I need time to think. Time to let the story simmer.
Even in the corporate world, I’d have to leave a meeting, mull, and come back the next day with a brilliant response or answer.
Of course, by then it was too late. My brilliance only a dull light bulb. 🙂 But you know, I mulled, I spoke, I was happy.
So when I start a new book this month, I had to create space in which to stare. Ponder.
I had mull, mull, mull.
In the writing world writers are often categorized as a plotter or pantser.
I’m neither. I’m a plantser. I need to know under what umbrella I’m building my sandcastle. Then I sit on the shore with my knees to my chest and watch the waves, dreaming, “Just what kind of sandcastle am I going to build?”
My stories start out bland. Typical. Cliche. But as I gather my building blocks, the story begins to take shape.
I never start writing until I’ve answered these questions:
1. What’s the story about? Yes, I try to pinpoint some kind of theme, but even more, what is the outer journey that causes the characters to experience an internal change?
2. What does the protagonist(s) want? This is so critical for me. My heroine is a small town Texas police officer. Her twin brother was killed in Afghanistan. So, what does she want? She’s been hiding from life for the past five years. Who would she be if her brother hadn’t died? I put both the hero and heroine through this building block.
3. What can they do in the end that they can’t do in the beginning. This is so critical. I had my heroine’s story nailed down except the answer to this question. And it was bugging me. Because if I don’t know what she can DO in the end she can’t do in the beginning, how do I set up the beginning? It’s important the protagonist does something internal as well as external.
For example, if the protagonist finally forgives her parents for abuse, then what external move can she make to prove she’s really changed? In my story, I had to understand how reckoning with her brother’s death would change her life, her job, her vocation, her heart.
4. What’s the dark wound of the protagonist past? What the lie she believes? What fear has she developed as a result? Then, what’s the secret desire of the heart that’s yearning to push to the surface and change the protagonist’s life?
5. What’s the black moment? If I don’t know this who do I know what to write toward? If the heroine is running toward getting her life started again, what stops her near the end? What scenario will make the reader think, “All is lost?”
If I don’t have an idea about the black moment, then I need to do more work.
As I wrestle with these questions, more arise. As I plot out answers, the characters come to life and the story takes shape.
In the mean time, I’m mulling, praying, researching.
See, in the beginning my first story plot sounds great. Feels good. I have all the reasons “why” the characters are in the state they are in but as I take time to mull and answer the building block questions, the story begins to deepen.
Or I realize, it’s not quite deep enough. If I can’t answer “what does she do in the end she can’t do in the beginning?” I’ve not done enough work up front.
I’ve just spent 10 days on backstory that will only hit the pages in little splatters here and there but it is the entire crux of the story.
So, my story sandcastle is taking shape. I’m happy.
What about you? What process do you need to find the gold thread in the bedrock of your idea?
Best-selling, award-winning author Rachel Hauck loves a great story.
With a love for teaching and mentoring, Rachel comes alongside writers to help them craft their novels.
She serves on the Executive Board for American Christian Fiction Writers and leads worship for their annual conference. At the fall conference in Indianapolis, she was named ACFW 2013 Mentor of the Year.
She is also the Book Therapist for My Book Therapy.
She lives in Florida, where she is also a worship leader, with her husband and mini schnauzer.