Growing a story is a lot like nurturing flowers. It takes a lot of care and patience. For a long while, it seems like nothing is happening. It's a lot of frustration with no immediate reward. Watching, waiting.
And then, one day...something blooms.
For me, a book begins with a kernel of an idea, like a tiny, withered bulb. It doesn't look like much of anything at the idea stage. I scribble the shriveled idea down in a journal, giving it plenty of white space to grow. I check up on it every so often, revisiting it to water with additional thoughts. A story is very much a "What if ?" question at this point. "What if a fire elemental belonged to an arson investigator?" "What if the descendents of the Oracle of Delphi survived into the modern day?" "What if a criminal profiler secretly used Tarot cards to solve crimes?"
At this stage, the project could grow or go into hibernation. I'm not sure. It's very much like the bulbs I buy every so often from the hardware store. Sometimes, they sprout. Other times, they're musty or moldy. And there is no hope for a moldy idea.
If the bulb sprouts, I know that I can go forward with the idea. When does that happen? Usually, when I can't get the idea out of my head. It's not only taking up space in a journal, but it's also sprouting roots in my subconscious. I start thinking about characters, outlining the structure of a story. I dream about the world. The idea begins to take the form of what could be. At this point, I'll clearly know of who the main character is and the challenge she faces.
As the bulb reaches roots into the soil and reaches up into the sky, I wonder about what kind of flower it will be. This is the equivalent of browsing pictures of perfect irises or seed catalogs. I wonder what color the flower will be or what species it is. Have I got a tiger lily or an iris? What genre is it? Is it fantasy? Urban fantasy? Will it be contemporary or historical? Dystopian? Or something else entirely? As I'm outlining, I try to nail down the genre, guess at what to expect. I'm not always successful, and there are always surprises. For example, I wrote a book with the intent that it was to be a contemporary fantasy...but it came out as a young adult story.
And there are some things that I can't anticipate until the story blooms. I won't know which way the stem will lean, how many leaves will sprout. I have the structure, the stem straining toward the light. But each blossom and leaf unfurls into something new.
At this stage, I can't neglect the work. It needs light and water on a daily basis. We all know what happens to houseplants that we forget. They wilt. Sometimes, they can be revived with water. But sometimes, they die as a result of neglect. When the plant is growing, I'm watching it like a hawk, weeding out bad ideas, and adding a bit more to it every day. I'm worming around in the roots, feeling the nourishment of the earth on the idea.
And that's where daily writing comes in. Plant growth, like daily writing, is often imperceptible. But looking at how much a plant grows from week to week, month to month...only over longer periods of time can one see the growth.
And one day...there's a book. It's unexpectedly blooming on my desk in all it's happy glory. It still needs care: editing of brown leaves, some pruning, a bit of plant food to plump up the anemic parts. But it's come forth into the world, almost of its own volition. It has a life of its own.
It's not a dramatic process for me. It's slow. It can take a season or more to coax a plant to bloom. It's not always successful. Some die before they reach the light.
But when an idea thrives, the results are worth it.
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