ledge and into continuing) Well, that's where Goldberg has something fabulous to say.
Only, if you remove your clothes immediately and plunge into the water, it may be too cold. You'll jump out again, saying, "It's too big a task." Approach eroticism from across the shore, fully clothed, and take your time swimming across the river. If you start taking off your shirt and pants slowly as you swim, by the time you get to the other side you'll be naked--brazenly erotic, the way always wanted to be, but you won't be so frightened or embarrassed by it.
So why did I just quote something on eroticism? Because I think it fits nicely in with this idea of taking something so small that anything's a possibility really. Your idea is a tiny speck in the ocean of the whole big bad story. "Where do I go with it? What's the story? What happens? Oh this is all too much for me, I quit." But Goldberg says instead of jumping in completely naked, do things in steps, slowly, over a bit of time. Let yourself acclimate to the story.

Is this what I do? Sometimes, but I should practice this a lot more. It's easy to get scared into thinking you can't do it or your story is stupid. Interestingly, with my first novel, which I'm still working on, I didn't have this problem at first. I had an idea of a boy and a girl who'd known each other a really long time. I talked about it with my best friend who helped me come up with some little details and I wrote the first third not even thinking about where I was going with it. So, okay, that's not great either, because I eventually got stuck. BUT, the point is, I took it in small steps. I didn't have an idea at one second and just start writing it. I talked about it and thought about it. The characters became real to me in my head. THEN, while I wrote little bits, I got more comfortable and things started flowing.

I think it's like what Goldberg said. I could have jumped in naked at that moment I had the idea and realized that the task was just too big. But I didn't, I wrote a little and thought a little and talked a little and wrote a little more. Did I plot? Well, I tried. It would have helped with the whole breaking down of the story (which I also tie to the whole taking off your clothes a little at a time while crossing the river thing, if that works for you). There's all sorts of things a writer can do to help themselves get acclimated to the "big picture", and I probably don't do any of them, but I try. It's what works for you. Everyone's different.

When I get an idea, I have to think about it a lot before I can just start writing it. Other writers don't need to do this. Things just flow. So how do my fellow series bloggers deal with their stories? This is a good segue into what my fellow bloggers have to say on the topic, so go check out their blogs! I will be.


Kate Hart said...

I have another of her books, Wild Mind, and generating ideas is definitely its strength. It's so interesting seeing the strong points of each book.

Karla Nellenbach said...

I'm like you. I really have to think about the story before I can even begin to write. Really, I have to know (or at least have some clue) how it will end or I just can't bring myself to begin. But, once I do start. Holy cow! Watch out!

corrinejackson said...

I like the idea of approaching it in small steps. I usually have a flood to begin things and then I outline like a madwoman so I don't fall into the pit of how-the-hell-did-I-write-myself-into-that-corner.

Jamie B said...

Maybe I need to adopt this approach. Baby steps - I like giant leaps, and then back tracking - at least that's what it seems like. LOL

J.S. Wood said...

I like the small step advice. It reminds me of the lobster that gets put into cold water and the water is slowly brought up to the point of boiling - the lobster never knows the difference because it acclimates. Bad example, but small steps are like that. Before we know it a book is written

Leila Austin said...

I totally agree with the idea of taking things in small steps. I find writing is a lot less intimidating and a lot more manageable when I edge my way into things slowly.