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What I need to write

Now that things are settling down around here, and the cold I caught just after the move is getting better, my writerly instincts are kicking in. Story! they say. Write! Oooh, that idea feels shiny! (Like most instincts, they are not very articulate. They leave that part up to me.)

It's too early to dive back into LOKI'S BOY--I always let novel drafts sit at least a month before going back to them--so I've been batting about various story ideas at various stages of development. There are a few things that really appeal to me, a sort of storyline I'd like to try, a premise that's always tickled my imagination, but nothing's coming together yet. This is a pretty normal stage in my writing process--the stage where nothing's quite ready yet. ;)

What's different this time, though, is that I'm starting to realize what I need for an idea to feel ready. After having two story ideas that took forever before they felt ready to be written (THE HALFWAY HERO and LOKI'S BOY, which I was playing with and attempting to write for four/five years before they finally *worked*), I'm learning what the sticking point is, what makes the difference between a cool idea that's on the verge but not there and 'omigod I must write this now!'

Meaning. I have to know what the story means to me. Not a moral or a message, but how it matters, what about the plot and characters deeply resonates with me, why I feel it's important to tell *this* story. If I try to write a story without that, it feels flat to me, which means it'd no doubt feel flat to readers. It's not enough to think the characters are fun and the plotline exciting and twisty--I have to really *care* about whether or not this story gets told.

Unfortunately, I can't make a story idea mean something to me. I can play with it and explore it and all that, but ultimately that sense of resonance and meaning seems to just happen when it's ready to. Thankfully, all the ideas I get already have at least a kernel of that, or I wouldn't find them interesting in the first place. :) And I think knowing what I need to have will make finding it easier.

What about the rest of you? What do you *need* before you can really write a story?

Comments

( 18 comments — Leave a comment )
ex_kaz_maho
Sep. 25th, 2008 01:47 pm (UTC)
On a practical level, I need a title. Not just a working title - but THE title. :)

I also need to feel that I know my main character well. What does she want most; what most scares her? What will she be striving for in the pages I'm about to fill? Who does she love and who has she lost? If I know the answers to these - and other questions - then I can write, because the story will come from this.
megancrewe
Sep. 27th, 2008 03:12 am (UTC)
Heh, I've gotten better, but for a long time I often couldn't even come up with a title I really liked until after the whole book was written. Many of my first drafts are just labeled with the main character's name. :) The first draft of GIVING UP THE GHOST was called (file name; it had no title in the document) "dead people".

Definitely I'm with you on the main character stuff, though. I do find that my perception of my MC changes as I write (especially the first draft)--I never know them perfectly until I've written them. But I do have to have a pretty good grasp of what's important to them.
jgurtler
Sep. 25th, 2008 01:49 pm (UTC)
I can relate to what you're saying. I never really thought about it before, but I really need to feel like there is a message in my book that I really care about. Not the theme or even the main story line, but something that I wanted to say...weird.

My books tend to be about self discovery and self acceptance. I guess I'm trying to nurture my broken inner teenager. :)
megancrewe
Sep. 27th, 2008 03:14 am (UTC)
Yeah, I'm sure a lot of the message-y stuff that goes stories going for me is stuff I wish I could have told myself as a teenager. :)
akabins
Sep. 25th, 2008 01:57 pm (UTC)
Characters that are no longer just ideas, but very real, evolving beings in themselves. Once I've got a real cast, they speak to me, let me know what's going to happen and it gets harder to ignore them.

I find that that's what strings all of my ideas together, that common link of growth and communication. FD is only the second time I've had my characters evolve enough to make the story happen.

Good luck with your new ideas!
megancrewe
Sep. 27th, 2008 03:15 am (UTC)
Interesting--seems a lot of people are very character based. I need a solid grasp on my characters but I almost always figure out new things about them during the first draft that mean I have to make major changes in the second draft so I'm writing them properly. :)
tezmilleroz
Sep. 25th, 2008 02:05 pm (UTC)
I need a plot. I can have ideas for characters and a vague situation, but I really need a plot.

Have a lovely day! :-)
megancrewe
Sep. 27th, 2008 03:16 am (UTC)
Yeah, plot's really important! I envy those who can just take characters and a situation and run with them--I have to know where I'm going before I get started. :)
erinbow
Sep. 25th, 2008 03:10 pm (UTC)
The first line.

No, seriously. I get characters and settings and scenes for free; they are my gift, in as much as I don't have to work for them. Most of them come and hang out with me and then, after a year or two, go away.

But if they give me a first line, then they pretty snarky if I won't do something with them.

I often have no idea about the plot until well into the story. I just let things happen. Right now I'm working on a book that (for complex reasons) needs to have its plot sketched out ahead of time. It is interesting and energizing to work against my process like this, but I think I will try not to do it to myself again. That first line has been waiting for too long, now, and is starting to get a little limp.

(New reader of your lovely journal, here via rj-anderson.)
megancrewe
Sep. 27th, 2008 03:18 am (UTC)
Glad to have you! :)

I hope you're able to find that enthusiasm for your book again! I'm completely the opposite (I develop enthusiasm as I'm researching and outlining--can't write until I have a framework in place) and I know how awkward it can be trying to write differently than what feels, well, right.
fandoria
Sep. 25th, 2008 03:15 pm (UTC)
I need that really cool idea to turn into a story. I don't need to know the whole plot, but I need at least a really good idea of what the plot is so that I'm not flailing around as I try to write. I also need my characters to be pretty well developed before I can write. All of this usually comes to me in flashes of scenes or emotions or tidbits of information after the initial idea comes. Once I have enough flashes to start putting something together and I feel like I know my characters well enough to begin writing with them, then I can start. But this takes time. A lot of time.
megancrewe
Sep. 27th, 2008 03:19 am (UTC)
My process is a lot like that--slowly gathering flashes of character and scenes until I have enough to tell the whole story. Though once I have enough, I outline, and then I write. ;)
eclectic_writer
Sep. 25th, 2008 03:50 pm (UTC)
To me, I need to have the characters first. Whenever I get an idea it seems to start with the characters, then the setting/world, then move onto plots. I need to see the characters' motivations and desires before I can see a plot that can conform to them.

Seems backwards to some people but it works for me. Even now that I'm trying to get away from seat-of-my-pants writing, that's still the way I go.
megancrewe
Sep. 27th, 2008 03:20 am (UTC)
From the comments here, it sounds like a lot of people write like you (from the characters)! I find for me it's sort of a back-and-forth thing--I have my characters and my premise, and then I ask my characters what they would do, and then I come up with some cool idea for an obstacle that would fall in their way, and so on.

Edited at 2008-09-27 03:20 am (UTC)
robinellen
Sep. 25th, 2008 04:36 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I also need the idea to pull at me, to compel me to get writing. I've started probably half a dozen stories that haven't gone anywhere --because they don't compel me to keep going. Often I'll do that in between the compelling projects (dink around, I guess).
megancrewe
Sep. 27th, 2008 03:22 am (UTC)
That seems to be what outlining does for me, to a large extent--it makes sure the story's compelling enough (because if I'm not compelled enough to be able to outline it, I'm certainly not going to have the energy to write the darn thing ;) ). Though sometimes I do outline and it's still not quite there. When I finally got THH written, I hardly deviated from the outline I'd written a year or so back! It was just that a certain understanding fell into place that made it all that much more meaningful.
dawn_metcalf
Sep. 25th, 2008 05:55 pm (UTC)
I need the voice. The voice of my character telling me what's what. I can scribble down ideas and notes and one-liners and details and scenery and even research some fleshed-out mood pieces, but it's when entire scenes comes crashing down like dominoes and I'm in a flurry to get it all down, that's when the story is on.</a>

I so need that now!
megancrewe
Sep. 27th, 2008 03:23 am (UTC)
Hope it comes to you!

Voice is something I'm never quite sure of... For me that mostly comes in the later drafts, once I'm sure of exactly who my MC is and how the story will play out--then I focus much more on the words themselves and how things ought to be said.
( 18 comments — Leave a comment )

My Books


Earth & Sky
(Earth & Sky #1, science fiction YA)
Skyscape/Razorbill Canada, 2014


The Clouded Sky
(Earth & Sky #2, science fiction YA)
Skyscape/Razorbill Canada, 2015


A Sky Unbroken
(Earth & Sky #3, science fiction YA)
Skyscape/Razorbill Canada, 2015


The Way We Fall
(Fallen World #1, apocalyptic YA)
Disney-Hyperion, 2012


The Lives We Lost
(Fallen World #2, apocalyptic YA)
Disney-Hyperion, 2013


The Worlds We Make
(Fallen World #3, apocalyptic YA)
Disney-Hyperion, 2014


Those Who Lived: Fallen World Stories
(Fallen World #3.5, apocalyptic YA)
self pubbed, 2014


Give Up the Ghost
(paranormal YA)
Henry Holt, 2009

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