Every writer is different, but for me, there is a certain way I have to develop a story. Story ideas have to come to me, and there are a myriad of different ways this can happen. An idea can be sparked after hearing a single sentence or word, after hearing a song, or watching a scene take place in the grocery store, or through dreams.
After that I have to think about the idea extensively before I ever set a pen to paper. I have to brood over it and dream about it and develop it. I have to get to know my characters– their names, interests, jobs, personalities, interests, idiosyncrasies. In short, I have to turn the idea inside out and run it backward and forward and become intimate friends with the characters. I need to ask what value this story has, and what I want my readers to get out of it. Is it worth writing? And then, at last, I can begin writing, which is a process all by itself. After getting to know the story idea so thoroughly, you would think writing it would be a cinch, but not so. Taking what is in your head, in all it’s completeness, and setting it faithfully on paper so others can see what you see, is incredibly hard. But it’s also rewarding, when the work succeeds.
Recently I tried a different method of story development, and it didn’t go quite like I imagined it would. But first, a little back-story.
I am keenly interested in various genres of literature– novel, historical fiction, drama, biography. But there is one I am afraid to try, and that is fantasy. I have been afraid of trying it ever since I read J.R.R. Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings. Anything in that line that I write, I fear, will just sound like a weak imitation of him– and besides, I don’t think I could do anything nearly as superb as his work. In addition to this, while I can write easily enough about the world I inhabit, making up an entirely new world seems like a daunting task.
My husband enjoys fantasy– that is one of his favorite genre’s, and after we started dating, I explained my dilemma to him about writing fantasy. He told me that making up the world wasn’t his trouble– he loves that aspect of it– it’s writing the story. That’s my forte, I informed him, and the idea began to hatch in our brains that perhaps we could jointly write a fantasy story.
Our lives got busy and the idea was laid aside for awhile, but one day, several years later, we decided to pull it out and try our hands at it. We didn’t really know how to start going about it, so we decided to first begin by developing the world. What followed were many interesting discussions about our fantasy world– what it looked like, who inhabited it, the resources it produced. Then we turned our attention to developing a main character.
I thought this part would be easy, so I was troubled when I discovered it was not. For some reason I had trouble getting “into it”. After we started our initial development of the main character, the ball was thrown into my court. But I didn’t find myself walking and talking with this character as I tended to do with my other characters– he did not occupy much of my waking thought and some of my sleeping. He did not absorb me in check-out lines and on car rides. I finally had to face the truth: I just wasn’t excited about the story.
My story ideas have to come to me and then I explore them and develop the characters; I don’t know how to build a world and custom-order characters and make a story proceed from there. What I discovered is I can’t force it. It has to be a labor of love or it really ends up being nothing at all.
And so for the time being we have laid our fantasy story aside. We are still interested in doing something like that together, but we have our first attempt did not meet with quite the success we were hoping, so we are waiting for new inspiration to hit us. I don’t doubt that the inspiration will come, and I am excited to see what way, shape, or form it comes in– but I am no longer trying to force it.