Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Inch by Inch, Row by Row

Do you all now have Pete Seeger singing that song in your head? Sorry about that. If it makes you feel any better, I do, too. Stupid seed metaphors.

This all came about because I was thinking, if I'm going to write about writing, should I at least try to go in some sort of logical order? And then I thought, OK, then, where exactly does a novel start? The right answer is that there IS no right answer. It starts in dreams, or in a single word; it starts in a flash of an image, or one line of dialogue; it starts with life doing what life does, and periodically slamming you into the ground with stunning, breath-taking loss, or beauty, or joy. There's no telling what that one thing will be - the thing that catches flame, and flickers to life inside your head.

Which brought me to the seed metaphor. You know, little thing, flickering to life, etc? I'm saying there's always a seed of an idea. And it's always just that; just a seed. No one has an idea that springs instantly into a fully-formed bestselling novel from one's prolific head (unless one is a Greek god named Zeus, in which case, all bets are off). I get a flash of an idea, nothing more that a little seed, and then I have to plant that seed and water it and tend to it and weed it and then, inch by inch, I end up with a garden and with this dumb song stuck in my head. You get the idea.

There are, by the way, a ton of these seeds in my head at any given time, and only a few of them ever get developed. Some of them are waiting for a chance at my attention, and some of them are just really bad seeds (cue the opening sequence of that Macaulay Culkin movie, based on that older, much better movie).

In the case of my first novel, Cloudland, and Other Stories, the seed was loss. I knew I wanted to write a story about loss, or, more specifically, about the insane, heart-wrenching, terrible process of grieving. Then I got on a plane for various unimportant reasons, and looked out the window on that mind-boggling, reality-defying landscape of clouds - you know that one, when you're above the cloud-line and the entire horizon is filled with hills and valleys and plains and cities made entirely of clouds - and thought, I'm going to write a book about loss where the characters end up in this crazy, magical land of clouds. And there you go: the seed sprang to the front of my mind, and got my attention, and didn't let go.

That was, incidentally, eight and a half years ago. I didn't start actually WRITING said novel (or developing said garden, if I want to stick with the same tired metaphor, which I don't) until about four years ago. I don't know what the average amount of time for most people is - to write a novel, I mean - and I'd be glad to learn more if anyone knows, but I'm willing to bet that it's somewhere in that range.

So yeah, no Athena's leaping to life in nanoseconds, here.

So you have this seed. Then what?

More on that in another post.

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