Writing Your Mind

Sometimes we have thoughts that even we don’t understand. Thoughts that aren’t even true—that aren’t really how we feel—but they’re running through our heads anyway because they’re interesting to think about.

If you could hear other people’s thoughts, you’d overhear things that are true as well as things that are completely random. And you wouldn’t know one from the other. It’d drive you insane. What’s true? What’s not? A million ideas, but what do they mean?
– Jay Asher, Thirteen Reasons Why 

And this is why I have yet to find a book where mind-reading is actually a thing that works. Because since when does anyone’s mind function in a straight-enough line to be scrawled on paper? Our minds are a hundred layers of floating thoughts that finish each others—sandwiches.

Writing is inherently organized thinking. If I’m to enter someone else’s stream of consciousness, I don’t expect neat italics and periods and since when is there barely a comma and music. Always music. Our minds are involved in keeping afloat the threads of our present, past, and future lives.

In the back I’ve got my to-do list, with checkboxes and since it’s a cluttered mess, the “check the milk” and “get eggs” are separated by the specific: “Make your bed” and the duh: “READ MORE”. There’s the dull thump of an aching hip that could provide an excuse to not go running today, but tied around that bass line is the acknowledgement that I’ve been sucking in my stomach all morning because I feel fat today. I’ve got something that almost feels like a headache but I only notice it when the gnat in my office makes another run at my open mouth and I try to frighten him away with my nose. The phone rings, and I notice eight different things and latch on to the one that is shiniest, despite its total irrelevance to the caller id that flashes across the screen.

Since when is any of that capturable in a few italics? I need to understand if you know the way a mind reads things in color, because your smile is like my mother’s Black-eyed Susan’s, and while I couldn’t tell you the colors of every pen on my desk, I know exactly why I picked them because my brain responds to them the same way it does when I see poppies in the desert. I know when I see freckles I think of hay bales and the night we slept out on the trampoline, and lipstick is the cue for John Michael Montgomery to begin his Grundy County Auction. Except I woke up to Calvin Harris this morning, so right now you’ll smell popcorn and cut grass if you tried to read my thoughts.

And then there’s the tiny—a negotiable adjective, but the one I prefer—corner of darkness that I associate with Beethoven (who always makes me cry) and the day as a teenager when I was ashamed to admit that the Phantom of the Opera scared me. It’s the corner where I’ve stashed everything I don’t want others to know, and yet it’s a very vocal corner because our minds are forever running out of neat boxes to fit things in and the string and tape and scissors for closing them disappear like my favorite socks in the laundry. But that strange conglomerate is also, I wonder, I think, maybe, where my bravery comes from—one part stupidity, one part honesty, and most parts because I didn’t take the time to think about it first because analyzing my courage means analyzing the reasons I am a coward.

And that’s just me. Try writing your thoughts. Be honest. If they don’t scare you, you haven’t been honest.

(originally posted on tumblr)

Sink…Swim…Start Over

I’m writing. I’ve done my character research and worldbuilding and checked off those boxes on my captain’s log. Prepping my stores to sail on this writing adventure is full of forgotten joy. Sussing up previously unknown character motivations, inundating myself in photos of my fictional location. It may not be dialogue on the page, but folks, I’m armed with scissors and glue and paper and an MBTI quiz and I am being an author. 

And then I start scribbling down notes and lines and plot points and I smile to myself and turn up Imagine Dragons and think that this must be what it’s like to write. My thumbtacks are sharp, my notecards white and empty, and I am ready to do this!

So I sit down at my laptop and reintroduce myself to Scrivener and launch off on this ship to the great unknown. I’m a few thousand words in and…my ship is leaking. There’s a million tiny cracks, and I can’t find my wash bucket to start bailing. I don’t want to jump ship, but there’s a thunderstorm brewing, the horizon is endless, my sail is in shreds…why am I here, exactly?

I know it’s a first draft. It’s going to have cracks that you patch with red marker and sticky notes (FIX THIS NEXT TIME), but sometimes your first draft…sinks. It doesn’t just flounder into the harbor; no, it heads straight to Davy Jones’ Locker.

And while I’m clinging to the flotsam of my outline, I’m wondering what went wrong? I had colored paper clips and bullet points! My outline actually existed! My characters were fabulous, and I’d just launched them onto this journey that I’ve been planning for five years. What was wrong?

In my case, this was my second time launching off on this route. My first draft made it to The End, but was too battered and crushed to try repairing. It needed a total overhaul. So I filched the sails and the anchor and headed towards another ship, the good vessel REWRITE.

Except every ship needs a few basic things, just like every story. I had my Who: a girl, suitably complicated, at least in her character profile. What: an epic journey and a terrible band of rogues. When: a time and era of my own choosing, ending in a predictably gold and red sunset. Where: the great high seas…or a foreign country. My How: the aforementioned vessel, which I was hoping would fare better than my first doomed craft (the SERENDIPITY). Why was I not seaworthy?

Ah, the talk around the docks. Everyone asks the necessary niceties above, but a few reminded me of the one I was missing. Why?

I had every ingredient for an epic story, but I was pushing out on my own without motivation to give me fortitude and hold this leaky ship together. I knew where I was blowing, and I still had my old anchor, but I had no reason to set sail. Neither did my character. Why would she launch on this journey? What could possible rattle her from the comfortable confines of her Chapter 1 locale? The choices and confrontations could not be sustained off a spur-of-the-moment decision. When the swells are over your head and there is no sun on the horizon, you’d better have a good reason for being on the boat.

So, back to harbor. Let that battered sail dry out; patch it up, it’ll fly another day.  Go ahead, paint the decks, find out what provisions you’ll need for this particular route. Dress appropriately for the culture you will enter. Buy a new hat, colored pens, and about three dozen notebooks.

Then sit down with your character. Ask her why. Keep an eye out for the squalls that will test you, or the ones that will drive you out to sea. Are they to blame for why you’re in the middle of the ocean? It’s one thing to be you vs. a thunderstorm; you’ll survive that trip. It’s quite a different story when it is you vs. your own flimsy motivations.

So now I’m off for another trip, folks.  I’ll tip my hat and remember why my character and I are setting off on this epicness. I’ve smashed the bottle and rechristened the ship. Let’s see how far the SECOND WIND takes me.

HELLO I AM THE LOVE INTEREST

Are love interests ever unexpected?

Sometimes it seems like all the author has to do is describe him/her as being around the protagonist’s age, and presto: love interest. Particularly in the case of YA heterosexual relationships, it seems like you can see the setup coming from a mile away. Of course the unknown boy in the room is the soon-to-be plus-one. Of course he’s never seen that girl before, and of course they’ll be locking lips by The End.

Maybe it comes in the descriptions, when the maybe-lover is described too carefully. Imagine it this way: the time you spend reading about him/her equals the time the protagonist spends studying him. More than two words about his hair, and you’re caught staring.

Granted, it sometimes needs only one description: soul-searing eyes. (Blue eyes works, too.) They end up turning into neon signs that flash: “You will be in love by Chapter 5.” Actually, all you really need to hear is that he/she is close to the protagonist’s age, and they’re nearly a guaranteed OTP.

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t mind an obvious romance. I don’t mind the dark-haired, green-eyed, walks-on-wearing-checkered-Vans boy who has a sign taped to his back, “HELLO I AM THE LOVE INTEREST”. I enjoy the tall, dark stranger just as much as the next person, but every once in a while I want the other kind of romance. You know, the slow-burn kind.  The kind that sneaks in without the brass band and three-dozen roses.

Some stories achieve this through giving him/her enough ambiguity that you don’t know whether to trust him/her or not. This usually slows the loving process. Others mix it up by simply multiplying the potential love interests. After three or four grand entrances, you spend the rest of the time guessing which one is going to win; a book version of the Bachelor[ette], but with a love triangle usually added in.

Okay, sarcasm aside, I know there are numerous books where you knew exactly where this relationship went, and yet it still was fresh and enjoyable. What I’m wondering is if there is one where the love interest surprised you? Where you didn’t expect it to be him, or her? Not that there wasn’t a lack of chemistry or that they barely talked to each other, please.  But I’ll admit that I’m a little burned out on insta-love and I-am-your-new-love, and I-am-your-age-we-must-be-in-love.

So, two questions:

1. What books do you know of where the love interest was either unexpected or unheralded?

2. What’s the best example of a slow-burn romance that you’ve seen?

Writing Advice: C.S. Lewis

From C.S. Lewis’s letter to a young fan.

1. Always try to use the language so as to make quite clear what you mean and make sure your sentence couldn’t mean anything else.

2. Always prefer the plain direct word to the long, vague one. Don’t implement promises, but keep them.

3. Never use abstract nouns when concrete ones will do. If you mean “More people died” don’t say “Mortality rose.”

4. In writing. Don’t use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the thing you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us a thing was “terrible,” describe it so that we’ll be terrified. Don’t say it was “delightful”; make us say “delightful” when we’ve read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers, “Please will you do my job for me.”

5. Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say “infinitely” when you mean “very”; otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.

*gulp* I am in constant violation of #5. What about you?

The Art Of Dying Well

Kill your darlings. Yes, I know. Be ruthless and unfeeling with what you treasure most in your writing. Many authors and writers take this literally, killing off beloved characters in a dramatic moment for the sake of the story. But please, don’t kill them just for the sake of killing them. A book/movie/tv show/story is not rated based on the body count. One well-written death can have a thousand times more impact than a hundred cast-offs.

So, what are the rules to dying well? I recently saw/read some examples of what [not] to do when putting your darlings six feet under. These are my own rules and examples, taken from books, movies, and tv shows. Please argue with me, please add your own, please tell me about your favorite character death. WARNING: Spoilers abound. Each example is headed by the name of the original source. Below it will be a paragraph detailing a character’s death within that source…so feel free to skip those you haven’t seen/read.

I don’t mind it when characters die, no matter how much they break my heart. What I despise is when characters die and leave me wondering what the stars the writer meant to do there. So here you go.

RULES FOR DYING WELL

1. Don’t be a cop-out

I enjoy the redeemable villain/heroic character just as much as the next person, but what I don’t enjoy is when the death is the only option. It can be hard to imagine how a villain or hero could continue on with life once he redeems himself, but don’t kill him off just to save yourself the trouble of creating that possibility. His/her departure becomes a shrug and an expectation, with the emotional impact chopped in half. One of the important things about giving up the ghost is the cutting off of the possibilities. I want to know and feel that life beyond this was possible, and yet it did not happen. To think that the character might have had a life after this was all over. The sacrifice loses impact if there were no stakes to lose. The character’s untimely end falls flat because there was no life beyond.

Good: The Mark of the Horse Lord, by Rosemary Sutcliff

Phaedrus has possibilities, and a life beyond. He has a wife and a baby on the way. Despite his identity as an imposter, he has come into his own as leader, and the choice he must make at the end is completely in line with his character journey throughout. The sacrifice he makes is gut-wrenching, but it isn’t a cop-out. He doesn’t die in order to save his identity or get out of future consequences: he dies to give back to his people. He sacrifices as a capstone to his growth over the course of the story, and it is both tragic, unexpected, and entirely fitting.

Bad: Spiderman 2 (2004)

Doctor Octavius may have been a fantastic villain, but of course he was going to snuff the candle. I can’t get too upset at this movie for doing what most villain-is-redeemed movies end with: the dissolution of the redeemed. Is it too hard to give him a chance afterwards? I see it quite often in other stories, where death is better than life because of all the terrible things done and the repercussions that will follow the conversion to good-guy. Man-up, story.

Granted, some stories occasionally feel like they don’t know what to do with a character now. As in: they were only interesting when they had questionable motives. Now that they’ve converted, let’s give them a heroic passing and be done. (Boromir and The Fellowship of the Ring, anyone?)

Exception: A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens

I think Sydney Carton must be the exception to everything. While he redeems himself through his extinction, and there is a dreading sense of doom throughout the book, there is also a pride in him. You’ve come to care about him as a character, and you want to cheer him on for choosing to do the right thing. There’s loss and redemption, both in the measure that should be.

2. Don’t be pointless

Make the Stygian shore mean something, please. You just killed your character. How does this impact those around him/her? What does it change in the story? Why did you kill him/her? And no, this is not the petulant “whyyyyyy????? that comes when you’ve just finished watching an episode of Supernatural and yet another beloved character has expired. No, this is the querying “why?” that happens when you can’t understand how going the way of all flesh for so-and-so advanced the storyline in any way.

Good: The Princess Bride

Mandy Patinkin’s lines are some of the most quoted, but they provide a great example for this rule:  “My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” There’s your story, folks. Here’s the character. His father was killed. He is avenging it. The debt of nature had purpose, and appropriate consequences. Montoya drank too much and tried too hard, but the rigor mortis, while never shown, actually meant something to the story.

Bad: Red Dawn (2012)

Oh, guys, I hated this one. The movie was okay, assuming you ignore the gaping plot holes, bask in the glory that is Chris Hemsworth, and refrain from screaming at the screen when the ending comes. I’m spoiling it (I warned you), but HIS CHARACTER DIES. IN THE LAST 20 MINUTES. AND IT DOES NOTHING FOR THE PLOT. I hated this movie. There was no point to the deaths near the end. You could try to chalk them up to the horrors of war, but the scenes that followed did nothing to utilize that. It was simply a matter of the North Koreans being the bad guys and making sure the girl and guy never got to kiss. It was drama injected for the sake of drama, and I don’t appreciate it happening to anybody, let alone my freaking Thor.

Exception: Supernatural, Episode 8×22, “Clip Show”

Oh, Sarah. I wanted to be angry at you for being only having two appearances on Supernatural. Season 1 and Season 8. Years later, you came back as a fan favorite, only to fly off with your own swan song. Why? Because you meant something to us, the viewers. You were two episodes of spark and spunk and we liked you. We loved you, just like Sam. When you shuffled off this mortal coil, you grieved everybody. Your quietus felt hopeless, but it was supposed to feel that way. We were supposed to be raging, crying messes of madness over what Crowley had done, and you accomplished that by kicking the bucket. None of the others really meant much to us, but you did. Crowley was striking at the heart, and you were it.

3. Do fit the tone of the book

Joining the majority can come in a lot of different forms. If you’re trying for a hopeful, sunshiny book, please write your Davy Jones Locker appropriately. Heavy grief isn’t exactly a summertime read. If it’s a book about war, sudden or frequent perishings may be completely appropriate. This one is a little harder to explain without examples, but basically: don’t feel like you have to include a crossing of the bar because drama = good. If the situations your character(s) are in involves turning in one’s checks (and it follows the rules above), then go for it. If the expiration is unexpected because you felt like putting one in rather than the story bringing it in, I’ll probably hate you.

Good: The Book Thief, by Marcus Zusak

This is a book about death. Sheesh, the book is narrated by Death. What did you expect? It was written with every single character living on the knife’s edge that is war. You enjoyed your time with the characters, came to love them, came to live with them. Rudy’s cessation of life was probably the hardest for me. I knew I should expect to possibly part with every character, but I didn’t want to. That’s what made the departures at the end so well written. I was supposed to expect them, but I was hoping not to, and I was heartbroken when they came. They managed to be expected and unguarded at the same time.

Bad: Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins

Yeah, I know. Death follows Katniss around like a kite on a string, but Prim’s step out was maddening. Why did you kill her? What was this book supposed to be about, again? Family? Sacrificing for others? Great, so why did Prim have to die? Prim felt like a plot device to end the love triangle, and it broke every rule of a good chant du cygne. Your heroine sacrificed her life to save her sister in the first book. She lived with the consequences of that in the second. Suddenly these books are about overthrowing the government and shooting cool arrows and having psychotic breakdowns and oh, right, that sister of hers? Yeah, she bought the farm.

Exception: The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins

On the other hand, this trilogy does know how to write a completely tone-appropriate crossing of the Stygian ferry. The first book involved 24 contestants fighting to their last breath. Rue and Katniss couldn’t last forever, and her mortality was tragic but not pointless or unexpected. Plus, it made me cry.

4. Do cause grief/repercussions

Unless you are a robot, joining the greater number involves tears. Lots of them. It also involves significant emotional adjustment for everyone, and it’s belittling to the characters if you bypass that in any form. While this rule could be named The Inigo Montoya Rule in his honor, here are a few more examples. (Note: this rule can overlap heavily with the “Don’t be pointless” one)

Good: Supernatural, Episode 2×01, “In My Time Of Dying”

John. I picked this episode because he officially pops off in this one, although you don’t know it until episode 2. Technically, I could pick Supernatural as a whole. The grief, survivor’s guilt, and ensuing events are not wiped away or belittled. While the extent of character dissolution on this show may weigh it down at times, you can’t ever accuse it of not grieving the death rattle of its main characters.  Check out Episode 2×04 “Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things” for Dean’s exposition of his survivor’s guilt and how it played into his actions. The shadow of who John was and how he affected his children hangs over much of the show.

Bad: Red Dawn/Sherlock

Yeah, can I gripe again? The death(s) come too late for any character development. The responsibility that was shown at the end was already happening before the characters’ bitter end, making their deaths feel tacked-on and unnecessary.

Another example is Mary Watson, nee Morstan, in the Sherlock Holmes stories. Her marriage to Watson is mentioned, but her last exhale is given only a passing reference. There was little mention of the grieving process, and Watson resumes his bachelor life with Sherlock and all is well. For all the trouble Doyle took to make Watson a married man, he apparently tired of the wedded life and needed his favorite sidekick to be single again? The lack of sorrow retroactively converts her into a throwaway character.

Exception: Divergent/Insurgent, by Veronica Roth

I was really hoping that Will wasn’t launched into eternity. Truly. But I appreciated the journey that Tris took because of it. His demise could have been pointless, turning him into a one-off character that we met in the first book. Instead, his going off became a key turning point in many of the relationships, and it was a fabulous picture of how different people carry grief and guilt.

5. Do be respectful

If you’re going to kill your characters, please show some respect. It’s one thing to put them six feet under…it’s another to do it by having them slip down a flight of stairs and bash their skull in on a doorhandle. How they kick the bucket is just as important in the whole process of turning in your chips.

Good: Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013)

What would have happened if John Harrison had squeezed Kirk’s brains out on the bridge of the USS Vengeance? Think about it (if you’ve seen the movie). What would Kirk’s obit have meant to him as a character and to the USS Enterprise crew? It would have been tragic, senseless, unthinkable. Instead, his [albeit temporary] last gasp came as he showed his selflessness in the radioactive core. Totally different. With his death by his own choice, on his own terms, in protection of his ship and crew, he received closure on his character arc and went out with respect rather than as a byproduct of some frightening villain.

Bad: Supernatural, Episode 7×09, “How To Win Friends And Influence Monsters”

Sorry, another reference for what is arguably my favorite TV show. Bear with me a moment. Bobby Singer had been around since Season 1’s finale, and had been resident father, mediator, backup, voice of reason, and no-nonsense hunter ever since. A lot of people have argued about the weakness of Season 7’s Big Bad, Dick Roman. He was never quite as menacing as he was supposed to be, but he did manage to do what seven seasons of monsters had been unable to get away with: put a fatal bullet in Bobby’s brain as he was escaping in a van with his two pseudo sons/proteges/resident heroes (Sam & Dean). Really, show? You’ve created this kick-butt character who survived paraplegia and the apocalypse, but he doesn’t go down fighting?

Exception: Supernatural, Episode 7×10, “Death’s Door”

Aaaaannnndddd…here’s how you redeem yourself. You give us a walk through Bobby Singer’s greatest hits, having him fight through a proverbial fog of memories to regain consciousness and give a final word to his beloved boys. You allow him to make his own choice and go out on his own terms. The bullet may have seemed despairingly arbitrary, but Bobby Singer’s last stand is anything but that.

6. Don’t assume I care

I know. You care about your characters. You know of every gravestone that will be chiseled and placed as a result of your manuscript. You will dust off those names and recite them before bedtime. You will care. But you have got to learn to make me care. You may have given your character a watery grave that is a catalyst, fitting to his personality and the tone of your book. But unless you show me why I should care, none of that will matter. I won’t be invested in the ensuing journey if I’m not invested in the character to begin with. (Note: this most often happens when a character has too-little introduction before going to one’s last home)

Good: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis

Aslan doesn’t show up for much of the book. He’s name dropped, revered, and feared, before eventually coming on as a fully formed character who manages to awe and comfort the characters that we’ve come to know. We are treated to him by proxy, through the eyes of the Pevensie children, and his death matters to us because it matters to them. We’ve become invested in their lives and his martyrdom is as terrifying and aching as if we were the ones hiding in the shadows and seeing it take place. He doesn’t have to be in the first chapter to matter to us. He’s written in such a way that we care when he comes, no matter how tardy.

Bad: Tron: Legacy (2010)

Admittedly, I never saw the first Tron movie. Maybe I would care more about Tron himself if I had known him previously. But he’s outlined in a flashback and introduced in a breath. Then he’s gone. Rather than being some great sacrifice of a beloved character, he’s merely a questionable pawn who we never quite understand and never quite care about. He helped them escape; awesome. But I can’t mourn his loss if I barely track his existence.

Exception: To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

Remember Tom Robinson? The man whose case becomes a turning point in the book? Did you realize, in reading it, that we barely met him? He was a whisper from a jail cell overhead, and a witness on the stand with a bum arm. But it didn’t matter how little introduction we had. Harper Lee managed to write him into a representation of the African American community, and while his death was barely described, it was heartbreaking. Here was a man we met for a chapter or two, and yet his shooting hurt us. It hurt the main characters that we loved, and it felt like a loss. Like we had lost. The nature of the story requires Tom Robinson to be unforgettable and deeply moving. In a few short words, we met a polite man, caught between a caste system and a court system, and his desperate end made us feel desperate, too.

I think this post has expounded long enough about death’s door, mm? Let’s recap:

HOW TO DIE (the quickie version)

1. Don’t kill somebody just because you don’t know what to do with them.

2. Don’t kill somebody just because you feel like it.

3. Don’t kill somebody just for–oooohhh, drama!

4. Death has baggage.

5. Respect the dead.

6. Make me care.

Okay, folks, discussion is now open. Agree? Disagree? I love hearing viewpoints other than mine, because I only see it one way and I am inclined to think that I’m right until somebody tells me otherwise. *wink* So tell me otherwise!

What makes a good character death? What are good examples in literature/movies/tv/etc that follow the rules of dying well? What other rules would you add?

Speshul Names

The New Zealand government has released their revised list of banned baby names.

This isn’t necessarily new news, as they’ve rejected questionable names before. Numerous countries around the world have similar regulations, requiring approval of baby names before any can be made official. The BBC had an interesting article earlier this year that looked a little more globally at countries and their responses to strange baby names.

Domineering-and-overtly-regulatory government rhetoric aside, I can understand banning some of these. Seriously: who names their child Lucifer?

But it did get me thinking about the writing side of things. It bothers me when an author respells a common name just to make it interesting.  But the outright making-up of a name can be just as bad. No one wants a Mary Sue, but you can’t avoid the stereotype just by calling her Renesmee. A memorable (often weird) name should never be a substitute for good backstory. On the other hand, you might have a decent character, but you can detract or subvert that well-roundedness by saddling him/her with some over-the-top moniker.

What’s the worst/most bizarre name you’ve seen in fiction? On the non fiction side of things, do you know of a worse name than this one

Beginning.

It’s happened before. Or maybe it’s the first time. You’re standing in the kitchen, doing dishes, when it hits you. You’re getting a drink of water at work, staring at the cooler as the inspiration comes. Maybe it happens on the commute, between traffic lights #3 and #53867. The question, the query, the first bloom of an idea.

For me, it’s usually a scene that comes to mind. Some conversation or scenario that once it begins, quickly transforms into a continuous background loop throughout the writing of the book. It’s rarely the instigating incident; it tends to be the climactic confrontation that the book builds up to.

I mull. I scribble notes. But I don’t write out the entire scene, not yet. I let it foster, I brood, I get excited about it. I find an excuse to get a brand new notebook and I start writing out the notes and the random backstory and the continuing plotlines that are all sparked by this brave little idea.

Then, I start writing. Since my ideas are usually from some later-in-the-book scene, I rarely write it at first. I avoid putting on paper that question-answering/world-shattering revelation that first woke me up to the promise of a new story. It’s like overwatering a plant that has barely had time to take root. You have to add some more dirt first. Just start writing. Take these stick-thin characters and walk around in them a bit. It doesn’t matter if this is how you’ll actually start the book or not. Wake them up on an ordinary day and interact with them.

I wait to write down that scene that kept me up at night and sat on the back burner during the note-writing and world-building and person-meeting. I wait until my enthusiasm is lagging and I’ve written myself into corners and my notebook is no longer as shiny as it used to be and my characters are flat and ugly…then I revisit that spark. I remind myself why I was excited, what got me into this frightening thing called writing.

If my spark came as the opener of my new work in process, then I have to write it down. But then, when my computer is slow and my brain slower and my ideas ground to null, then I go back to that opener and I rewrite it, no matter how shiny and kick-butt it seemed at the beginning. It’s like pushing the reset button without erasing everything. I’m able to write something that excites me, regardless if I’ve put it on paper before.

You can begin your story a thousand times. Just because you don’t get it right the first time doesn’t mean you can’t come around for another shot. You may wallow around in pages of person-meeting before you find that day when it all begins. And then…it begins.

How do you begin? Do you savor that shiny moment and keep it for a rainy day, or do you push it from the nest and watch it take flight?