I wonder sometimes how I know when a story is ready to write. How can I tell when it’s time to pick up the metaphorical pen and start drafting? How do I know I picked the right idea?!
In a nutshell, I ask my gut.
So, whenever I’m planning a new story idea, there’s always this moment where I freak out. I think, “Something’s missing.” or “I can’t do this.” or “What if this story is really stupid.” If my gut agrees with me, then I have to go back to the plot bunny pit and wrestle the idea back into the crockpot to bake some more. Or sometimes just plum throw them out, to the wind, where maybe someone else can reassemble it into something they love.
I’ve mentioned that I was going to work on a dark fantasy called Phantom Silence. But then I freaked out, so I switched to my supernatural horror “Whisper.” This past weekend I wrote the first chapter on a whim (I wasn’t planning to write that night at all!) Then in a random burst of inspiration, I finished the outline for it on Sunday (first time I’ve done that in a LONG time!) But then I freaked out again. So I went back to Phantom Silence and wrote that first chapter Sunday night. (Again, on a whim.)
Then something terrible happened! Two hours later I was over my “Whisper” freak out and wanted to write it again. And I still wanted to write Phantom Silence, too! Now, I’ve been in this situation before, but one story always, ALWAYS wins out. But this time I can see myself writing both! I don’t want to choose!
And I won’t. Maybe I’ll finally live the dream of working on two projects at once. Of course one may still end up taking over, but I know where I’m going with both of these stories, and they’re doing the unthinkable: harmoniously sharing the empty space in my head! It’s like there’s a little stage in there and one story is one side of the curtain having a field day, and the other story is one the other side doing the same. And they’re both minding their own business!
Usually, an idea comes along and grabs me so hard around the brain that I can’t imagine writing anything else. My theory: the story is ready when I can run through the plot in my head and not run into any major bumps. Doesn’t mean I know everything, but there are no longer any big picture questions that I don’t have an answer to. And three weeks ago, Phantom Silence had an unanswered question. And now it doesn’t. It worked itself out while I was busy with “Whisper.” (God, I love my writer crockpots!)
I’ve never successfully done this though, so I decided to ask my brain what was going on.
To preface, we started off a few weeks ago talking about Jade (the MC in “Whisper”). My brain suggested that maybe I needed to change my focus, worrying less about the plot and focusing more on building the story around Jade. (Character driven instead of plot driven, which I should have thought of before because I know I thrive best in a character-driven environment.) At the time I was busy trying to work out said plot hole in Phantom Silence. (And we all know how well things go when we think about it too much. So I was doing more staring at the wall than problem solving.)
That conversation went something like this:
Brain: I love Jade.
Me: Not right now.
(But since when does my brain listen to me? Never.)
Brain: What if you got her age wrong? What if Jade is a teenager?
Me: She’s not.
Brain: What if she is?
Me: Shh! I’m trying to think.
Brain: Yeah. I can tell by all the empty space up here.
Me: Ha, ha.
Brain: Think about it. For two seconds. Then I’ll shut up.
So I did. Why not? And in literally a couple of seconds the wheels were turning. So I turn to my brother and say, (sounding random as hell, I’m sure): “What if Jade is a teenager?”
And my brother (without taking his eyes off his phone) mumbles something to the beat of: “Sounds like a plan.” (I’m not sure he was actually listening to me, but he could hear me, and that was good enough.)
So I continue to talk out loud, even though no one was listening, and start running through ways that it could work. Changing the setting. Changing the family and political dynamics. And suddenly, the brick wall around my little supernatural horror idea started to crumble. Which left a mess. But I knew I had what I needed under the rubble.
It would seem, this was part of my brain’s grand master plan all along.
Brain: (sees me looking at him – don’t ask why I call my brain a him, I don’t know) See? I was right. Can a brain get a high five?
Me: You’re annoying.
Brain: You love me.
Me: Yes. So…are we really going to go this?
Brain: Why not? They’re both ready. You can handle it. You’re crazy enough.
Me: (blinks) Thank you.
Brain: You’re welcome. ^_^
So I’m going to try it. I have clearance. And for two days straight I obsessed (of course) over the magic words: “What if I’m wrong? I can’t do this. I feel sick.” And every time my gut whispered back, “It doesn’t matter. Do it anyway.”
Or in other words: