Thursday, January 27, 2011


Writing a novel is answering the question:  What if?

My WIP novel, Fragile Bones, answers the questions of what if a person was born completely apathetic?  What would happen if, when that person died, they were opened up to feel the fullness of every emotion?  How would he work through the memories of his wretched life with this new awareness?  How will he answer his own questions about his purpose and the apparent meaninglessness of his life?  Will he rise above his personal tragedy or will he fall?

What questions does your novel answer?  It might seem obvious, but it's good to step back and think about the overarching point to your story.  It can be as simple as what if Jane lived on Taylor Street instead of Maple Street, but all good stories answer the first and simple question of "what if?"; otherwise, there's no point.  Even if this wasn't the initial reason for writing the story, it's still what drives the imagination of the writer to write it.

The premise is sometimes different from motivation and that's important to understand.  What may have motivated me to write a particular story is not necessarily the same as the questions the story answers.  These two things will sometimes overlap, but for me, I've found more often than not, they don't.

Usually what gets me going on a story is a particularly deep emotional reaction to something.  Sometimes a first line will just pop in my head or a bit of dialogue or a scene and I'll want to get it down.  This will often spur the question of "what if?" and I'll find the story writing itself from there in order to answer the questions.

Sometimes writing one chapter will spur more questions that feed the following chapters.  If something happens in chapter three, I'll often wonder how that is going to affect the character in chapter four?  Will chapter four's reaction come back to bite him in the ass in chapter 12?  What if something else happens in chapter seven that changes everything!?  Or why in the hell did character two say something like that?  How does that make the MC feel?

I find when I write, it becomes a series of questions and answers as I'm writing.  It's what gives me the sense of mystery and excitement as the story progresses.  That thrill is why I rarely plan out an entire story ahead of time.  I may know a few points I want to hit upon and how it all ends, (most of the time), but the middle parts are an exciting roller coaster ride for me.

Questions can lead to learning.  I find myself often researching medical issues for my writing.  Things like can a castrato get an erection?  Do they have a sex drive?  Or what are the effects of a coma on the brain?  How can it change a person's behavior or personality?  How long does it take for a certain bone to heal?

Questions can also help bust through that seemingly unbreakable wall called writer's block.  I'm way too familiar with this one.  In fact, I have a twenty foot wall to bust through right now!  To overcome that, I'll sit down and ask:  for this next chapter, "what if?".


What's ahead:
  • What "prompts" you?
  • Fragile Bones excerpt
  • Music as an emotional backdrop
  • Flash fiction

No comments:

Post a Comment