Friday, January 18, 2019

Beginning a Story or Populating Your Beach

    Beginning a new story is like sunrise at the beach.  Slowly, light appears over the horizon. Brighter and brighter to empty beach.  Well, not quite empty.  The light is an idea, a glimpse, a voice, a detail, flitting though my head.

Quick! Catch it. Catch it right NOW before it flies off to join the bog of other ideas in the back of my head...the ones I forgot to write down.

I grab my jot journal--the one full of disjointed phrases and conversation bits that make no sense to anyone but me.  I scribble down whatever the light revealed to a way that I will remember it the next time I read it. (My first jot journal contained all kinds of cryptic notations that made no sense when I looked at them later.)

Let entry marinate a day or so.

Go back to jot journal. Decide if what seemed brilliant a couple days ago, still shines as brightly. Assuming it does, find other journal where I Work On Things. I write down as much as I know about that tiny bright spot on the empty beach of my mind. Sometimes it's a sentence (on rare occasions, the FIRST sentence...which was the case with Yankee Girl and First Grade Stinks). Sometimes it's a character description, or a disembodied character carrying on a monologue. I write it down. I write until I run out of stuff to say. I stick a Post-It note on the page, with the date, and shorthand for the idea, sticking out like a book mark.

Then I put it away for a couple of months.

At some point I will 1) remember that idea or 2) find the idea in the IWOT journal while I'm looking for a DIFFERENT idea. I will either decide that the idea is too thin to bother with, or discover that in the intervening months, more ideas, themes, and characters have bubbled to the surface, begging to join the original thought.

Thin ideas stay where they are. I never throw anything out. Some of those turn into something more, years later (Camp K-9 and A Tree for Emmy are two of those). Sometimes not. You never know.

I look at the idea I am now married to for the next year or so, and do an inventory. How well do I know these characters who have moved into my life?  What other information do I need for this story? Then follows three or four months of basic research.(Amazing the number of facts you need to know to write even a picture book,),

I also get to know my characters. They obligingly show up at odd moments (the back seat of the car, or the foot of my the middle of the night) and want to talk to me. Or to each other.

After a couple of months of nailing down facts and talking to characters, I take another look at my beach.

Wow. It's full of people meandering around...little groups here and there, engaged in a scene. The beach is also littered with piles of props (my researched facts) I know my characters need, but they don't seem to be using them. It's up to me to show them their props, and tell them how to use them. I need to put those scattered groups acting out scenes in some sort of sequence.

My beach is full, but chaotic. This chaos is called pre-writing. Now it's time to get my ducks and characters and facts in a row. Time to write that first draft.

And that's how I start a story.


April Halprin Wayland said...
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April Halprin Wayland said...

Mary Ann!!!!!

So beautifully described...and TRUE. I was nodding my head as I read it. Also sighing at the poetry of it.

I'm only slightly ticked off because you've SAID it. There's nothing else to say on the subject. :-)

Carla Killough McClafferty said...

Mary Ann. This post is powerful and really shows how quick ideas come and how they can go. You have revealed your process in a way that makes sense of the chaos on the beach.

Carmela Martino said...

Yes, what April and Carla said. PLUS, I love the phrase "Jot Journal." I think I'm going to use it in place of what I've called an "Idea Notebook" in my classes. Sounds so much sharper. ❤