A note from Headbuzzer: Author Amelia Atwater-Rhodes will be guest posting on the blog this week! Amelia will be blogging about everything and anything, including her newest book, Promises to Keep, available now! We're giving away ARCs of Promises to Keep, so be sure to leave a comment and update your mailing address, and you could be chosen as a winner!
The Actual Process of Brainstorming and Beginning a Novel
by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes
Sometimes I liken starting a novel with walking in and out of a room where someone else is watching a movie. You pick up bits and pieces of the characters and the story, and may pause to watch a particularly dramatic scene, but you don’t really have a good idea of what’s going on. You may think the good guy is the bad guy, or even misjudge the genre entirely.
That’s usually how I begin: not with a fully fleshed-out idea, but with a scene, or an image, or even a single line of dialogue. Sometimes these ideas come from something I saw or overheard, a scrap of dream or a stranger I met on a train, but more often, I have no idea where they were before they popped into my head. Often, an idea for a new book comes from a scene in a previous book. I’ll wonder what a throw-away character who has one line in a coffee shop does before and after that moment, or how something that happens in one of the published books might effect a bystander who witnessed it.
After that, I play around a little bit. I write down the little bit that I retrieved from the metaphorical movie in the next room, and then start to explore. What might have happened before or after that? Who was involved? Where are they? The story spirals out from there. All the questions that a reader wonders, that keeps a reader engaged in a good story, are the questions I wonder as an author.
When I finish a novel and revise it, I outline. I gather plot points and character arcs at that point, and consider pace and clarity and twists. When I’m first writing, however, I don’t worry about perfection… or even, particularly, with sense. I need to discover the story first.
Yes, this results in some unfinished works sitting around on my hard drive forever. I have an entire folder of stories that went nowhere, notes on characters who haven’t done anything interesting, or whose plots fizzled due to lack of interest. Even those, however, help me. They’re how I explore the world, get to know new characters, and stumble once again into new stories and new ideas.
The first book I ever published, In the Forests of the Night, came out of my interest in a character who played a minor role in another book I had written. That book, titled Red Wine, wasn't very good, but it left me interested in this new vampire, who had tiger stripes in her hair and didn't seem worried about challenging authority. I was sitting in my school cafeteria, with her on my mind and my best friend repeatedly reciting William Blake's "The Tiger" as part of an English class assignment to memorize a poem when the image of Tora pacing in her cage came to me.
That was all Forests was, at that moment: a vampires with stripes in her hair, and a tiger pacing in a cave. Some of Risika's history was inspired by a school trip to Old Sturbridge Village. Other parts were the result of a computer crash that wiped out the first draft and left me rewriting almost everything. Most people are surprised to know that, in the first draft, Aubrey was an elf. Yes, in a parallel universe, Nyeusigrube has elves- the old kind, that play nasty tricks on mortals. In revisions, Aubrey became the character he is today, but part of me will always wonder who he might have been, if he'd been a descendent of Oberon instead of Ather.
That was in the early days, when Nyeusigrube was still primordial soup, and anything could emerge. On the other end of the spectrum I have Promises to Keep. For that book, I knew all the characters fairly well. I knew their world. I knew the likely clashes between the major organizations and power-players. There were a dozen stories I could have predicted and written, so instead I decided to ask, "What happens if I push this big red button?"
Now all I need is some elves.