Fictionistas like us read for one basic reason. We want to escape. For just a little while we long to live vicariously through someone else, be it a private eye, an Indian princess, a smooth-talking villain, or a sleuthing grandma. We want a splash of adventure, a smothering of romance, a smattering of mystery to play into our daydreams.
If we write, it's the same. We do it, in part, because we long for a story bigger than the one we feel we're in, or at least different than the one we're in. Yet we also want control over it. And to top it off, we want to drag others with us into the tale we're weaving. We want to provoke readers to escape into our little worlds and sigh with pleasure. But it's a delicate thread they hang upon. An ounce of disbelief and the gossamer, fairy tale strand between writer and reader is broken. They close the book.
To keep our readers suspended in our story worlds to their satisfaction, there is a three-step approach we must take before we begin.
We first need to think the story. This seems obvious, but I'm afraid that writers sometimes too easily rush off with an idea before they've mulled it to its limits. I know that's true, because I've tossed their books in the trash. The easiest way to stop reading a book is if you already know what's going to happen. So, at the beginning of the writing process, we settle into the what-ifs. We spin around on the twists and turns running rampant through our brains. We observe the villain. We probe into his psychology. We set up our hero or heroine. We start to imagine what they're like. We think them into corners so tight, that even as their creator we don't know how we'll get them out. In my novel The Green Veil I decided early on to make use of a love triangle that would keep the reader on tenterhooks and to offer a few twists worthy of a gasp or two.
We dream the story. It starts to grow. It takes on worldly proportions. We meet new figures, engaging in never before taken trysts with characters that live inside the world we're creating. This is where the story setting starts to build dimension. We might select photos or explore locales. Our story starts to consume our every thought, and all those earlier personalities we've met in our imagination grow flesh. We can hear their voices and smell their skin.
I love research. For my generational Empire in Pine series set in Wisconsin between the 1840s & 1890s, I explored rivers and forests, towns that grew out of boom and brothel. What I discovered were characters caught up in circumstances bigger than themselves, but whose choices drove their stories forward. I found out details about their personalities which evolved in part out of the time and place in which they lived.
We start to be the story. We carry on conversations. We find ourselves in places we never thought to go. We discover clues we didn't see before. We get into the skins of our creations. From inside out we feel their pains, their struggles, their joys and fears. We touch what our characters touch. Our heart pounds with love and struggle. We breathe their air, eat their food, sleep in their beds. We love with their passion and carry their lies in our bosoms.
In The Green Veil Colette has loved timber cruiser Manason Kade since her youth. But time, distance, and circumstances compel her to marry a lumber baron who will stop at nothing to crush his enemies, especially Manason. When Manason and Colette finally meet again, she is forced to choose between her first love and her commitment to her marriage vows, a choice that has her faith and an empire in pine hanging in the balance. As the author, I spent myself trying to draw on the raw emotion which must be produced by what my character Colette had to endure.
All these things happen before the story begins. We may jot pages of notes. We may outline, story-board, or snowflake the story's bones. We may read stacks and stacks of research books. It's all part of these early stages of story development. Thinking the story, dreaming the story, and being the story all take place before we write Chapter One across the top of a page.
Rushing our ideas, big or small, forcing characters to act who are mere holograms in our minds, running with a plot that hasn't been intricately woven will cause the story to unravel, its population to feel like a bunch of Flat Stanleys, and the plot itself to be boring. The reader, if there ever is one, will disengage.
Think about it, there are a lot of books out there we've started to read then set aside without finishing. But if the author did get through those first 3 steps of story development before they ever started writing, then the chances are we were drawn into their created worlds and cared enough to keep in step with their characters all the way to the end.
And the dance between writer and reader waltzed on.
As she and husband Jeff celebrate 30 years of romance, they continue to enjoy epic adventures around their home in the Wisconsin woods with their five young adults. She invites readers to say hello and find out more about her stories, passions, and other writing venues at www.NaomiMusch.com or look her up on Facebook and Twitter (NMusch).
Desert Breeze Publishing.
HEART NOT TAKEN - A contemporary, inspirational novella from Black Lyon Publishing.