At the beginning of this year, a friend of mine asked via Twitter: “Mrs. @mbweston, what’s your writing process?” I answered with a series of blog posts that I have decided to repost.
Since describing my writing process in 140 characters or less is impossible, I’ve decided to write a series of blog posts about it. I must admit that my personal writing process has been inspired by Stephen King’s book, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, which I think anyone who wants to write fiction should read. I also recommend Strunk & White’s Elements of Style.
Before I describe my writing process, I want to stress that all of us are different, and therefore our writing processes will be different. I say this for a reason. I have sat on panels with authors who have listened to the writing style of other authors and shouted, “That’s insane!” with venom dripping down the sides of their mouths, choosing to forget that the author they are yelling at has a much better history of sales. So please, if you disagree with my writing process, chalk it up to differences in personality and move on. Also, my writing process might not work for you, and that’s fine. You’re an individual just as I am.
With that, here’s the process I when I write fiction:
The first thing any writer needs is what we call *insert “Ah Choir” here*:
The Inspiration.You can’t write a story without first thinking one up. But how do you start out with nothing and end up with a trilogy? Your first stop is the initial inspiration or idea. For instance, C. S. Lewis had an image of a faun holding some packages under a lamppost that wouldn’t leave his brain until he wrote Narnia. Think of it. A simple image of a faun with packages and years later, a series of stories and movies!
My story ideas come from all over the place, but most come to me the same way they came to C. S. Lewis, from an image or series of images that I can’t get out of my brain. Here are some examples:
- A Prophecy Forgotten, my first novel, started with an image of a woman jumping into a river to save a little boy. Later on, I added snow and made her an angel… And think about this: Davian wasn’t even part of the picture yet! (Like the pun? Picture. Image? Okay, it was bad, I’ll admit. We’ll move on.)
- I’m currently writing a short story spurred from the image of a rider clothed in white on a white horse. (It’s a paranormal thriller that started as an angel story.)
- I have a podcast/speaking series (soon to be uploaded) that started with an image of a stone dragon moving its head during a thunderstorm. (Dude, that moving statue scared me! If I have tingles going down my back…)
- I have another series in the works that started from a picture of a man with matted hair stuck in a dungeon.
My point: Don’t think you have to think up an epic adventure at once. Start small. Let your mind start wandering and see where it takes you.
Well? What are you waiting for? Do it! Close your eyes and get your image! This blog post will still be here when you open them.
Okay, I have my picture. Now what?
In tomorrow’s blog post, we’re going to discuss the conflict and concept of your story. However, before you can start thinking about those things, you need to figure out a bit more about your “image” first. In the writing world, we call this “fleshing out.” As you flesh out your inspiration, remember that it’s okay to let the image play in your head for a while. Let your character/s get himself/herself out of trouble (or into trouble). Let your mind turn your image into a short movie.
Start by asking yourself what our elementary school teachers called “question words”:
- Who? As in, who is this dude (or dudette) who won’t leave my brain? No, don’t look at me for answers. It’s your image. Your story. Only you can answer it. And the good news is that whatever you figure out, you will be right!
- What? For instance: What is going on here? What is that? What on earth? Wait, this isn’t Earth… Image exploration can be so much fun!
- When? Time period is very important for initial inspiration. You don’t need an exact year, but remember if your character is using a cell phone, your story probably won’t be about Steam Punk.
- Where? You might not know exactly where, but you need an idea. You at least need a vision of the landscape. You might have to think it through for a while. For instance, you might need to get your character out of the dungeon and see where he ends up once he opens the door. (Remember when you were a child and used to play “pretend?” That’s what you’re doing here. Pretend away, baby!)
- Why? Ooh, this one is really important. Why did she jump in the river? Why is he in jail? Why did the stone dragon move it’s head, and why is my 11-year-old protagonist outside in the middle of a rainstorm?
- How? How is he going to get out of his predicament? Wait a minute, how did that stone dragon move it’s head?
- What if? This is not a question word sanctioned by elementary school teachers, but it’s the most important question you can ask yourself as you develop your story. What if the prince is actually the beast? What if this moisture farmer is actually the son of a Jedi?
By the way, you’ll probably want to do this exercise with a pen and paper. I actually get a 5 subject spiral notebook for each novel I work on so I can keep my notes together.
(NOTE:Keep doing this exercise until you reach the “ah ha moment“. That’s the moment where something makes you go “Ah Ha! I have a story!” You’ll know when you get there.)
Here is an example of how this works using my first series, The Elysian Chronicles:
I started with my image of a woman jumping into the river to rescue a child:
- Who: I wasn’t really sure what her name was at first. Gabriella came later when I realized she was actually an angel turned into a human. The name didn’t matter, but her initial “spirit,” her personality did. Obviously, Gabs (my pet name for her–yes I give my characters nicknames) was someone willing to jump in the river for a child she did not know. She had heart, courage, and some form of athletic ability. Those qualities gave me a feeling for her. And who was the child? At the time, I didn’t know Tommy was going to “save the world.” (I actually didn’t know how he would do it until after A Prophecy Forgotten was published.) All I knew about Tommy at the time was that he was seven and rambunctious enough to get himself into a world of trouble by falling into a river.
- What: What is going on? I let the story play some more in my head. Gabriella ended up rescuing Tommy, but she hit her head and got amnesia… (It’s very dangerous to be one of my characters.)
- When: They were both wearing modern day clothes, so I knew it took place in the present.
- Where: Easy. Mountains. With woods. Ooh, now the river is raging! Oh let’s add snow! Dude, what on earth is she doing, jumping in a river during a blizzard? And why are they both outside? (See how the story is starting to come together?)
- What if? I let the story continue to play in my head. Gabriella got amnesia and woke up in Tommy’s house. Tommy kept saying, “I’ll bet you’re my guardian angel!” I thought it was cute. Tommy thought she was his guardian angel, and she couldn’t remember who she was to prove him wrong. Suddenly, BING! The idea hit me:
What if she WAS his guardian angel?
That my friends, was my “ah ha moment!” My mainstream story turned into a fantasy, and I was able to answer my other questions:
- Why: Why would she jump into the river? Well, if she’s his guardian angel, she could only do so if he was really important. What if he was prophesied to save the world? Oh, let’s explore this!
- How: Well, guardian angels must be able to turn into humans somehow.
- Well, if she is his guardian angel and she’s human, who’s guarding this little boy who is supposed to save the world? Two Words: Enter Davian! With that, my hero was born.
At this point, I began what we call “world building” (that’s another blog). I needed to figure out what world Gabriella lived in, how the two worlds were connected, etc.
Once you get your “ah ha moment” keep working with it. Make sure you have lots of paper to write down your thoughts as you brainstorm. (I use 5-Subject Spiral Notebooks for my brainstorming notes. One for each novels.) Ask yourself questions, and always allow for the “what if” question.
Have you got something? Have you had your “ah ha moment?” Awesome! Tomorrow, we’ll discuss turning your inspiration into a story.
Fantasy novelist M. B. Weston is the author of The Elysian Chronicles, a fantasy series about guardian angel warfare and treason. Weston speaks to children, teens, and adults about writing and the process of getting published. For more information on M. B. Weston, visit www.mbweston.com. Find out more about The Elysian Chronicles at www.elysianchronicles.com.