For me, stories start out with a simple idea. Sometimes it's just a fragment, an image, sometimes it's a scene, and while it starts out small, like a campfire, it's a living, breathing thing that can be built up until it grows into something much bigger. I mean like eighty thousand words bigger, give or take.
The spark is the thing that sets you off on a journey in the first place. Could be a New Year's resolution to get in better shape, finding a new job, learning a new skill, or playing an instrument. It doesn't matter what your goal is, the spark is the initial catalyst for you setting off to achieve your goal. For me, the spark is the original story idea for any writing project that I take on.
Deadly Lies started out with an image. A wife finds stumbles across a video on her husband's computer, and now that she's seen it, she can no longer turn a blind eye to the fact that her husband has a secret life. Just to make it a little more fun, I tipped the story idea on its head, so it was the woman who had a secret life, and when her husband finds out, things will never be the same. While the execution of the ideas between the two scenarios are different, the underlying theme is the same. Lies. Betrayal. Consequences.
In essence, the spark is about motivation, and if you feel yourself flagging on your journey (plateaued with your weight loss, can't break through the training barrier you've reached on your fitness journey, feeling rejected because you made it all the way to your final round of interviews and didn't get the job offer), sometimes reconnecting with the spark, the original idea for why you started out on this journey in the first place, will give you the energy to keep going.
Let it Breathe
Some ideas need space to develop. As a writer, I've always got a timeline in mind. Finish the first draft by here, the second draft by here—well, you get the idea. I'm motivated by goals and timelines. But there are times when ideas can't be forced along, and you need to step back from a current project, and allow it to take shape on its own.
Yeah, I know. That's hard. Like when you've thrown a bunch of resumes out into the void, and they haven't resulted in any leads. Or you've been waiting for a promotion that hasn't come through yet. Great things take time, and although it's human nature to want to rush them, letting go control and focusing on the things you can concretely do to move forward is time well spent.
In every novel I've ever written, I've reached a point where something in the story isn't working. Although it's in my nature to put my shoulder to the plow and push through to the end, I know it would result in a weaker story. Believe me, I've been there.
A half million words later, I've learned to take a step back, re-examine the flow of the story and the character goals, and give my subconscious time to work the problem out. Maybe I work on something new, or do some free association writing to help get me unblocked, but whatever the solution, taking a step back and letting the work breathe always helps.
But don't wait too long. You've got work to do!
Throw some more wood on the fire
Okay, so things are moving again. The pounds you've lost are starting to show, you're lifting more weight, got a few more job interviews, now it's time to throw some wood on the fire. Think about the things that can take your journey to the next level and commit to them. This may entail training with a coach, taking some courses, or getting a support group to help you increase your impact.
From a story point of view, I always think of this as increasing the stakes for the characters or making the obstacles harder. The third act of In the Dark was all about making the way ahead seem impossible, and forcing the characters to do things that are not in their nature to do in order to overcome.
Let it burn
Every journey reaches an inevitable outcome. Whether you succeed in fully achieving your goals or not, it's a good thing to take a step back and review. What have you learned on your journey? Have you made progress on what you wanted to achieve? Is the story better? Did you get that new job? Did you run a half marathon? Whatever it is you set out to do, what did you learn along the way that has enriched you as a person?
Finishing my second book, In the Dark, has made me a better writer, but there is still lots of learning to do. I'm not where I want to be yet, but I know if I keep going, eventually I'll get there. And whatever your personal journey may be, with hard work and a little grit, you will too!
When Chris Patchell isn't hiking in the Cascade Mountains or hanging out with family and friends, she is working at her hi-tech job or writing gritty suspense novels. Writing has been a lifelong passion for Chris. She fell in love with storytelling in the third grade when her half-page creative writing assignment turned into a five-page story on vampires. Even back then Chris had a gift for writing intricate plots that were so good her father refused to believe she didn't steal them from comic books.
Years later, Chris spent long afternoons managing her own independent record store and writing romance novels. After closing the record store and going to college, Chris launched a successful career in hi-tech. She married, had kids but amid all the madness, the itch to write never really went away. So she started writing again. Not romance this time – suspense filled with drama, and angst, speckled with a little bit of blood.
Why suspense? Chris blames her obsession with the dark on two things: watching Stephen King movies as a kid and spending ridiculous amounts of time commuting in Seattle traffic. "My stories are based on scenarios I see every day, distorted through the fictional lens. And my stories come with the added bonus of not having to be restrained by socially acceptable behavior."
Recipient of the 2015 Indie Reader Discovery Award for DEADLY LIES.
To learn more about Chris and her books, visit:
Don't Miss Out On Your Chance to Win In the Dark!
This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners In Crime Virtual Book Tours for Chris Patchell & 2 Market Books. There will be 5 winners of an eBook copy of In The Dark by Chris Patchell. The giveaway begins on Feb 1 and runs through March 2, 2016.
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