I didn’t manage to post this weekend. The reason was simple. I was embroiled in chaotic and dangerous affairs of such a sensitive and perilous nature, that even to read of them puts all of you in great physical, mental, emotional, and psychic danger. Kingdoms fell, alliances were forged and broken, and creatures from the darkest pits of Hell rose to do battle with the forces of light. This is long hand for my not being able to think of anything to say. Yup. I really had not a single thought in my head about what to post and I blame two things for that. First: I just got back from a wonderful vacation in Florida and now that I’m back in my northern situated home, I am feeling quite unhappy. (I just know that I’m going to go through a long mourning process for my tan once it deserts me and I return to looking like an anemic Casper the ghost.) Secondly, I have been turning my brain into a pretzel trying to develop a story that periodically comes into my head but has obstinately refused to be committed to paper. So I figure, this post will be a bit like therapy since it’s going to talk about my experience with this story which has become my Moby Dick.
It all started with a picture.
Two years ago, while I was at Clark, there was a writing contest. As soon as I heard about it I started looking for inspiration. Then, as if the Muses were expecting my sudden need of a spark, I came upon this picture. Immediately I was captured by it mystery and its fantastical nature. I knew I wanted to write a story surrounding this picture. I immediately set about brainstorming. I think I at one point had an idea for airship smugglers but I really can’t remember much else from my original brainstorming sessions. After a while, I gave up and went with another story. However, this image stuck in my mind. Even when I wasn’t actively thinking about it, the image was floating around in my brain like some kind of prion. And now, it’s wreaking havoc once again.
Unlike last time though, I’m pursuing this idea to its conclusion. And I’m using some new tools to get to a usable idea. First of all, one of the big things I figured out is that a picture, while a good starting point, is not a plot and not a story! At least not all the time. To illustrate, here is one of my thoughts as I wrestled with this story: “I want my story to contain zeppelins. There are zeppelins in the story.” The big problem with this is that there is nothing to go off of. The zeppelins are an aesthetic touch, not something you can write a whole story around. I think this might actually go back to my earlier post on using dreams in fiction. It isn’t so much about using the imagery or sticking to the content of the dream, it is about exploring those deeper emotions and figuring out what it is about the dream, or in this case picture, that sparked your imagination in the first place. In this case, there is a feeling of solemnity and whimsy at the same time. There is the hinting of a world strange and grand, one that blends the old (Gothic cathedral and thick woods) with the impossible (flying ships). Now that I think about it, I think it’s these aspects of the picture that were so arresting and which I’m now trying to work into the story.
I mentioned before that I’m also making use of some tools in helping to develop the story. In truth there is one tool that I’m using for this early stage and another than I’ll be making use of a bit when it comes time to outline or get a sense of the shape of the story. Both of these tools are free to use and both are very helpful. The tool I’m using now is Freemind. It’s a free mind mapping tool that allows you to create idea maps so you can see how each idea connects and relates to the others. This is great for the brain storming phase of writing a story or novel and it may help you come up with things you might not have otherwise or help you see connections and patterns in the work. You can learn more about it here. The second tool I’ll use once I get to the next phase of writing this story is something called yWriter. It is a very robust and well designed program for creating outlines for your story or novel. It allows you to make bios and descriptions for your characters, outline places and props, and more. It also breaks down the story into chapters and then further into scenes. This can be very useful for getting down into the gears of your story and seeing how or if it holds together. More info can be found at its main site here. I’m really looking forward to getting to the stage where I can use that program. For now I’m still working on finding the story I want to write.
Since turning to the previous methods, I’ve come much farther than before in finding my story. Still there is one problem that I’m trying to untangle. I’ve got several possible scenarios and a few antagonists. The protagonist is taking shape quite well. However, one thing that keeps turning up is the take-over-the-world plot. There’s nothing wrong with that but I don’t know if it’s right for this story or if I want to use it. I would personally like a more circumscribed problem, something much more personal since I really like a story in which the problem is more directly connected to the protagonist. I’m not exactly sure of how to surmount this problem yet. Nevertheless, I’m getting closer as I think about it. Partially it’s about figuring out the antagonists and making them more human. Additionally, I am still figuring out what my protagonist needs and wants and how this will fit into the story. But I’m sure things will work out this time. I have many puzzle pieces and soon I will be able to put together an entire picture. This is one of the reasons writing is not for the impatient. Sometime you have to wait and struggle to get to the best ideas.