Each book writes itself differently. Some books have a plot that falls into place but a character who remains elusive. Sometimes a character walks into my head fully formed and the plot is ever just out of reach.
But some things remain the same.
For me I have to burrow deep into the idea of the story, wrap myself in its threads like a catapiller building a cocoon. Only the catapiller knows for sure that it will become a moth or a butterfly. As I write I am not ever sure what I will have at the end of the writing.
I spent my weekend committing to telling Plant Kid’s story. Now you might think what with all the character letters and Teaser Tuesdays I’ve done that I was already committed to the story but I wasn’t. The commitment doesn’t come because I’ve written a certain number of words. It comes from a promise I make to a character to follow him through thick and thin until we reach a logical and acceptable conclusion to the story.
I started by gathering all the scraps of paper, all the text notes saved on the computer, and all the false starts and random scenes I had created around this idea of Plant Kid. I typed them into the computer, sorted snippets into an “attic” file to save and organized the random scenes in the order I think they go in the story. There is now just one file on the computer, one notebook that will go back and forth to work with me to capture those stray thoughts that pop into my head in the middle of work at the dayjob.
I designated one big red basket as Plant Kid’s basket and put it in the place of honor in my office. It’s a holding place until something gets into the computer or a place to store things that remind me of the book or the character.
I began to read (or in many cases reread) the first of the many books that will help me reacquaint myself with the subject matter that is the backdrop of this story and perhaps even a character in the story. Already there are a multitude of Post-it notes sticking out from the book and a stack of index cards beginning to form as a gather my notes.
I picked a poppy from the yard, the very first poppy that has bloomed here in this new house, and pressed it in a book.
Tonight I printed out for the first time what I have so far. Not because I’m at the point of doing anything different with it but just because I finally had something to print.
Not much. A little over 2,000 words. It felt like so much more. But that’s okay. This story has a long taproot and the roots have already taken hold. There’s a lot of growing going on in places no one can really see. And there’s a boy whispering in my ear, telling me to watch and listen and wait.
I had a dream about him last night. I saw him smile and heard him laugh and when I saw what he was doing, I laughed too.
And so it begins.
Through thick and thin right through to the what I know is going to be a multi-tissue messy end.
I did a pinky swear with kellyrfineman to formally start work on MTLB, my next verse novel, TODAY. My goal is to have the first rough draft of the book done by September 1st, if not before so I can’t put it off any longer. Acting class was dismissed early so this is just my procrastination, I mean pre-writing, before I actually dive in. I want to have one new poem roughed out before I go to bed. It will probably be the day that is different. It may not be the beginning of the book but it is a scene that needs to be shown early on and better yet, it is a scene where I already know what happens.
It still surprises me how every book begins differently. Some with a whisper, like Hugging the Rock, and some, like this new one, with a scream.
When I began Hugging the Rock I never intended to write in free verse. I tried everything BUT poetry to find the voice. Yet it was through short poems written in stolen snatches of time that Rachel’s voice came to me. This time I am deliberately choosing the form of a verse novel. And it scares me to death. I have a main character. But there is no voice. I don’t think think there’s a voice. No, I’m pretty sure that I’m just talking to myself and M isn’t talking to anyone. Of course, who could blame her for wanting to stay quiet after what she did. It isn’t like friends are breaking the door down to talk to her. Which is just as well because, like I said, she’s not talking to anyone. She IS doing a powerful amount of thinking. And then there’s that teacher who just can’t resist the chance to meddle in M’s business. Lucky for M she does. If you asked her, and if you could get her talk about herself in the way that shrinks and best friends can make you talk, I think M would say that it all started on Tuesday when her shoe came untied in front of the bus stop on the corner and she bent over to retie it and . . .I don’t think she’s ready to spill the beans yet. I have more of a plot than a voice and I don’t know how to write like that. I’m thinking about backstory and motivation and if it is even an interesting idea or just a collage of cliches when really, all I need is a voice.
If your character refuses to speak to you, how can you tell their story?
I hate the uncertainty that comes with starting a new book, of committing myself to a story as yet untold. What if I can’t find the voice? What if I don’t remember how to tell a story? What if it just plain STINKS? Yes, I know, enjoy the process, which I do. But at the beginning of something new I also go through this “omigosh I don’t think I can ever write a book again” time.
My husband reminds me that this is part of my process. I fall apart, sure that I have forgotten anything I ever knew about how to tell a story. I throw myself against the mountain, again and again, until some little crack breaks open and the story takes off. I’ve done it before and I will do it again. But I’d sure feel better about it all if I had a voice.
And so it begins.
Each time I start a new book I am a bit amazed that, a) I ever completed one in the first place and b) that I will ever be able to do it again. Before I pick the next project I dance around my ideas for days, weeks (okay months) and I worry because a character isn’t talking to me or I don’t know what will happen next or I don’t even know how to start. That’s where I am now. I know the form is another middle grade verse novel. I have a character but he keeps things locked up inside of himself pretty well. I don’t blame him. He hasn’t had an easy time of it lately. I did some research about some of the things I think the book will deal with, waiting for ideas to surface but mostly what I know now is what not to use. So I am drifting in that in-between time being obsessed with the story and not-knowing what to write. And then I remembered that in the beginning I really AM in charge and I can give things to my characters, give things to the story. They might throw them out later but that’s okay. As the author it’s my duty to give the first gift. If the gift is rejected, the character will usually offer something to me in exchange. And so it begins.
I always have lots of ideas of what I want to write about but before I can begin a book, make the commitment to it, it has to grab me and not let go. I’ve been floating among 5/6 project possibilities, in various stages of being started and stopped for whatever reasons. DC in VZ has been whispering in my ear for 15 years or so. I’m used to it. I like what he has to say but he’s going to have to come up with something a bit different than the usual whisperings before I can put him at the top of my list. H in UTWT is me. The 10 year-old me that grew up in the 60s and has a lot of issues from childhood to work on, still. She’s not very brave, yet, so I don’t think she’s ready to speak up for more than a few minutes at a time. P, from IMGB is a stranger in a strange land. What do I know of Italy and coming to America from a foreign country at the turn of the century? His research will have to wait. J, from TSIC, is a troubled girl in a scary place that I am not brave enough to visit except briefly every month or so. B from TPATS is so sad and wants to talk to me but all I hear is music that isn’t coming from her so I am not sure if it is her story or the musicmaker’s story. It can wait. They all can. Because Frankie from MTLB tapped me on the shoulder yesterday when I was driving to work and told me a secret. He trusted me. Told me he felt safe enough to share it. And I promised him I would help.
That’s how it starts, how this new book starts, with a touch of magic.