I know what you’re thinking: “The Traitor is not finished. You’re supposed to be working on the revisions so you can send it out into the world. There are agents waiting!”
You’re right. You’re right. But there are other, new, enticing stories just clamoring for my attention. When I’m in the shower, while I’m driving to work, as I’m cleaning up dead ants – there they are. When I’m in bed, attempting to get to sleep, my brain says “Hey, watch this scene for story xxx. Isn’t it great?” or “Hey, what do you think of this fun bit of dialog?” Story ideas I had years ago are randomly popping up in Technicolor with surround sound. A little disconcerting, but I’m not complaining.
Working on The Traitor pales by comparison to all of these bright, shiny new ideas, but I know this way madness and an unending string of partially told stories lies.
What’s writer to do?
Naturally the answer involved a trip to the stationery store and the purchase of a new journal and some Post-It file tabs (never mind that pile of existing blank journals in the drawer – it needed to be the right journal). I divided it into sections using the file tabs. As I got ideas for scenes or character names or anything vaguely related to the story over the past few weeks, I noted it down. So far I have six separate stories partially populated.
The journal goes everywhere with me, either in my briefcase or purse. This weekend it was with me as I painted walls at my mom’s house and as I watched my college football team steamroll the opposition. Both times I pulled it out to jot down an idea before I forgot it. (Seriously, that’s worth the $6.99 right there.)
As I mentioned in last week’s post, one of these stories is really shaping up. The random ideas I’ve captured have translated into a fairly complete story outline. The first two acts are pretty solid, the third is getting there, and I know how it all ends. All of which brings me to the actual point of this post (yes, I really do have one).
How do you start a new story?
For The Traitor I had a vague concept, based on a fragment of a news story I had seen years before. No conflict, no idea what was going to happen in the story, not even an antagonist – just two characters going nowhere and not doing much along the way. Fortunately the McDaniel program helped with that and I left with conflict, goals (positive not negative), antagonists, and a (reasonably) clear idea of where the story was headed and why. I didn’t know the whole story though until the draft was finally done. Having no idea where the story was going up front meant that the whole writing process was one of discovery (as well as write, re-write, write, re-write). To say it was frustrating would be an understatement.
For this new story, I’m using a new approach and trying to block out the acts and the path of the story before I even think about writing. I’m deciding what needs to happen when and how all the pieces should fit together. For now that means my journal has lots of arrows pointing here and there as I try to organize my random bits of information, but it also means as I get new ideas, I’m able to see how they fit and how they move the story along. In the long run, I don’t know if this will make my writing process and smoother or faster, but for now, it’s a lot of fun. I think it will also make it easier for me to get back into this story when it’s time to start the actual writing.
Once The Traitor is done, of course. The grass may be greener on this shiny-new-story side of the fence, but agents await.
So, what’s your process for starting a new story and does it depend on the story? Do you jump right in and start to write, figuring where you’re going along the way or do you like to have a little structure in place first?