A/N: To my fellow Canadians, wishing you all a very Happy Canada Day!
How does an idea in one’s head go about becoming a fully-fledged plan – whether outlined or not – for an upcoming piece of writing?
This is something I’ve been pondering quite a bit lately as I continue to move forward in my novel-in-progress: this question of how it is that my writing actually comes to fruition.
Especially given that the ideas I come up with tend to rather small, vague, and decidedly non-earth-shattering in their physical and psychological impact upon me.
Case in point – the idea for this very blog post: I should blog about how my writing ideas evolve.
That was it: the brilliant brainwave in all its unexplained, undeveloped glory.
Or the idea I have for the next chapter in my novel-in-progress: I need to show the protagonist and her enemy starting to see eye-to-eye. Okay – there’s a little more to it than that, but not much. Heaven forbid the Muse offer me something with which I could hit the ground running.
My ideas are like – to borrow from the liberetto of Les Misérables – a little fall of rain: sufficient to get your attention when it speckles the side of your face, but not substantial enough to convince you that anything more will come of it.
For all you know, maybe you were standing too close to a conversation and just got spat on.
Once the idea is born, I carry it with me everywhere. As if it were my child, I’m trying to help it grow well-rounded by exposing it to numerous perspectives and experiences.
Everywhere I go, the idea is always on some part of my mind, whether in the foreground or the background, depending upon whatever else I’m doing at the time.
It’s a lens through which I’m constantly ready to view seemingly unrelated facts and ideas on that chance of discovering compatibility between them.
Which eventually I do find. How could I not? We writers are products of our experiences. What we write is what we’ve lived in one way or another: what impacts us; what’s influences us; what we want to know more about.
Eventually, I find the angle for my idea: how, as my writing ideas evolve, in comes on like a drought and concludes in a torrential downpour. This is indeed how it happens.
But it hasn’t started properly raining yet. There’s still one more very important element that’s required.
The opening sentence.
Plotter vs. Panster
The opening sentence is the perfect storm of humidity, air pressure, and rain-dancing that makes the sky open up. Once I know how I’m going to start, the opening sentence rapidly leads to the next, and the one after that.
This is all still in my head, but suddenly the rough outline lay itself before me like outstretched rug.
In the case of blog posts, I now know the sequence of points I’m going to make, the overall tone of the post, whether the title and photo will be literal representations of what I’m writing about, or more symbolic, ironic, hyperbolic, etc.
In chapters for my novel-in-progress, the strokes may be even finer still: specific metaphors, certain lines of dialogue, sometimes entire scenes that play inside my head with near-cinematic clarity.
All this, when it happens, happens fast. So fast, in fact, that I’m now presented with a choice:
- Stop the torrent before it truly starts, knowing that the moment my writing plan escapes my subconscious and fully enters my consciousness, it’ll just as quickly start to disappear. Or,
- Furiously type it all up.
Or better put: be a pantser and write each part organically as it’s time arises, or be a plotter and lay it out all up front.
It’s not as easy a choice as it once was.
I used to be an unrepentant plotter; my WIP has an 82,000-word (for two novels) online to prove it.
But I haven’t really used my outline since March beyond a few general reminders of what happens next – not nearly enough for me to still feel comfortable pitching my tent within the plotters’ camp.
Though, neither do I consider myself a pantser since I am still using the outline at least in part. What does that make me, then – a plantser?
Actually, I kind of like that, for it gives the sense of deliberately planted ideas taking root and growing of their own accord into something wonderful.
Something wonderful that gets it start with a little fall of rain.
Question: Writers: How do your writing ideas develop?