In my recent post, A Season for Writing, I wrote about the fact that I’d started a new WIP set in California, and that I could almost feel the sunshine.
And the more I think about it, the more it seems to me that this feeling of place, of inhabiting the world where my characters live, is the way I know that my story has ‘legs.’
I don’t know about you guys, but I get story ideas all the time. Walking down the street, at the airport, in the shower. Some become stories, but others, for now, remain fragments, nothing more than a few sentences.
I’m not a plotter – I don’t sit down and write detailed plot graphs and chapter plans. I tried it once, but my characters didn’t like it and decided to run off in an entirely different direction. I knew then that it wasn’t for me. I’m envious of people who can plan their books that way – though I love the excitement of flying by the seat of my pants when writing a new story, there are moments when I have no idea what will happen next, or whether I can bring things to a speedy conclusion, and a nicely plotted graph would be very helpful. However, when I can ‘see’ my characters and their surroundings clearly, I take it as a signpost that all will be well.
Instead, when I start a new story, I take one of the little fragments – an idea, a couple of characters, a key event – and I start writing. I don’t think about it too much, because if I squeeze the idea too tightly it won’t be able to race forward, dragging me along with it. It’s quite a balancing act, caring just enough that the story knows you’re interested, but not so much it decides to quit, or run off with someone else. (If you’ve read Big Magic you’ll know what I’m talking about). And sometimes it goes nowhere – I don’t get that magic tickle in my stomach and fingers, I’m not thinking about the characters when I’m out walking. But sometimes, a world starts to spring up around me. Scenes and characters appear, almost as though they’ve been waiting for me to shout ‘Action!’, one scene linking into the next. I find myself thinking about the new story world at odd times, little snippets coming to me. And that’s when I know I’m on my way.
And so it is with this new WIP. I’ve been working on it for a little while, up to almost 10K words now, and I confess I did get slightly stuck at one point, but a chat with my critique partner (which will be another blog post) soon got things going again. And now that I can hear the surf, feel the sunshine and see the streets of the (fictional) town where my characters live, I know it’s going to be okay. That the story will unfurl for me. Because that’s how it’s always been. Whether I’m wandering the green woods of Ambeth, the beach Heaven in A Thousand Rooms, or the near-future world of The Last Raven, as long as I know where I am, I can see a way forward.
And maybe that’s how life is, sometimes, too.
How about you? How do you know when a story has ‘legs’? Are you a Planner, or a Pantser, or something in between?
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