I jumped around several plots and genres when trying to come up with a first draft. A post-apocalyptic world in which survivors are trying to make their way to a distant safe house. A sci-fi fantasy in which special secret agents are sent to apprehend a dangerous individual hiding out. A contemporary story in which the MC reflects on their childhood and coming home after a long estrangement. The MC following instructions to some remote cabin to fulfill the dying wish of somebody close to them. A roadtrip. A bedtime story. Digging up a time capsule.
The thing is, I’m great at coming up with ideas. I have half a dozen floating through my mind at any moment. Some I know I’ll never get to I’ve added to the Plot Exchange (please feel free to use or leave your own plots) for other writers. However I have three basic requirements before I actually begin writing:
- It has to Have an Ending
One thing I’ve learned about my writing process over the years is that it’s very similar to taking a road trip. Before I get into my car I have to know where I’m going, and use a GPS to get me there. My bags are packed with whatever I might need, and while pit stops are allowed, I will try my best to stick with the best route available. For writing, I need an end goal to work towards, a rough outline, and resources such as research and background on the world and characters to help me meet the goal. I’m free to come up with random bits of character insight or side plots along the way, as long as it helps me reach the ending.
All those ideas listed at the beginning? Not an ending among them. The one I ended up choosing? Had the ending and the rest of the story fell into place.
2. It has to Have a Message/Theme Setting it Apart
Sometimes my story ideas can be very similar to one another. So I ask myself, what makes this one unique? What point am I hoping to accomplish or convey to readers? What lesson could be learned by it? Is there some overarching theme tying everything together?
Usually in the process of answering those questions, I’ll get my lightbulb moment, the instant where everything clicks, the story falls into place, and I have my motivation for writing it down. My moment for this one which cemented it as THE IDEA was one word: fireflies.
3. It has to Have Heart
Whether they’re heroes or villains I have to connect and be able to care about the characters and the story. If I don’t care, how can I expect readers to care about what happens to them, and share in their joys and sorrows? Giving characters heart changes them from shapeless bland blobs to actual people I can be emotionally invested in. It helps me with understanding how they think, their motivations, and desires. Giving the story heart transforms mere words on a page (or screen) to something relatable, that sticks with myself and readers.
I give the characters and story heart by incorporating some bit of myself or somebody I closely know. It can be a personality type, strange quirk, personal experience that shaped me, a hope or dream, and even a fear or obstacle that had to be overcome. It can be one tiny detail, several, or a huge part of my life.
In this case, the heart comes from the times when I was right on the cusp of full adulthood. Afraid of what was to come, of losing touch with my childhood friends, and trying my best to cling tightly onto my childhood one last time.
And that wraps up the brief insight into the beginning of my writing process. Below is the result, my rough outline which includes placeholders and and notes. Expect the first draft in the next few days.
Two MCs are traveling in car, arguing over directions. “You don’t know where you’re going. Want me to use Google?” “Relax, it’s fine.” “But–” “Like I said fine. There’s the turn.” “What turn? All I see is a tree.” “It’s behind the tree.” “Behind the tree, how can it be behind– oh, it’s behind the tree.”
Car turns off onto gravel dusty road, loud, will need a wash later on. Wild turkey crosses path. Flying up and down the hills, one mentions speed, but other is unconcerned. MC1 is super obsessive (passenger) and has packed several bags of stuff, MC2 carries. Along the way they discuss plans for fall, reminiscence about old days, childhood and memories at cabin. Reveals it’s been years since last visit.
Finally reach top of hill and discovers nothing. MC1 freaks out, it has to be here. MC2 finds signs but reveals it’s long gone, was more like a crumbling shack back in the day, not surprised it’s not around. Cabin belongs to MC2’s family and they built a new one, and MC1 didn’t realize that meant tearing down the old one. MC1 splutters, this isn’t right, we were supposed to do XYZ. MC2 insists everything is fine (sidenote: I use that word a lot) and it doesn’t have to be the same. MC1 is still bothered, and MC2 asks what’s wrong. MC1 reveals worry over losing touch once the summer ends, going separate ways with college, barely spending any time together like they used to, afraid they’re going to drift away forever and just wanted one last night like when they were kids.
MC2 admits same fears, but reassures MC1. Things will change, everything changes, but change can be good. Like now, without parents or siblings can do stuff on their own. Make promise no matter how crazy things may get, will set aside one weekend each summer to catch up at cabin or somewhere else. They never really liked the outdoors anyway, could go to a beach or the city. MC1 is relieved, and ends on hopeful note.
FIREFLIES! Work in catching fireflies in jar as children to capturing memories and moments, but MC2 points out they always released them otherwise they’d die, but they’d always be back the next year. Could work as title. The Firefly’s Journey. Like Fireflies. Summer Fireflies. Pinpricks of Light. Pinpricks of Magic. Summer Magic. Capturing Magic. Releasing Magic. The Magic Jar. Flickering Summer Magic. Fleeting Summer Magic. Those Summer Nights. Summertime Magic. Magical Days of Summer.
Names for characters: Rachel (call Ray and Luce for short, ray of light names)
Final thoughts: MCs still need physical descriptions. Can I get this under 1,000 words? First draft I’ll try not to worry about wordcount and address in self-edit.
All Writer in Motion posts:
All Writer in Motion posts:
Writer in Motion Post #1: Initial Thoughts on Prompt Reveal
Writer in Motion Post #2: Insight to Writing Process and Outline
Writer in Motion Post #3: First Draft
Writer in Motion Post #4: Self-Edit
Writer in Motion Post #5: CP Edit
Writer in Motion Post #6: Editor Feedback and Final Version
Writer in Motion Post #7: Final Thoughts