Saturday, November 14, 2009

The First Spark

There's been a lot of talk flying around the online writing community about first drafts lately. I'm sure this is because it's November. NaNo nuttiness is everywhere! :)

Anyway, it got me to thinking about that very first idea, that very first spark for the story.

For me, emotion always comes first. It's not attached to a character, or a setting, or a plot. Not right away. I tend to feel the emotion from the climax scene of the story first. The fear, guilt, terror.., whatever.

Of course the character builds pretty quickly around the emotion, but it's definitely what hits me first. I've always been a bit of a sap - I can get pretty weepy around certain commercials - and I empathize really well. I fear my emotional range is pretty wide and pretty deep. My folks stopped me watching Little House on the Prairie when I was a kid - couldn't get through too many episodes without sobbing!

So, for me, the emotion of the climax scene is the key to the whole story - the key to the idea.

How about you? What is the first spark of the story for you?

38 comments:

  1. I usually start with an idea of a crime. Often it's something I've read in the paper that leads me to wonder "what if..." My current WIP was triggered by a crooked, scheming small town politician. The thought struck me that someone's going to kill this guy and put him out of everyone's misery. AHA!

    The real guy is still very much alive, by the way. ;-)

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  2. Good question, Jemi. For me the spark is always a 'what if' that gets me thinking. But then it's all emotion. While the 'what if' is the spark, without the emotion there would be no story. I wouldn't be able to write it.

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  3. Annette - I love the "what if" scenarios. They are great starters as well :) Sounds like a fun story! ... well maybe not for the politician :)

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  4. VR - another "what if..." writer :)

    I'm so much the same - it's all about the emotion for me!

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  5. Well...I write mysteries. So it starts with the victim. Why did they die? Who wanted them dead? For me, it's where the story starts.

    Elizabeth
    Mystery Writing is Murder

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  6. For me, no rhyme nor reason. A climax popped into my head and I've been filling in the blanks ever since. I'm a typical Pantser, so I just go with the flow. I think I draw a lot of childhood emotion into my book. Didn't realise just how much until recently.

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  7. Elizabeth - That's interesting - especially with a recurring character - a mystery needs that dead body, doesn't it? :)

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  8. Quill - I think it's so much fun to write without knowing exactly what's going to happen next!

    I also think we're a lot more connected to our childhood emotions than we often realize :)

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  9. My first two started with what if but the current WIP started with a character, which may be why it isn't going so well :)

    I'm glad I'm not alone in crying at commercials!

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  10. Alexa - Hooray - another weepy one :)

    When I plot scifi ideas in my head (for fun/relaxation -haven't written any yet) I tend to start with what if. Maybe I'll have to give it a shot in writing soon!

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  11. So many stories, so little time. And they come at me in differing manners. Dreams, in the car, sometimes BAM, in my face. But I've learned to find the ideas/sparks/ideas that have staying power. Otherwise, I'd be a mess.

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  12. Elizabeth - That's great! I tend to let them mull around in my head for a while before I decide to use them. If I've lost interest after a few days, I know it's not going to be enough for a novel :)

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  13. For me, it's generally an image. It can be a simple one, something that lets me see characters together, or it can be as part of a climactic scene. I suppose in a way, the image is usually strongly connected to an emotion--something about the image drives me emotionally.

    Great post! I think it's important to understand what drives us as writers.

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  14. Carol - Thanks :)

    It's so true, images and emotions are strongly connected for me as well.

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  15. Jemi, I'm with you. It's all about the emotion for me -- what makes me upset, sad, or angry is my spark. Emotion is what fuels my writing. If there's no emotion behind it, it's dryer than two-week-old french bread.
    BTW, I also used to cry at Little House as a kid. And the movie the King and I -- OMG. I just about washed everyone away on a river of tears. I was so distraught I left my kiddie purse in the restroom.

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  16. Bridget - Yes! The King & I is another one. I embarrassed my friends so badly watching Terms of Endearment as well :) Now I wait for the DVDs! Much safer.

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  17. Ditto to what Q said! I usually think of something random (could be character, concept, title...) and go from there. For my current WIP, I woke up one morning at a friend's house in Annapolis (where my story now takes place) and my MC Jane just kind of popped into my head. I went out and bought a spiral and a pen that morning and started writing (I don't write by hand, but we were ot of town w/o my laptop)

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  18. Sara - ideas do seem to pop up at the strangest times :) It's great you managed to hold on to the idea long enough to get to a laptop. I'm the WORST at tracking with pen/paper!

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  19. First off, I defy anyone to not at least well up during the holiday Hallmark commercials - I cry buckets - even over those. My worst was going to the theatre to see Les Miserable, I cried so hard that I was still bawling as I left the parking garage and the attendant was concerned I would be fit to drive.

    Ideas come to me from all over the place. For my current series, I had a dream with the storyline (mainly beginning & conclusion) of the first book - I just didn't realize I wasn't going to be done with it then. I have also had a full blown idea come from looking at a piece of art where the characters jumped off the print and presented themselves and their story to me as I gazed. Other characters present themselves while I'm doing mundane tasks, and driving is ALWAYS an idea sparker.

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  20. LK - Yes! The Hallmarks do me in every single time!! And Les Mis... well, I saw it with my students (REALLY well done high school performance) and still cried myself silly :). Glad you made it home okay!

    Love the way your ideas come to you! I get lots of ideas when walking, don't have to drive too much.
    Thanks so much for stopping by ;)

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  21. Usually, I think I get the 'pitch' first. Sort of a: This is a story of X. Y happens and X has to do Z. That kind of thing. But not always, sometimes it is just an idea that flicks into my mind which is sort of the inciting incident. Then I have to figure out what happens after that.

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  22. Jean - I can just imagine the voice over guy saying your pitch!!

    It's sometimes hard to narrow it down to what happens first, it's sometimes a blur of things for me after I have that emotion tagged down.

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  23. I have started several different ways. One time I started with a sentence... "I followed a man to suicide one day." I don't know where it came from, but it was enough to get me writing and it turned into a very personal short story that I turned in for my first contest.
    Another time I was thought of a title and it evolved into a whole series revolving around one theme. But your statement is true, they all got me emotionally, or they wouldn't have taken hold.

    Michele
    SouthernCityMysteries

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  24. Michele - Wow - that's quite a sentence! Sure dragged me in.

    For me, emotion is the key - to more than just writing too :)

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  25. It's interesting to read everyone's responses. For us stories are sparked by conflict or concept. We'll think, ooh, wouldn't it be cool if we wrote a story about a girl who's supposed to be a goody goody pop star but is really a total slut and her sister who's her best friend and assistant. Sort of random, I know.

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  26. Lisa and Laura - but random is fun!! I like twisting up the expected too. It keeps me on my toes, and hopefully the reader too :)

    Thanks for dropping by!

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  27. I usually imagine a scene. And then if the scene is cool enough I imagine the back story, characters, etc...and go from there.

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  28. Anita - I like that! I don't usually see the entire scene first - that would be great.

    Thanks for dropping by and following :)

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  29. For me, sparks come from a variety of places. Usually news items (and I add a what-if) or true stories (life is stranger than fiction), or overheard snippets of conversations.

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  30. Carolyn - all of those are great sources for ideas. I love the conversation snippets - when you only hear a bit, it can make it very, very interesting :)

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  31. What an interesting question! I am not even sure to answer it. I think I am a character girl. I come up with the main character, dream up her idiosyncrasies, her foibles, her struggles, her desires and then I start writing. I love the idea of starting with an emotional foundation. There is something very compelling about this literary route. I am pleased to have found your blog today! Thanks so much for your comment on mine!

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  32. Aidan - Thank you! I love visiting blogs and finding new friends who love the writing process as much as I do :)

    Creating characters is such fun, isn't it?
    Thanks for stopping by!

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  33. Just had to stop by after reading your favorite book list over at Megan's.

    Love, love, love Anne.

    Just re-read Farhenheit 451. It was as good as it was 20 years ago.

    And Then There Were None: the only Agatha Christie that forced me to sleep with the light on. Have you read Crooked House?

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  34. Caroline - Thanks for much for stopping by!

    I've read all of Christie's books at least once. I try to take years before I reread them so I don't remember the clues. Unfortunately, something generally triggers my memory - definitely a sign of incredible writing :)

    I don't remember the details of Crooked House off hand, so it looks like it's time for a reread :)

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  35. Character. I need a character. It's nice to have a concept too, but really I can do that if I have a character.

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  36. Elana - Characters are what drive the story for me, but somehow that spark of emotion comes first :)

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  37. Jemi, you always post about such interesting things and ask such great questions - I'm always itching to jump into the discussion after I read your blogs!

    I'm pretty emotional too - I get weepy eyed at commercials, movies and when I'm reading certain sad scenes in books. But for me, the spark of an idea that "takes" almost always shows up as a scene that's very visual, like it's right out of a movie. And the scene usually comes from a concept that suddenly comes to me. When I can "see" the concept as a scene, I start getting excited because I want to know what happens next, and that's when the idea sticks for me.

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  38. Belle - Thank you so much! That's such a lovely compliment.

    It's always reassuring to find out I'm not alone with my weepy moments :) My process works much the same after I get that emotional charge. The characters come quickly, then "that" scene - the one that hooks me into the story.

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