So you have an idea. Let's start at the beginning. I was in high school. I was a loner, bored, constantly looking for something to hide behind. I found reading the best place to go. Then I realized there was a book missing on my shelf. My book. All I could think about was a teenage girl waking up in the backseat of a car trying to remember how she got there, and wondering if it was for the best. Shiny idea!
So I wrote the book. Then I wrote it again. And again. And again. Then I left it alone for about 12 years, and wrote it again last year - twice. It still needs some major overhauling, but it's on its way to being query-able, or at least somewhere that I'm happy with it. Amazingly enough, through all of these years and drafts, the idea has stayed the same. No, the teenage girl never wakes up in the backseat of a car, but the idea that she's taken against her will, and then decides it's a great thing - that stayed.
Scott's post on Tuesday about Overwritten Prose, and then Davin's post yesterday about Story, got me thinking about initial ideas. Every book starts with one. My idea is usually a setting or an image, and I build a story around it, a huge complicated messy puzzle. I know some writers who begin with a theme or a character. Whatever comes to you, I want to urge you to hold onto it. Davin says:
When I think about what inspires me, most of the time it is a character, or a situation, or some small detail or phrase that I fall in love with. I get that bit of inspiration down on the page, and then I face the problem of shaping it into a story.
Then Scott says:
So my advice is simple: write directly, and just tell the story. Don't be fooled into thinking that you have to put onto paper something that looks like literature, or that you have to reach for grandiloquence with every sentence. You don't. Elegance is eloquence. Strive for clarity and know what you're writing about.
Great thoughts from great minds! First of all, with Davin's comment, we see that there's usually an idea that inspires us to start a story. Then we run into a problem of how to shape that story. His post asks the question of whether or not traditional plot structures and stories are really the way to go, or if we should stick to what we want to tell, no matter how it comes out. I think the problem I've run into with figuring out how to shape a story is keeping my idea interesting for the length of the novel. Easy to do with lots of devices, but oftentimes hard to keep it clear.
Scott hit a chord with me when he said to strive for clarity. I've heard this over and over, but I never thought of it in terms of my initial idea. Covering up my idea in fancy writing, no matter how beautiful or poetic, has never worked for me. I tried to do it twice with my first novel, which is why I ended up rewriting it over and over. I lost sight of my initial idea, lost in the forest of complicated plot structure, fancy time changes and flashbacks, pretty prose, secondary character plots, and on and on and on. What a mess. Where was my idea?
I firmly believe that when an idea comes to me, it generates from my subconscious, gathering bits and pieces of me one strand at a time until it emerges as something shiny and worthy of pursuit. Of course, there are ways to figure out if one should actually pursue these ideas (check out Scott's post, A Good Idea Is Hard to Find), but if I decide it's worth chasing, I write that initial idea down and tape it to my computer desk, or put it at the top of my manuscript so that I can see it every time I sit down to work on that story.
It's about clarity. Focus. This is why I map things out, as I talked about in my three-part post (Don't Dis the Map) on my personal writing blog. Mapping helps me flesh out my idea and keep it in line with everything else that's fighting to come to the stage. It's not so I can stick to a traditional plot and make my work formulaic. If anything, staying focused on my original idea keeps me creative as I strive to help it grow. Sometimes other ideas sprout off my initial idea, but I've found over and over that they are like a mirage, shimmering in the distance. It's best to stick to my compass.
I want to stress that every writer is unique, of course. We all work differently. So you tell me, do you keep track of your initial idea? Is it something you feel can add clarity to your work if you don't lose sight of it? Or is it just a springboard and nothing more?
~MDA (aka Glam)