I blame Stephen King. More specifically, his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. It’s the first Stephen King book I’ve ever read. Not because I don’t like his books but because I’m still traumatised by the movie It showing on television one night when we were on a family holiday in a tiny caravan and I couldn’t escape it. That freaky scary clown. I don’t even know what the movie was about.
I have, however, seen some of the less terrifying movie adaptations, including The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile.
Mr King can tell a damned fine story.
I like to tell stories too. Mostly I tell them here on my blog. Lately there’s been a story kicking around in my head that is too big for a blog post. It’s too big for a short story. It may even be too big for one novel.
It started off as a ‘what if?’ What if parenting was actually valued in our society, both socially and economically? What if everyone pulled their weight equally? What if we prioritised raising kids over having fat bank balances? What would that look like? And what would it mean?
I had a fabulous time writing out back stories and fiddling with political and social structures.
Of course, political and social structures are all very interesting but they don’t make for compelling reading. They’re not a story.
I tried to plot a story to justify writing about the world I’d invented. I came up with a whole list of possible plots. I scratched my head. I wrote a few notes, using the same method I use to plan an essay or an article, and I sat down at my laptop.
Then I read On Writing, by Stephen King.
He says the story is the most important thing. I thought about the books I’d read recently. The Maze Runner trilogy is a perfect example. The characters are pretty two-dimensional and the writing made me want to bang my head against the wall on several occasions. The doomsday scenario is different to anything I’ve ever read, but still it’s basically Natural Disaster + Science-gone-wrong + Only This Person Can Save the World + How Will He Do It?
But I just could not stop reading it. Why? Because the story was compelling. I had to know what happened next.
Twilight trilogy. Same thing. So-so writing, well worn plotline of girl meets boy, girl helps boy overcome tragic past. Love conquers all (including the overwhelming desire to eat your partner, apparently). But I read all three of them because I had to know what happened.
The other thing I learned from the great Mr King is to adopt an organic style of writing. He likens writing a book to an archaeologist gently sweeping away the dirt to unearth an artifact. Seeing just the tip to start with, having a general idea of what he’ll find and, bit by bit, helping it to emerge.
This goes against every natural fibre of my Type A hyper-organised personality.
Then I read a post by author Natasha Lester explaining why you don’t need to plan a book and how to use scenes to conceptualise your book instead. That made perfect sense to me.
A few more days of dreaming and thinking and I suddenly had an opening scene. So I started to write.
And then I kept on writing. Every day.
More ideas were popping into my head, more scenes would come to me and bit by bit I was unearthing parts of the story, one after another. Keeping a general idea of the direction of the story in my head but writing one scene at a time.
Now I have 15,000 words. So I’m ready to tell you – I think I’m writing a novel.
Of course, then I freaked out and started worrying about whether it was total crap and should I keep writing it or just give up? After all, 15,000 words is great but it needs about 60-70,000 linguistic buddies to make it a book.
I sent 7,000 words to a friend. She wrote back: ‘It’s a bloody good start – I just want to know more – see what happens.’
I guess I’ll keep going then.
Besides, I want to know what happens. I won’t find out if I don’t write it.