But the thing is, that’s not all it takes, at least not if you want to write a decent story. If you came here expecting to read one of my usual crime-fictional posts, sorry to disappoint you. This is going to be more about writing, including my own. So if that’s not what you were hoping for, please go on to the next blog on your round, and come back tomorrow.
Still here? Thanks. An interesting comment from Carol Balawyder has got me thinking about the connection between the scenes, characters and so on that make a story memorable, and the inspiration and ideas behind them. Part of what makes a story unforgettable is that in some way, the character, the plot, the setting or something else becomes very real. So real that you feel you know the characters, have been to the setting, and so on.
The question is, how does the writer create a story that has that effect? Well, I’m only one writer. But for me, the best writing starts with an inspiration – an idea that one gets from any one of dozens of sources. An experience, a story someone’s told, people-watching, particular scenery, all of it can inspire. It’s a matter of paying attention and letting something resonate. Agatha Christie’s fictional mystery novelist Mrs. Oliver gets inspired by watching a woman in a bus. And another of her fictional novelists Mr. Clancy (from Death in the Clouds (AKA Death in the Air) gets an inspiration from the name above a shop.
Inspiration spurs the writer (well, this writer anyway) to put a story together, at least in outline form. And it’s a real ‘rush’ as the words start flowing. Trust me, there’s not much like it.
But then comes the work. The actual writing. Getting some of the story done every day, whether you want to or not, whether you’re feeling positive or not, whether you… well you get the idea. And that’s where the writer (again, at least this writer) learns whether that inspiration was really the seed of a good story or not. If the inspiration is still there after the umpteenth time you’ve re-written the same scene, it’s a good idea for a story. If it’s still there after a couple of months of re-naming characters, adding in plot threads, taking those same plot threads out again, and everything else that’s involved in making a story better, it’s a good idea,
And that, really, is the answer to how an author can make you laugh, cry, remember a character years later, and reflect on a scene in a story weeks after you’ve read it. It’s not magic. It’s taking that inspiration, letting it flow, and using it to drive the not-so-exciting parts of writing. Fellow writers, what do you think about this? I’d love your thoughts on it.
So, why am I going on about inspiration and writing? In part it’s because of Carol’s comment. But in part it’s because someone asked me recently for an update on how my writing is going these days. So here goes. My third Joel Williams novel is in the hands of a publisher and I’m awaiting news on whether it will be a go or not. My fourth one is in the hard drive/cloud in the revision phase.
In the meantime, I’ve been inspired (you can’t always tell when that will happen!) for another novel. This time it’s not a Joel Williams novel. For the moment it’s a standalone, but who knows what time will bring? I’m excited about it and still inspired after several weeks of working on it. So I think it’s a good idea. Want a sneak peek? Here’s a scene between two witnesses to something. Remember, this is a draft, so anything could happen:
‘‘Did you just see that?’ Terri asked.
‘What, the guy in the Infiniti?’
‘Yeah. What the hell was that about? He was driving crazy! He just cut you off!’
‘I don’t know. Whatever. He’s pulled over now. Maybe he’s drunk or something.’
‘This early? Maybe we should call someone. What if something’s wrong?’
‘Who are we supposed to call? The cops? He’ll wake up feeling like an idiot and then lose his license or something. Maybe he’s just asleep.’
‘What if he’s hurt? What if he needs an ambulance?’
‘Damn it, Terri, you know I don’t have my license yet. As it is we’re not in school. If I get caught with Dad’s car, we’re both f***ed.’
‘Oh, Christ, Shawn, pull over and call the damned cops! Say it’s an anonymous caller. Whatever. Just stop being such a baby!’
‘Fine! Next parking lot. Just shut up a second and let me think.’
‘Look, there’s the drugstore. Pull over there.’
Shawn nodded and pulled into the drugstore’s parking lot. He stared out the window while Terri called 9-1-1 and then he lit up a cigarette while she told the dispatcher what she’d seen. Yes, the car was pulled over. No, it wasn’t in the middle of the road. Some kind of black car. An Infiniti, she thought. No, she didn’t know the driver. She had no idea of the address. Yeah, on Lancaster Avenue. The Meridian Bank parking lot. No, that was really all she knew. No, she didn’t want to give her name. Finally she got off the phone.
‘You done now? Can we just get out of here?’
So, now that I’ve had that inspiration, I’m doing the not-so exciting things. The actual writing, re-figuring, shaping-up-the-plot things. It’s tiring and not always fun. But that’s OK. It’s what I do. And it’s the way to go from a sparkling inspiration to an actual story.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must get back to making memories, 1k-1,2k words at a time…
ps Want more on inspiration? Check out crime writer D.S. Nelson’s blog feature Where Inspiration Lies every Wedensday. Want more about the writing process? One great source is crime writer Rebecca Bradley’s feature What’s Your First Draft Like, where authors share how they go about writing that first draft.
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s Get it Right the First Time.