I attended a writers group meeting earlier today. A small group got into a discussion about the writing process. The question posed: Where do you start, and how do you know where you're going with a new story?
Well, you start at the beginning, of course. But every writer's beginning is a little different. And the beginning of each book can be different. When it was my turn to respond to the question, I said, "I start by doing the first thing the voice in my head tells me to do." My response was met by knowing smiles and nods from the more seasoned members of the group. As writers, most of us hear those voices--characters begging to be heard, dying to tell their stories through us. And, so, I essentially take dictation. I write down what they say and try to convey the tone and gestures with which they speak. Those voices tell me where to go. Really! My characters tend to speak their minds and, on occasion, to argue with the plans I have for them. Perhaps it's my years of practice as a therapist that have taught me that you can't force someone to go where they do not want to go. And, so, I listen.
On a few occasions, however, I began a book with the title. I like to work with metaphor in writing. I often choose a title that has a double meaning. For example: Renting To Own. This book is about a young single mother who overcomes one hurdle after another to stabilize life for herself and her child. She is renting a house with the option to buy and sees this as a symbol of her life becoming stable. It's metaphorical of the turbulent life she's had so far. Just as she will one day own the home, she will also own her life.
The fun begins as Lily tells me her story--how she got to the place she is in at the present and where she wants to be in her life. Then, together, we plot and overcome obstacles and challenges to get her there. I gave her a hero, but she rejected him (so much for my matchmaking skills) and chose, instead, another character. I listened to her (like I had a choice), and she was right. Rick was a much better hero than Beau could have been.
About now, my friends who are mental health professionals are calling in for medication. And my writer friends are nodding in agreement (with me, not with the mental health folks.)
My friends often ask, "How do you think up all these story lines?" My answer, "I don't. They're just...there." What am I supposed to say? "The voice in my head told me."?
Oops, gotta go. Jenny (my main character in Act of Contrition, my current work in progress) is calling for me.
Go, listen to your voices, and write something brilliant!