Thursday, October 21, 2010

How to make the lightbulb moment a long-lasting light source, and other lies I tell myself

My Twitter friend and fellow writer Julie Weathers asked me to join in with an impromptu blog tour about my process. I've written about my writing process before (it involves Excel spreadsheets, chapter outlines and plotting out the wazoo.)

But since I'm on a mission to achieve both World Domination and to turn the pantsers of the world into plotters, I'll wax eloquent about it all over again. I'll try to take it from a slightly different angle -- more about how I turn an idea into a workable novel that I can then rip apart.

Take for instance, the story behind WHERE LOVE GROWS, my second pubbed book. This story is just so incredible that few people actually believe it. It says something about writers that they hear it and INSTANTLY know it's true.

Writers will tell you that there's no shortage of good ideas. But really, the trick is to take those good ideas and tweak them into something unique. It doesn't have to be a totally new wheel that you invent ... just a SUPERIOR wheel to those currently in the Bedrock City Tire Emporium.

The story germinated from a single irritant, yes, like a pearl does from a grain of sand annoying a poor old oyster. The Kiddo, then three, was in love with Kenny Chesney's music, especially SHE THINKS MY TRACTOR'S SEXY. I would pick her up from daycare and she would want to hear that CD ad nauseum. Don't get me wrong: I think Kenny's a pretty cool dude ('specially from the neck down), but every day? The same CD?

Shortly before I applied hot pokers to my eyes to see if THAT torture was more entertaining, my mind made that weird leap it sometimes does.

What kind of girl would think a guy with a farmer's tan, who makes a living driving a tractor, is sexy?

My writer's mind noodled that thought through the 100-gajillion times I listened to the song. You have to admit, Chesney's lyrics will create vivid images in your mind, and already I had a vision of a few scenes called for in the song. But a farmer? As a hero?

Then, NPR ran two different stories on Morning Edition, one about this ew-inspiring leafless vine called the giant dodder vine, and the other on crop insurance scams. The dodder vine, at first, didn't do a thing for me, except make me glad I wasn't a tomato in Texas (where the dodder vine actually lives.)

But then I heard the crop insurance scam, and I thought, Hmh. That would be a neat job for a hero, a crop insurance investigator.

My brain stubbed its toe on one problem, though: male investigators were more than a little cliche.

I kept working at that problem in my head. That's how I do things: once presented with a problem, I chew on it until I get it solved.

So picture this. I'm driving in from work, The Baby Kiddo singing "She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy" at the top of her lungs in the back seat, the insistent beat about to drive me out of my mind. Not to mention, I'm still worrying the twin problems of how to make a male investigator un-cliched, and how to make a farmer sexy.

I pull up into the garage. The song's still playing. My brain makes another leap. "Bet that farmer was never into crop insurance fraud." It was like nuclear fission after that. Farmer - crop insurance fraud - weird vine - make the GIRL the investigator.

The big pix in place, the huge leaps leapt, I started in on my usual process. For brevity sake's I've done it as a list.

- Write a movie synop -- if it won't hold together for the few minutes long enough to tell a friend about a movie, it's doomed to fall apart like overcooked pasta left too long in a pot of warm water.

- Write a character arc synop -- this is a longer synop, one where I take the characters through their growing pains. After all, if my farmer doesn't learn and grow, just being sexy won't be satisfying for my fab female investigator. Likewise, the fab female. Spunky's fine, but it's got a short half-life.

- Write a chapter by chapter outline. No big, just a sentence or two summary of the major plot points.

I'll send these off to my CPs (Tawna Fenske, for one), and they'll poke about a thousand holes in it, and then I'll fix it, and then I'll start writing. And yeah, I pretty much DO stick with my revised chapter outline, along with my Excel spreadsheets that I use to be SURE there aren't plot holes or loose plot threads or under-done character arcs.

Why, yes. I HAVE been told I'm an anal OCD woman. Thanks for the compliment!


Anonymous said...

Love the oyster analogy. That's how it really is when an idea germinates and I mull over it, twisting and turning it repeatedly until I have a unique story.

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