People always ask me where I get my ideas for a book, and that’s an easy question to answer. Ideas are everywhere, all the time. There are so many interesting things going on in the world, a million ideas. Pay attention. You’ll find them.
The hard part, the part I can’t explain, is how that idea grows in my head to the point where I’m ready to make it my next book and later ready to start writing. I wish I could explain, because the process fascinates me. But I don’t know how it works.
I can tell you something catches my imagination. Some little thing. It might be a person. It might be a situation. I might read it. I might hear it. I might see it. You have to be open all the time to ideas. You have to pay attention to the world around you. But you can’t try that hard. (I can’t tell you the difference between being open and trying too hard. Sorry. You just have to find that middle ground.)
Okay, backing up here. Actually, lots of things catch my attention, but some things hold my attention. That’s closer to the truth. Something catches and holds my attention, and at some point, I think, this is my next book. I’m not always right about that. Sometimes, the idea doesn’t go anywhere or just fizzles. (This is an art, not a science.)
Next, I tuck that idea in some back corner of my brain. I don’t know where. I just know there’s a space in my brain where stories grow, where I figure out story things. And I say it’s in the back because it’s not a conscious process, this growing and figuring out story things. It just happens. Not always on my timetable, but it happens. (Perhaps I should point out that I have thirty published novels. So, even if I sound like I don’t know how it works, it does. I don’t know if anyone really knows how it works.)
Right now, I’m in that glorious beginning stage of a new book. Glorious because it’s just sitting in the back of my head, simmering, and the story could become anything. It’s pure possibilities.
I’m not really doing anything consciously. No pages yet. Nothing even in writing, except for what I’ve posted here, on Facebook or on Twitter. And those are just random thoughts about the story, some of which have already changed.
Sometimes, when I start to get more information, I’ll take notes in long-hand on a legal pad, never more than a couple of pages. But that’s it. Nothing else goes down on paper until I’m ready to write the opening scene.
I must have that opening scene to really begin. I don’t do character interviews. It seems terribly forward to me, possibly even rude. I don’t know these people. How would you feel if some pesky writer came up to you and started demanding answers about your life? You’d clam up, right?
I feel like if I’m really nice, don’t get in the way or cause trouble, and I just hang around long enough, my characters will tell me their story. Maybe if I beg, and I do beg at times. But I feel the story is real, and it’s theirs. I have to remember that I’m just the writer. I’m not trying to figure out what happened, because it’s not up to me. I’m waiting for them to tell me what really happened to them.
I imagine, sometimes, there’s another world where they live their lives, and I’m just allowed to eavesdrop. They’re being nice to let me. I try not to cause trouble and always appreciate them letting me into their lives this way.
(And no, I don’t not hear voices in my head, not really, in case anyone’s worried about me.)
But, I’ll tell you a secret. I do hear their voices. Not like… You know, crazy people hearing voices. I feel like I know how the characters’ voices sound. I get the inflection, the emotion, the tone, the speech pattern. I can hear the dialogue, the way they’d say it.
My new book is about a character mentioned very briefly in another book of mine. He was never even seen on-screen. He never said a word. It was all backstory, things that happened before the book began. And I actually know very little about it, from what I’ve written before, but I’m trying to talk about it here with this book, to see if I can figure it all out.
It’s Will, the foster kid Sam and Rachel tried to adopt right before Twelve Days began. After months in their home, after they fell in love with him, and I imagine he felt safe for the first time in his life, the courts sent him back to his unreliable mother, breaking Sam and Rachel’s hearts and setting up everything that happened to them later. Changing their whole lives.
But what did it do to Will’s?
I never said in my books. I didn’t know. Except Sam and Rachel never forgot him, and I’m sure he never forgot them. Theirs is the life he almost had. I would think it had to be so much harder, to get that glimpse of it — what life could have been — and then have it taken away. If he began to hope, and then lost that chance? Or was he one of those kids who, no matter what, always wanted his birth mother back? Because I’ve read that, even in the most horrific incidences of abuse and neglect, kids always want their mothers.
Still, there would have to be some point as a child grew up when he realized he was in a bad situation, that his mother wasn’t going to change, and want to get away. (I think about that now, and I realize, I know grown women who still want their mothers, no matter how terrible their mothers behaved toward them.)
I’m not sure when Will decided his mother was never going to be the kind he wanted or needed, but I know he got to that point as a child.
Did he run away eventually? Did she abandon him? I don’t know.
They’ve been estranged for many years. She’s still a mess of some kind. Drugs? Alcohol? Violence? Abandonment? I don’t know. All I ever said was that she was unreliable, and Will was taken away from her. That could mean anything.
So Will is damaged in some way, as we all are, and it happened when he was little. I don’t think he’s seen his mother in a long, long time. I’m not even sure she’s still alive. Maybe she’s sick or dying, and he’s coming back to take care of her? Reluctantly, doing only what absolutely has to be done and nothing more, not wanting to relive the past at all? Or maybe she’s gone, and he’s come for the funeral and ends up staying?
He’s feeling vulnerable and angry about that and he’s in some sort of career crisis. I’m not sure what kind. I can hear him say,” I got sick of talking. I’m ready to start doing.”
Not exactly sure what that means. What’s he been talking about? Who’s he been talking to? What’s he ready to do instead? (As you can tell, being a writer, to me, is about leaning to live with a lot of uncertainty and a lot of questions.)
So, he’s coming back to Baxter, Ohio, where Sam & Rachel and their kids and grandchildren are. They’ve always been kind over the years, and this is the place where he grew up.
I’m pretty sure the heroine is a woman he knew in his previous job, the last place where he lived.
I can him Will say, “You’re going to hear things about me. About my last job and a woman. A married woman.”
“Okay,” Sam says, ready to hear anything Will wants to tell him.
“And I want you to know, I didn’t do what they said I did, and neither did she,” Will said. “But I wanted to. I wanted it more than I’ve wanted anything in a long time.”
Okay. Heard that. Thank you, Will.
I don’t know what kind of trouble that woman was in. I do know Will tried to help her, and then he wanted to do more than help her. It cost him his job, his peace of mind and made him leave town. I know he’s scared for her and her child, who’s a young teen, a boy, I think. And her husband is someone with money and some degree of power, and he made trouble for Will to the point where Will thought the best thing he could do was leave.
And now Will’s lost. (Most everyone is, in some way, when a book begins.) He has lost his way, and he has to find it again.
That’s it. That’s what I have.
Anybody else want to talk about their writing process? Anybody understand it any better? Would love to hear about it.