Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Brainstorming, aka TORTURE

Holy crap! I have 209 PAGE-VIEWS! Blogger is telling me that people might actually be reading this blog. Funny how I start to feel more self-conscious as soon as I realize that... 

So, in my last post, I talked about the seed that is the beginning of a novel. And then I asked, "So you have this seed. Then what?" In other words, how do you turn that little idea into a book, complete with a compelling plot, three-dimensional characters, and mildly important structural things like a beginning, middle, and end?

Well, it turns out, you get to do this super-duper amazingly fun thing called brainstorming, which I also like to call TORTURE. It involves floating in an infinite sea of possibilities and trying not to drown while you grab as many little fish-ideas as you can and attempt to mash their wriggling slippery little bodies into some kind of coherent story.

When I was trying to develop Cloudland, I started with this premise: "I'm going to write a book about loss where the characters end up in this crazy, magical land of clouds." Ok, cool. So, um, who are the characters? Who did they lose? Where and when do they live? Is this the real world, or are you going to make up a brand new world? What IS this crazy, magical land of clouds? How do they/he/she/it get there, and what happens once they do?

And on and on and on and OH GOOD GOD MY HEAD IS EXPLODING.

You can guess that this process might take a while. You'd be right. Part of the reason for that is that I have the world's worst focus when it comes to brainstorming. Anything can distract me. I am, in fact, looking for things to distract me. I check my email. I get excited when I have new items in my Spam folder. I stare blankly out the window. I eat snacks. Lots and lots of snacks. I'm happy when I have to pay bills, for God's sake. 

In between all of this incredibly productive procrastination, I try to sort things out. A lot of what I start with comes from pure gut instinct. I don't know why, but I knew Jake was going to be one of my main characters: I could already see him in my head, a six-year old kid, small for his age, with smooth brown skin and enormous brown eyes. I knew he was going to have some kind of supernatural guide once he got to the land in the clouds. I knew this was going to take place in the real world, today, because I was going to have to do enough world-building for this cloud place, and I didn't want to have to do it in the characters' everyday lives, too. 

So, I had that much. Over months, I wrote and wrote, on paper and on the computer, all free-flowing ideas (this, by the way, is essential). I came up with genius, brilliant ideas for scenes that never made it into the book. Over time, I realized that I wanted an adult protagonist, too. I wanted to show that grieving is universal by having two very different people deal with similar losses, and I wanted a second perspective on everything that was happening.

And so, Sara was born. I don't know why, but I immediately decided that she was a young social worker at Jake's school. Someone who was supposed to be professional, calm, distant, and who ended up being everything she wasn't supposed to be. 

Now, I had something to build on; I had a foundation. I had two main characters - Sara and Jake - and a secondary character - this supernatural guide. I had a theme - loss - so I knew both of these characters were going to lose someone important in their lives. And I knew they were going to end up in the clouds.

Next step: figure out who the hell these people are. 

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