Writers often compare their stories to children. When asked which one they like best, they say, “How can I choose one over another?” (But, of course, if we are honest, there are some we love more.) We talk about sending our children off to New York (or to an agent or publisher located somewhere else), where we hope others will love them as we do. When the story is finished, it is like having a child leave home.
There are other similarities between children and stories. There’s conception, that moment when a new idea invades my thoughts. Some are aborted before they’ve had a chance to grow, some struggle for a hold only to ultimately slip away, while others do develop, take form, and reach maturity.
I’m at the conception stage right now, the idea forming, still nebulous. I see a woman, maybe in her fifties, a child of the sixties, trained by a father who made his living on the wrong side of the law. She has talents she hides from her friends, abilities that she often uses to help those in need, even though they don’t realize she’s helped them.
I love this part of writing. It’s like playing god. What will she look like? What does she believe? What does she want…and why? Where does she live? What has she done up to now? And on and on until I feel I know her. Know what she thinks and what she would say in any given situation. Know how she’ll react, and who she’ll associate with.
Some writers map the answers to these questions out on paper. There are elaborate characterization charts available on-line and in books. I’ve tried using those, but generally I get bored after a while. I’d rather let the questions and answers form in my head. And yes, I’m crazy. I “talk” to my characters…and they “talk” to me.
When I’m sure I truly like this character and feel I know the important information, I will write down some of the basics: eye and hair color; height; age; siblings, if any; education; past and present jobs; parents’ names; and most important with this story, what her special skills are. If I don’t, there’s always the chance I’ll forget and mid-story will change her eye color or her mother’s name, or something a reader will pick up on. There are some writing programs that have a feature for this information. I’ve heard Scrivener is good. http://goo.gl/DgXrPc
Once my main character takes shape, the story, I hope, will begin to form. Will it be a romance? A mystery/suspense? A romantic suspense? At the moment I have no idea. Unlike a human gestation period, story ideas can take anywhere from hours to years before they’re fully formed. Birth, I suppose, could be compared to a rough draft. It has form and potential, but now comes the work of bringing it to maturity.
It’s an exciting time…but it’s also a lot of work.
Much like raising a child.
I hope, one of these days, I can send this story–fully formed and mature–off on its own.
Meanwhile, to those of the Jewish faith, Happy Hanukkah.