#WriteTip: Finding The One
Posted by oneofthedragons
So, I had an idea of what I wanted to do for the first writing ‘lesson,’ and then I threw it out. And then I came up with something else, and then I threw that out, too. You see, for us to begin helping our friends (you) learn how to improve your writing, we have to start at the most basic bit of writing, and determining the beginning of that is pretty difficult.
So let’s start small. Let’s start with the idea. How do you even know if your idea is worth writing about? Knee jerk reaction is that every idea is worth writing about, but the problem with that line of thinking is that not every idea is powerful enough to take you to completion. For me, FINISHING a book was the hardest part about writing. I literally had to train for it. I started with small stories, which were easy to finish, and slowly increased my goal word count until I was hitting 100K marks.
Sam’s recipe for a story you can complete is
- Fully developed characters in your mind. You don’t have to have a complete plot line for them, or a complete set of actions that they will be doing in your story. You just have to know WHO they are as people. You have to know them as well as you know a friend in real life. The reason for this is that then you will know how they are going to react to the things you will do to them as their author.
- An idea that’s so strong, you will obsess about it until you are finished with it. This idea will be nothing more than a tiny thing, but from it you will build your masterpiece.
- A story scaffold. This will be your plan for moving ahead with the story from beginning to end. This will be how you move forward, so you need to go with a plan. Maybe you’re not a planner, but even non-planners know where their next step is, even if you aren’t sure how it’s going to end. I prefer to have my scaffold built from beginning to end, but there are others who like to kind of ‘wing it,’ and that’s fine. Either way, you still have SOME kind of checkpoint that’s leading you forward. Like, if you plan to get lost and then figure it out on your way to the Grand Canyon, you still know that eventually you will get to the Grand Canyon. Wandering aimlessly in the woods is an eye opening experience I recommend for everyone, and you will learn fantastic things, but that’s not how you set about writing and completing a novel. It may, however, be a lovely way to find an IDEA!
What you will do is arm yourself with the idea, shove your characters on their way through the scaffold, and see what happens. What occurs will be free-flowing words of awesomeness. At that point you become an observer with a pen, and you write down what you see with all of the skill you possess.
For today, though, we’re going to start with that IDEA, because it is there that your journey begins.
You have extraordinary ideas each and every day. You simply may not realize they could be worthy of a story at the time. As you go about your life, you make thousands of little observations, and you address them in real time. When you see a person, your brain creates a little story based on his or her appearance or actions. But sometimes your mind wanders a little, and you begin to toy with imaginary information like where that person came from, how they got to this particular point in life, and where they are going. You’re already character building, and you don’t even realize it. So if you start down the path of “What would happen if…?” you’re already creating an idea. It’s whether or not that idea is worthy of your attention that determines whether you have a living novel on your hands or not.
Once you leave that real-time spot, your brain may or may not linger on the idea you just made. If it follows you around for a good part of the day, chances are it’s at least worth writing down. And this, in my opinion, is where you can draw a distinction between a writer and a non-writer. Non-writers move on from these ideas and never think anything of it. Writers see the world in terms of potential novels, looking for characters, clues, ideas, settings, plot devices, conflicts, and, if you’re me, specific instances that would make a reader cry.
Here are some examples of powerful ideas that might have been the driving force behind some famous stories:
- What if everyone at school could do extraordinary magic? (Harry Potter)
- What if England had its own mythos? (Lord of the Rings)
- How could a simple, food-loving country boy save the world? (The Hobbit)
- What would happen if we could read each other’s thoughts? (Malevolence)
- In a world dominated by men, what are the women up to? And how can I make it so that whether the society lives or dies is actually in the hands of the women? (Achillea)
- How do lost pets find their way home? (Homeward Bound)
- What would happen if AI was smarter than we were?
- How does the world end?
- What happens after a person dies?
- What is that minor character up to?
- How do you topple the most powerful empire in the world?
- How can a person start a war with a single word? A single event? A single misunderstanding?
- What happens after the war?
Once you learn to think critically about everything you see and hear, you’ve got the tools to pick out a good idea. Then you spend the time thinking about that idea and expounding upon it from there. For me, I follow that idea down a handful of rabbit holes, wherever it takes me. I explore several different ways to answer my questions and several endings. I wonder which plot will hit the reader the hardest and how I can mislead the reader along the way.
When a good idea becomes great, that’s when I start a new document. I might never get more than 100 words into an idea. A lot of ideas die on that document. It becomes a “Work in Progress” or WIP so that I can use my number of WIPs to impress people. Because I fully intend to finish that idea someday…except that I probably won’t. The truth is that a lot of us work this way. We don’t want to forget our good ideas, but most of them are not strong enough to close the deal. At least if you have it written down, you can’t forget it.
It might take a long time for any great idea to become The One. I think of this almost like a relationship. Your WIPs are your friend zone. You see them every so often and you build your relationship a little bit at a time. You see them sporadically…a few hours with this one and ten minutes with that. You keep revisiting them, hoping something magical happens, and usually it doesn’t. But you enjoy your time together, and you’re still friends. You’re not ready to delete any of them just yet. They haven’t displeased you. They just aren’t…it. They’re missing something.
But sometimes, you realize something incredibly important about your WIP, and you take it a little more seriously. You stop seeing your other friends and throw in completely with this WIP, and this WIP becomes THE ONE. Your other WIPs, being your buddies, mostly understand. They’ll be there when you come to your senses, after you’re done with this torrid affair you have chosen for yourself.. Eventually, this relationship concludes and you’ll come back to them, and the process begins anew.
But THE ONE is ready. The one has a powerful enough idea to help you through scaffolding and character creation. It is strong enough to hold your attention for the entire time that you’re writing it, because relationships are HARD. You won’t always want to ‘make it work.’ Sometimes you won’t see each other for days, and you’re stuck. But you need to feel strongly enough about it to come back to it when everything calms back down. You need to want it to work badly enough to get through all of your problems. When things aren’t exciting anymore, or your characters piss you off. When no matter what happens, through the good things and the bad, you’re more concerned with making sure this story gets told god dammit than you care about how hard it is to tell it.
When you feel that strongly about your idea, then your idea is good enough to write. And much as it is with any good, strong relationship, this is about the two of you. Don’t bring anyone else into it. Don’t worry about who you’re going to sell it to or how you’re going to get an agent. Don’t worry about getting it perfect the first time. Don’t worry about how someone is going to judge you when they read it. It’s just you and your idea until you’re done.
Thanks for reading!
S.K. Balk lives in the frozen wastelands of Northern Michigan. She is the author of the dystopian medical sci-fi THE BLOOD OF NERYS.