The Journey, Part 1: The Idea

With my latest work complete, the start of my new project seems to be as good a time as any to start documenting my writing process, from the beginning of the journey, right through to publication.

It’s worth mentioning at this point that I’m not entirely sure what my writing process is.  It seems to evolve with each new project, more by necessity than anything else.  I think there are two main reasons for that, and I’m not sure the need for constant evolution will ever change.

Firstly, there’s life.  It has a habit of throwing spanners in works, of making mockeries of well laid plans, of generally stirring things up.  A writer has to adapt to these changes if they want to continue to be productive, and that’s certainly what I’ve tried to do.  I moved from a job where I had enough freedom to write on occasion, to a job where there’s no such flexibility or spare time.  I also slowly moved from being single and carefree to married with a child, meaning a big shift on available writing time.  That said, if anything I’m more productive now than I ever was, because the time I do spend writing is more focused and purpose driven.

Secondly, there’s the writing itself.  The more you write, the better you get, as the saying goes, and there’s certainly a grain of truth in that.  I’ve seen as much myself when looking back at old work.  Not only do your skills improve, but you also begin to understand what makes you tick as a writer.  You start to learn what works and what doesn’t, what gets those creative juices flowing, and how to grease the wheels when things aren’t going so smoothly.

There are, of course, some things that don’t change.  Every writer has faced the question, “are you plotter or a pantser?”  Meaning do you plan your novel out before you write, or do you “fly by the seat of your pants” and make it up as you go along?  Like most people, I’m probably somewhere in between.  I like to know what the book is about, where it begins and where it ends, and a rough outline of how it gets from point A to point Z, but all the finer details tend to come out while I’m actually writing.

The intention of these The Journey posts will be to take you through that process with me; from point A of coming up with an idea for a novel, to point Z of getting it published.  I have a rough plan of how that journey will go, but we’ll be finding out the details together.

No writer is ever the same, I suspect, but if my methods can help you, or if you have suggestions to send my way, it can only be a good thing.

So… let’s start at the beginning: the idea.

*     *     *

Before I sit down to get to work on a new novel, I want to know what story I’m going to tell.  That’s not to say I need to know the message or the themes I hope to convey along the way, but simply the most basic form a description of the plot might take.

Rather than drop spoilers by using my work-in-progress (we’ll call it WIP from here on in) as an example, I’ll use the classic fantasy any fan of the genre will be familiar with, The Lord of the Rings.

Warning:- There will be spoilers here, so if you haven’t read or watched it yet (and if you haven’t, what’s wrong with you!?), I recommend doing that before reading any further.

If I was JRR Tolkien, sitting in my tweed jacket and smoking my pipe, I think the idea that struck me before getting to work would have been something along the lines of “an average Joe must destroy an object of ultimate power in order to save the world from an evil force”.  You can argue about how Tolkien came up with the idea himself – considering that The Hobbit came first, with the object of ultimate power making a cameo appearance in that book and seeming of little consequence – but that’s the premise of The Lord of the Rings in a nutshell.

That would be enough for me to start thinking.  Once I’ve got that idea floating in my head, I then try to think of a suitable beginning and ending to encapsulate such a plot.  Knowing the ending is key for me.  I’m yet to begin writing an opening scene when I don’t first know the ending scene(or at least the climactic scene).  It’s probably the thought of getting halfway through a novel and having no idea where I’m going next.

In the case of The Lord of the Rings, the end would be “our average Joe hero destroys the object of ultimate power, saving the world.”  I’d probably see the scene in my mind’s eye too.  I’d know it ends in a volcano (where else would you destroy such a powerful object?), and I might even know that the hero has a wobble and it takes a Sam, or a Gollum, or both, to get the deed done.

With the ending in the bag, it’s then a case of knowing where to start.  For this, I try to think of what the catalyst event might be.  That is, I decide what’s normal for our protagonist and then try to imagine the event that would set them off on the road to our ending.  In The Lord of the Rings, the catalyst event is when the wizard Gandalf visits our average Joe’s village in the Shire and realises that the ring Bilbo Baggins has passed down to his nephew, Frodo, is actually the One Ring, the object of ultimate power being sought by the Dark Lord.  Thus begins the quest to destroy the Ring.

This can be extended out, of course, as I did with my first novel, The Ember Child.  That’s book one of a trilogy, and it’s the course of the trilogy that I first plotted out.  Once I knew where the trilogy would begin and end, it was much easier to envisage how each novel would begin and end.  So although I haven’t written them yet, I know where books two and three will end because I already knew where the trilogy would end even before I started writing the first book.

And that’s it.  With that much decided, I’m just excited to get started.  I’ll usually do some more planning before fully diving in, but so long as I’ve got the beginning and the ending in mind, I’m ready to write.

In part 2 of The Journey, we’ll take a look at how I flesh out the basic premise and develop a rough outline of the plot.

In the meantime, what about you?  How do you settle on your ideas for writing?  Do you need to know beginnings and endings, or can you find your way to these by just writing?  Reply in the comments below with how things work for you, I’m really interested to know!

19th August 2019

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