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Even when you think you know what your book is about, it's important to keep an open mind so when those stray ideas fly in from never-never land you're smart enough to write them down.

Example. In an effort to procrastinate research I decided to try to do something I had never done before - make a collage of about my main character. Okay, back up a step. The idea for the collage came because someone asked if I had a picture of my MC and I said no. And the reason they asked me if I had a picture was because I wasn't even sure, back then, if I had the right name for him. I don't normally know what my characters look like. (I'm one of those writers who hear voices.) But I decided to give it a try. I sorted through all the pictures I had saved from magazines, checked the online photo banks, and nothing. None of the faces jumped out at me and said, "Hey, here I am!"

So I stopped looking. And started watching television. And I caught sight of this kid and he sort of whispered to me so I slowed down and watched a little bit more and thought, hey, that might be my kid. But of course once the show was over I couldn't remember his face. I went looking online (thank you, Google) and I found him in not just the show I saw him in but in a couple more. I ended up saving a ton of pictures to a folder to check out later. One thing leads to another. When I was looking at all those pictures I saw a house. It wasn't "his" house but it got me to thinking about what kind of house he might live in so, you guessed it, I started looking for houses. I never found one, but I did find a yard and the yard reminded me of the rock that I thought this kid had in his pocket when the book first started. (I realized it would be weird to have a real rock matter in this book after writing about the other rock in Hugging the Rock, and no, for the record, I don't believe I have any deep-seated issues with rocks.)

Along about then it was time to go work in my own yard and pull some weeds. Which I did. But then I got distracted by collecting seeds off my flowers and I thought about my MC while I was plucking seed pods and carrying them around in bottom of my shirt held up like a pocket and I wondered what my main character thought, if anything, about plants and flowers and things that grew in the ground. It was hot. My MC didn't say much and it was too hot to work any more in the yard so I went back inside with a glass of ice chips, the fan on high, and I started to look a bit closer at all those pictures I had saved of this kid who might look like the one who is really telling this story. In one of those pictures his face was filthy and his eyes were filled with tears. And then ZAP, it hit me, the missing piece in my story braid. An entire subplot just burst onto the scene and I'm pretty sure it's a keeper. The piece of the story the picture gave me had nothing to do with the movie the picture was from. It was the visual of that face that clicked the switch in my brain.

I still don't have the collage (which I may or may not do) and I don't even know if this particular kid really is my MC (and it doesn't matter) but in the past few days I have captured, print out and cut up dozens of pictures, some of which might even belong in the book. I'm doing no-pressure plotting and a lot of playing.

What's the moral of the story? There are a few of them actually.

1. Enjoy the process. Writing is supposed to be fun and when it IS fun the positive energy that the pleasure brings will feed your creativity and bring new ideas to your work.

2. Remember that each book will write itself differently and that each revision will unfold differently. It goes back to #1

3. Try something different. Sometimes I try something different because I am blocked and sometimes I try something different just because it sounds like fun. Yep, all goes back to #1.

(Tags: , )
There are so many stories only you can tell.Tell them, please.


( 20 comments — Leave comment )
June 6th, 2006 04:48 am (UTC)
Isn't amazing how the mind works? What a great story!

And, thanks again for all the help!
June 7th, 2006 12:18 am (UTC)
Re: Neat!
There were so many more connections but by the time I finally got around to posting, I forgot a bunch of them. I just love the way the subconscious provides us with stuff we didn't even know we needed. :-) And you're welcome on the help.
June 6th, 2006 05:43 am (UTC)
I think a collage is a great idea!
Sometimes I cut out pictures of people who remind me of my characters, and I draw maps. I like to have an idea of the physical layout of the scene so I have maps all over, lol.
June 7th, 2006 12:18 am (UTC)
Oh, a map is a good idea. I haven't done one of those for a book before.
June 6th, 2006 06:04 am (UTC)
Yup, this is a good illustration of the process.
June 6th, 2006 01:35 pm (UTC)
Keeping an open mind
I love the loitering part of drafting. When I'm at that wonderful stage, I make sure to take lots of walks, and have lots of conversations with writer friends. It never fails. I always stumble on something--physically or emotionally.

I like the collage idea, but I doubt I'll ever take the time to do it. However, I often start my day with a cluster exercise. I write a question at the top: anything, from what does my MC look like, to what does my MC want, to Why is this person dead? :-)
And then I just write words, circling each one until I can think of another. I do this for about ten minutes, usually the time it takes to figure out where to start.
June 7th, 2006 12:20 am (UTC)
Re: Keeping an open mind
Right now I have a portable collage in that the pictures are all spread out on the table in my office and nothing is glued down. I just walk by and rearrange things every so often, kinda like magnetic poetry.

I like to cluster too! Hmm...that sounds a little kinky. :-)
June 6th, 2006 01:39 pm (UTC)
You are brilliant. And you are right, that it helps to try different things. Or, in the words of Dahl's "James and the Giant Peach" to "try looking at it another way."
June 7th, 2006 12:21 am (UTC)
Thanks but I think the brillance of the day goes to you my friend with your fabulous poetry post.
June 7th, 2006 01:32 am (UTC)
Aww, shucks. *scuffs toe*
June 6th, 2006 02:07 pm (UTC)
Visuals! my favorite! I think that's a great idea.

and it will be a great tool for school visits in the future!
June 7th, 2006 12:23 am (UTC)
I am trying to think of this whole book creation process (for this particular book) as a school visit in the making as the whole book has, uhm, well has a lot of school connections that I hope will make teachers want to use it in the class. Then if I can show the evolution of the story as well...

June 6th, 2006 02:21 pm (UTC)
That's what I was thinking...this will make a great story for a school visit!

I hear voices, too...I rarely see my characters. Though I did once have the experience of going through the Taco Johns drive-through and realizing that the girl who took my money and gave me my food looked EXACTLY like my character would look in about six years. It was very weird! I've never had another experience like that.
June 7th, 2006 12:25 am (UTC)
Oh that would so TOTALLY freak me out. The only face that is permanently etched in my mind is for an adult in an as yet unpublished YA. 20 years ago I clipped out a picture of Danny Glover from some movie because I KNEW he was that character. Now if I ever finish the book and it sells and they make a movie out of it I will be disappointed because he's too old to play the part. :-)
June 6th, 2006 02:51 pm (UTC)
#1 is great advice. I listened to an author talk once and the woman talked about hating writing, about how she would put it off until she had to either write the story or explode. And I thought, 'Why bother? What you need is therapy, lady.' Because writing IS fun, even when it's hard. :-)
June 7th, 2006 12:26 am (UTC)
Isn't that weird? I've met people a few times who say they hate to write but are forcing themselves to do so and like you, I wonder, why bother?
June 6th, 2006 08:06 pm (UTC)
Hey that was great
I'm going to save this post or bookmark it or something. I used to find theme songs for characters and cut out pictures, too!

I especially like suggestion #1.
June 7th, 2006 12:28 am (UTC)
Re: Hey that was great
Thanks! I haven't managed to find a song that feels just right for a character but I think that's because I'm writing about modern kids but the music in my head is from when I was twelve. I do make mixes of songs to help take me back to that time frame and feel young again. So yes, that's me, bopping around the house to bubblegum rock. Sigh.
June 6th, 2006 08:23 pm (UTC)
That's an awesome idea and a great story! I'm also hear my MC's voice when I write. ^_^
June 7th, 2006 12:28 am (UTC)
I love hearing that other people hear voices too. Usually I'm alone in the crowd and all the writers around me see pictures.
( 20 comments — Leave comment )

Who am I?I was born on the Cancer/Leo cusp and share a birthday with Ernest Hemingway and Robin Williams. The similarities don't stop there as I can go from depressed to ecstatic without ever passing go. I feel scared most of the time though my friends call me brave and I find it easier to believe in my friends than to believe in my own abilities to make what I want out of my life.

Who am I? A wife, a mother, a daughter, and even, gulp, a grandmother.

Who am I? A writer who never gets tired of playing with words, even when the words are hard to find. A writer of books for children and articles for grown-ups and many things in-between.

Who am I? A motivational speaker, writing instructor, workshop leader and full-time follower of dreams.

Who am I? Read and find out.

Susan Taylor Brown

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