Tuesday, September 1, 2009


This post is solely about the very, very beginnings of an idea that somehow - hard work, devotion, angst, obsession - works out into a finished manuscript ready to query and blind an agent with its brilliance!

I'm not talking about the first sentence, the first paragraph, the first chapter, or anything else so mundane. I'm talking about the very, very beginning from which everything else will - hopefully - flow, unless Inspiration is truly in a bad mood and not willing to . . . well . . . inspire.

For me, the very beginning can be a very general idea, a character name, or just a hint of the story I want to tell . . . and tell in the best way I possibly can.

So, Saturday, busy, hectic day with me on the go from 6:30 AM with nary a second for just me, and all my time and energy devoted to . . . grocery, cat to the vet, begin prep for dinner, clean, more prep, more clean, more prep, more clean . . . and suddenly it's almost 3 PM and I haven't even had a cup of coffee yet . . . oh, and the guests will arrive in just a few hours. I need to shave and shower, figure out what I'm wearing, make myself gorgeous . . . and BAM!

BAM? Yes, BAM! An idea slaps me in the forehead. I swear, there's still a handprint on my forehead from that slap. Dang!

In the process of showering I get the idea for some book at some point in my life. Well, not really the idea, but the name of the book and the basic concept. Yes, all in one fell swoop that made me, well, smile really big. I mean, it's just one of those moments in life when I just know the story I want to tell. I just have no clue how I'm going to tell the story. Oh well, everything in its own time . . . I hope.

I hunt down pen and paper and write out the following:

Title of Book
# of Characters
Questions: what is the conflict? what is the story? why does the story need to be told?

I place the piece of paper in the chaos of my desk and . . . well, I am hosting a dinner party, you know, and there are still things I need to do.

Sunday - Ah, the life of leisure, no plans, no set goals for the day, just a relaxing day of lying on the couch and doing absolutely nothing. Did I mention the dog and cat decided to have a conversation with each other at 6:30 AM? Oh, yes. It went something like this . . .

Jesse(dog) - whine, whine, whine
Squeaky (cat) - squeak, squeak, squeak
Jesse - whine, whine
Squeaky - squeak, squeak
Jesse - whine, whine, whine, whine, whine
Squeaky - squeak, squeak, squeak, squeak, squeak,
Jesse - whine
Squeaky - squeak

I have no clue what they were saying, but I picture it as something like this . . .

Jesse - yo, Squeaky, let's see if we can wake Daddy Scott up
Squeaky - ya know, that would be a fantastic idea
Jesse - I mean, if we're up, he should be up
Squeaky - ditto
Jesse - do you think it's working?
Squeaky - yes, I can feel his irritation emanating across the room
Jesse - I mean, he is here to serve our every need
Squeaky - damn right!

So, I haul myself out of bed and take old whiney-butt for a walk!

Later in the day, after some much needed vegging on the couch, I open up a Word document and type out the following:

Title of Book

  • # of characters
  • Basic premise
  • Basic Questions -
  • Are my characters doing something?
  • Is there CONFLICT?
  • Why does my character want to tell this story?
  • What does my protagonist want?
  • Why does he want it?
  • Who is stopping him from having it?
  • What does 'that' person want?
  • What are the consequences of the protagonist getting/not getting what he wants?
  • Include - list items to include - in each chapter

I'm being kind of vague on a couple of points because I'm not willing to share the title, basic premise, or the neat things to include in each chapter to make this idea brilliant in its own right! I'm selfish like that every now and then. : 0 )

Now, to give credit where credit is due. The last five questions are courtesy of this post over at The Literary Lab by Scott Bailey. The first few questions are from the post Four Questions I did not too long ago. Please click over and check out the links where I first came across those questions. Thanks.

I know every writer does things in their own special way. What works for one - detailed outlining perhaps - doesn't always work for another. I just wanted to provide a glimpse into the beginnings of an idea, for me, this time, and - perhaps - this time only. The process changes from story to story.

Now, if you have time . . . What's your process when you first get an idea for the next brilliant idea?



Robyn Campbell said...

Oh man, I see the print. OUCH! :)

The first sentence, first paragraph mundane? ARGH! I'm always fixated over those two things.

I see what you're saying about the idea. And the questions. Thanks for linking to them.

They are really good. Great post.

I hope the Jesse and Squeaky had fun. :)

T. Anne said...

Get to paper, and fast. Funny how my laptop doesn't get priority in that situation. I guess i'm old school that way.

beth said...

We have a very similar start. Get the idea, wait awhile, flesh it out, and it progresses from there.

Anna C. Morrison said...

Since I just did this again last week, the process is refined some more for me. I ask myself what each character wants, and then take it away from them and make them earn it (or never achieve it). But also I jot down impressions of anything else that is absolutely necessary to the story. And in this case, I googled several images of the Alps so I could better describe the setting I saw in my head, which was not of the Alps, but close enough. That probably didn't make sense, but hopefully the story will. I think your questions are a lot more of an organized approach than mine.

Scott said...

Robyn - Jesse and Squeaky enjoy tormenting me. I might have to write a book about that one day!

T. Anne - it is odd that our laptops don't get top priority when we come up with our brilliant ideas. I think the thoughts hit me too fast and I need to right them down RIGHT NOW, and often the laptop is in sleep mode.

Beth - great minds think alike!

Anna - I really don't have the time right now to flesh out the idea, though a friend of mine gave me a great plot point in a recent email. I immediately included that plot point in my Word document. : ) At some point, I'll flesh everything out into pristine brilliance!


ElanaJ said...

Wow, I'm impressed you write it down. I don't do that. I just stew. And stew. And stew until I feel like I can write something that might actually be in the book.