Someone asks in a recent blog post:
If you write, where do your ideas come from? Do you start with a scene? A character? A premise? Or do you have some ridiculous trigger that demands you spin a story out of it?
That is a good question. A novel thrusts itself into my poor overloaded mind based on two things: a character, and a theme.
This is the heart of my creative process. I need both a main character with a distinctive voice, and I need a unifying idea. When the two meet, it’s magic. My brain will refuse to let go of the two, and, at some point, they merge and I will have the resulting plot and setting. I am now compelled to write the story.
But where do these characters and themes come from?
Mainly, I observe. I am not a shy man, but I am a quiet fixture. Why does that smartly dressed woman at the airport waiting for the same flight as me have a perpetual frown? Why are the neighbors across the street so reclusive? Is the wife sick? If so, will she ever get better? The Sheriff Deputy in the coffee shop–if she were in trouble, big trouble, would she have the will and fortitude, beyond her training, to survive? If she did have this internal strength, but was in the wrong place at the wrong time, would anybody come to help?
Observation can give me characters, and it can give me themes.
For example, why does our society have a culture of blame-the-victim, bordering on the tolerance for the criminal? Where did this corruption come from, and where will it lead? Why do some cultures today feed off each other, becoming stronger, while others clash, causing conflict? Is a society that devalues the lives of children for the sake of control and equality doomed to failure? If so, how will it fail?
Sometimes, I will be thinking these questions and suddenly they will merge into a story. Like this proto-outline:
The Sheriff Deputy in the coffee shop is in trouble. She is a strong person but in the wrong place at the wrong time. She is a righteous woman, but righteousness is not going to save her now (this is the character, maybe the main character, or an important minor one).
Career criminals, released by our society to prey upon the weak once more without mercy, decided they were going to kill a copy one day. Our society tolerates evil men such as this. It has happened before (in the real world), and it will happen again (sadly, this is also a reality). Where did this corruption come from, and where will it lead? (this is a theme).
The righteous and the evil go at it in the coffee shop parking lot. Outgunned and outmaneuvered, the death of the female deputy is a forgone conclusion. How would she get out of this?
She gets help. A woman caught in the crossfire draws her sidearm and joins the gun battle (this is the glimmering of a plot and also a very strong character).
Why did this woman have gun? Well, she has the typical ex-husband who has threatened to kill her. She decided she wasn’t going to use a paper shield and actually defend herself (this is related to the theme, but also further characterization).
Only, she isn’t defending herself. She is defending someone sworn to defend her! She is shot. Several times. Nevertheless, everyone lives, except the evil men.
And this heroic action caused the next American Civil War (this is now the plot).
That’s my writing process. For me, only when I have a firm character, or characters, and a unified idea to generate conflict as a theme, can I get a plot that works for me. At this point, I have a novel. All that is left is my outlining process (which I do in my head) and typing.
You may think a gun battle in a coffee shop parking lot and the next American Civil War is a gigantic, random leap–but it’s not. The theme, as you recall, is “Where did this corruption (tolerance for evil) come from, and where will it lead?” With these characters and this theme, the plot burst out of me like the alien from the chest of poor Kane on the Nostromo.
This is my creative process, how I obtain ideas and turn them into novels. And it works very well for me.
Writer folks, check out this post:
I get the feeling many people are so saturated with media (books, TV, movies) that they are writing not from life but from their perception of life as shown in media. They’re writing stories I’ve seen and heard a hundred times before.
I love this post. I love it very much.
Rachelle is talking about stories with a heart.
Stories that speak to your soul.
Stories that bypass the surface and talk about things the way they are.
Stories that are honest.
That is exactly what I read.
And that’s exactly what I want to write, and I do write.
What an inspirational post!
Real kisses have power in today’s Western society.
I belong to a rare club:
- I am married for a number of years (15!)
- This is my only marriage
In other words, I am a never-divorced, married man. Believe me when I tell you I am the odd duck at parties. On one hand, I am happy to be in this club. On the other hand, I think it’s sad.
No offense if you are divorced. I’m sure you’re sad too, and I say that with empathy and not sarcasm. I’ve seen it all.
I sometimes get together with my male friends in the same NOT DIVORCED CLUB™ and we talk about the other male species. Sometimes we have to as a defensive mechanism. We have to, or we’ll just go crazy.
One time, we were discussing a particularly nasty divorce, and we got to talking about infidelity. Somehow, we got to talking about degrees of infidelity, the inherent dishonesty of it all. We wound up talking about kissing.
Minor diversion: Do women talk about this kind of stuff?
Anyway, we all agreed that kissing was the crossed line. All the other acts of carnal nature were, at their core, not nearly as intimate as a passionate kiss.
Why is that? I could prattle on and on about it, but my point is, kissing has power. Forget about why people cheat. It seemed to us, divorce, due to infidelity, centered on two related things: the dishonesty of sneaking around, and the intimate aspects of stolen kisses.
Of course, we could be way off the mark. But I don’t think so.
Kissing is an intimate currency. Kissing money. Like real money, it has the potential to cause conflict and settle conflict. A passionate kiss on the wrong lips starts a chain reaction, for good or bad.
As a writer, I am a manipulative bastard. I’ll be spending my kissing money knowledge to press buttons. It might not be this novel, but the next. I am giddy at the thought of kissing tension.
Heh. You might think of this as a dark post. It’s not. Where you might see a depressing look at the state of affairs, I see plot and characterization opportunity!
Okay, that is somewhat dark.
As a fellow reader, you might be thinking, “well duh,” and I rather agree. But just as I think writers boof kissing in a good way, I also feel they boof kissing in a bad way. Writers of the illicit all too often describe the dishonest as carnal intercourse. When, at the core, the dishonesty of it all is the stolen kiss.
I am about to finish off Your Little Sister. I would be done by now, but I decided a minor character was too delicious not to weave into the plot for greater conflict.
Your Little Sister stands alone, but I also have book two and book three outlined. This minor character makes a larger appearance starting in book three, in my outline, but when I came to her part in book one, I could not ignore her unique voice.
After all, when the Empress demands more pages, who am I to disagree with the Empress? Certainly not the main character—and that gets her into all sorts of trouble.
I glance over at The Wife Unit. She is closing some YA Fantasy novel. Then she glares at me!
“You writers! With your cliffhangers! I am annoyed.”
“Ha. Well, are you annoyed that you will never read that author’s books again, or annoyed that you have to wait until the next book comes out?”
“This is the next book! It’s in hardcover.”
“Are you going to buy the next book or not?”
“Well, the author wins. He wins writing. You are annoyed only in that you don’t have the next book in the series. Ha ha ha!”
“I am so blogging this.”
A day in the life of a writer.
From my world-building notebook for Your Little Sister. I’ve gotten in a habit of creating back-story for people who don’t make an appearance, but live, in the world.
When world-building, I start with a general idea and just start expounding. As I progress, I shift from exposition to direct storytelling. This type of world building works well for me. In no way is this a short story. More of a definition of a theme than anything else.
The Most Beautiful Girl in the Room sits surrounded by boys vying for her attention, at a table by the window. She wears a gun. She has been contemplating getting rid of it all day.
High school in Year 3. Only, no one calls it high school anymore. It’s finishing school. Let’s get it done, school. You need to become an adult school. Pre-vocational training school. It would be a decade before a new cultural name would emerge: prevoc. Very swanky sounding, prevoc. Prevoc is what you did before moving up to advanced training, or research. General education, well, they just called it “General”.
Half the seats in the lunchroom are empty. The prior government built the school in an earlier age, where every child could get a public education. Now school cost money, no taxes are collected to fund education,a child’s family had to fund it 100%. Some parents could not afford it, but the gist of it all was, smaller schools were more attractive. Schools like this one were going out of style in a slow, gradual death spiral of market corrections.
This one catered to military families, so it was still seeped with macro sized learning techniques. It was, after all, only three years since the war ended. Both the mother and father of the most beautiful girl in the room both served. By all accounts, they were outstanding soldiers.
They were, by the same accounts, lousy parents.
The next table over, going clockwise, is the Math Squad. This group keeps their numbers even, three boys, three girls, not in some mathematical formula of balance, but simply because they were all in relationships. Only couples obtain admittance to the Math Squad.
Two of the couples are actually doing it. The first, the founders of the club, engage in desperate sex, as if each night could be their last. As far as they know, it could. Both are war orphans. They are happy they had relatives to take them in and pay for school. These two, well, these two are broken. Perhaps being together will make one productive adult out of them.
The other two, the youngest of the group, actually, are simply fucking like mad weasels because it feels good. In twenty minutes, they will sneak to an unused classroom, and have sex right on the old teacher’s desk. Their hedonistic streak does not end there. After the last period, they go to the girls home for dinner, bringing home stacks of impressive books, pilfered from the empty class room. After dinner, they go to the girl’s room and close the door.
Her parents think she is studying. In actuality, she is engaged in more enthusiastic sex. They do it for hours.
The Math Squad only has a mild social interest in the most beautiful girl in the room. Most of it is either a small attraction, or envy. Sometimes, she has the highest senior math score.
Continuing our clockwise stroll around the immediate tables surrounding the most beautiful girl in the room, we come to another couple, sitting alone. She is very pregnant, this young woman. In three weeks, she will give birth to a baby boy, at a whopping nine pounds, three ounces. The young man sitting at the table is both her husband and the baby’s father. Legally adults, they have pre-paid for all four years of finishing school with the money they inherited from their parents’ estates.
They are the last of their line. Their parents, of course, are dead from the war. This baby matters more than most. He is a new beginning to a bad end. They will have six children in total, and eventually adopt three more.
The pregnant woman thinks the most beautiful girl in the room is quite beautiful, and she is also envious. The most beautiful girl in the room thinks the same of her. The husband carries no thoughts of the most beautiful girl in the room, other than a base attraction when they were swimming together one year.
The next table over is a teacher and three of her students. She teaches pre-war history, and these three students are very fascinated by both her age (old), and her willingness to speak frankly about many subjects, subjects now taboo to their parents. She is a good orator, and likes to talk. It is a good combination, these four. She only eats half her lunch, but by the end of the break, one student will volunteer to mow her lawn, the other to fetch groceries and the third to have the accumulator serviced on her small e-car.
None of these four have any interest in the most beautiful girl in the room. She is, quite simply, a person of no historical interest, nor one interested in history. She might as well be invisible.
Our circle of tables is almost complete. At the last table surrounding the most beautiful girl in the room, sit two boys. Rumor has it they are gay. They are not gay, they are collaborating on a software project, and it is all consuming. This project will turn into one of the very first civilian released overlays for a quantum computer, and finds classification as an AI Level 3. In only three years, they will have accumulated nearly a million Nuevo Credits. They refuse all VC money tossed in their direction, and start a computing empire stretching for hundreds of years.
These two are watching the most beautiful girl in the room. When they go home, they share fantasies about her. Sometimes silly, sometimes nasty. Right now, they are contemplating how they can get her to go to the Spring Formal with one of them.
They are too late, unfortunately. It is a lesson each will remember well. All they had to do was ask, they found out later. The most beautiful girl in the room always said yes, because hardly anyone ever asked her to dance. You could even kiss the most beautiful girl in the room, all one had to do was make a play for her rosy lips. Each would remember this lesson, and socially, they sprouted wings and flew. They never were shy again.
Back to the most beautiful girl in the room’s table. The boys at it are of no consequence. Each is flirtatious, in his own way; most are charming and even mature. But they are competing with her thoughts. She can’t help but think of her gun, and what it would mean to give it up.
Lunch is over. The most beautiful girl in the room leaves, but does not go to class. Today she has been excused post lunch. She sighs, knowing she is the faculty’s disappointment, and heads to the Principal’s Office.
Principal Vernon is expecting her. Inside the small office with him is a short woman dressed in a distinctive, but unrecognizable, uniform. The most beautiful girl in the room sighs again, and sits without asking.
“Sandra, I want you to meet Major Hackett of O&S.”
Sandy raises an eyebrow, and shakes the woman’s hand to be polite. Whatever Vernon is doing, however, she does not want to be a part of, no sir. She frowns, unfastens her holster, and slides it across the desk.
“No,” she says simply.
His eyes flash with anger, actual anger. He pushes the holster back.
“Don’t give me this bullshit, Sandra. It’s your pistol now. You’ve worn it for a month now, it’s yours.”
“Mr. Vernon! Don’t you cuss at me!”
“Ha! See Sandra, you’re an adult. You have been for an entire year. You haven’t Declared because you’re saddled with the apathy from your fucking parents and you’ve been wearing it like some kind of mantle. Hell, I’ve been more of a parent to you for the last four years then either one of those two sloths, and I am here to tell you to knock this shit off. We’re all tired of it.”
Sandy could not believe what she had heard. Vernon never cussed. Until now, she had never even heard him say “darn”. She slumped in her chair. She contemplated crying, but couldn’t muster the tears. Maybe he was right; maybe she wasn’t a girl anymore if being cussed at by the Principal did not make her cry.
“But what would I do?” The words are out of her mouth before she realizes perhaps this is why Major Hackett is here. She looks at the woman.
“If you Declare, I have a job for you. Briefly: you fit a profile for our advanced piloting program; you’ll start right after a month of space acclamation, followed by on the job training and formal instruction, which will last two years. It will be a very intense two years, but Day One you will be an officer with a commission. “
“Piloting?” Sandra was confused. She did not even have a car. She narrowed her eyes. “Profile? Who gave you a profile of me?” She put her jumbled thoughts together and turned to face Vernon. “You had no right to violate my privacy!”
“Right? Right? Adults have rights. You, Sandra, are merely a child.”
Oh well played, sir, well played. She felt as if the Principal had just slapped her across the face. She slumped further in her chair. By rights, she should call her father and have him give the Principal what for.
If he wasn’t drunk.
And fucking the neighbor girl.
Her mother of course, was more useless. Sandy should have been the daughter. Instead, to her mother, she was simply sister to the brother who died when she was merely one month old. Slain by the enemy. In a bad way.
“And what does my profile say?” she asked the Major. It came out bitter.
“It says many things. But the gist is: institutions to you are familiar, you have above average marks, you test well under stress, you are attractive and your nervous system is well suited to implants for the neural interfaces.”
Sandra’s mind whirled. She wanted to ask what being attractive had to do with anything, but this is not what came to the front of her mind. “Would I be anywhere near my parents’ chain of command?”
“Absolutely not. If you say yes, in twenty minutes you will actually outrank your parents.”
A chill went down Sandra’s spine. Oh they had her. They had her now.
She looked at Vernon. He started smiling. She contemplated punching him in the nose. She stood up, and put her pistol back on.
“Do I get a starting bonus?”
The Major actually paused. “Yes. Yes, you do.”
She looked at Vernon again. “I want it to be the same as his finding fee.”
Now the Major flinched. It was small, but noticeable.
“Ah, yes. Yes, I can authorize that.”
The grin threatened to split Vernon’s face.
It took ten minutes to walk to County Safety. They were expecting her (damn them all), and in three more minutes, she was an Adult. Her very first contract was accepting an Officer’s Commission for Orbital and Space. It took eight minutes to receive verification and for the major to swear her in.
The Major was driving her to her parents’ house, no longer her house, in a rental e-car.
“Major, what does being attractive have to do with anything?”
“Good question, Leftenant. You’ve been matched to an AI. Level 1. She was very specific. She said, and I quote, ‘If I’m going to Uplink with a stinky human, make it a woman with some brains and nice, perky boobs’.”
Sandra burst out laughing. The Major gave her a side-glance.
“You are not offended?”
“Are you kidding? That’s funny as hell.” Sandy was still getting used her ‘Uplink to an AI’ future, but it was funny. Everything seemed almost like a dream, and she would wake up only to find her same apathetic life with her same apathetic family.
Major Hackett grinned. “Damn it all if the profile matchup actually worked.”
They pulled up to Sandra’s house. Suddenly she was nervous. But something again was nagging at her brain.
“Ma’am, is this a ship left over from the war?”
“Negative, Leftenant. This is not an orbiter. It is an armed corvette, with a landing shuttle and everything. It can go planet side, but it is built for space duties.”
“Space? Why do we need armed space ships?”
“Well now, you’re smarter than you look, Leftenant,” said Hackett as she got out of the car.
Whoa. All thoughts about a stressful meeting with her parents were now gone.
What’s going on, and what did I get myself into? thought the most beautiful girl in the room.
Your Little Sister is a fun, whimsical story, with a side of grim and a smattering of hot smut—befitting a story about a woman with four husbands investigating a double homicide.
The outline I am using, however, fostered a dark story. Your Little Sister needs to be fun and entertaining. I think the madness of the recession bled through my plotting.
I have tossed the old outline today, which was not hard, as it exists solely in my head. I actually did some plotting a world-building on real paper. Imagine that!
Yes, I am making Your Little Sister more—perky.
This has been a public service by Anthony Pacheco, Hack Writer.
“Your husband is an unmitigated pain in the ass,” Mitchell said as soon as I took the call.
I would have sighed and banged my head on my desk, repeatedly, except for the fact this was full video and that I was working on dissembled explosives. Separated, the stuff that goes boom was inert, but still, banging your head on decade old chemicals was usually a bad idea.
Mitchell is one of those men who have a long fuse to a big bang, so I give him the once over after turning down the magnification on my work glasses.
Scrunched shoulders. Frown. One hand tapping a stylus. Eyes that simultaneously said “kiss me now” and “you are pissing me off”.
Oh yeah, he was about to burst, and part—okay most—of it was my fault. The last time we were in bed together I was so exhausted from fieldwork that I actually fell asleep while he was, you know, well never mind.
“Sweetheart, which husband is that?”
“Bill. Can we divorce him, please?”
I actually laugh, and then feel bad because I am laughing while he is miffed. Mitch gives me a weak smile though. Divorcing Bill was a long running joke in the family—even Bill uses it.
Bill is the junior husband, and is very assertive. Which is why we all married him but still, he gets on the other three’s nerves and I am the ‘neutral’ party usually assigned to broker a deal, or prevent bloodshed.
“I’m sorry Husband One, but I am very fond of Husband Four. He’s, um, rich, and has this girth thing going for him.”
“God, you are so predictable. And why is it you always bring that up when we talk about him, anyway? Trying to make me jealous?”
Okay, this conversation is going somewhere, finally. I have Mitch pegged. He is lonely, which is my fault. And also the fault of Husband Two and Three. They took the two dogs while going fishing. I should have seen it coming but I have been busy with this stupid bomb, which may be part of a run off the same line. The same type of bomb used for a bit of industrial sabotage. The client was paying me many credits to nail who did it, so it has been work work work. Plus, someone using war shit for their own gain just pisses me off. It was personal.
Bill, being a pain in the ass, was still just a symptom.
“I always use intimate little details when talking about other husbands to put you all in your place.”
Mitch cocked an eyebrow. “Eh? What do you say about me?”
“I refer to you as ‘He who stole my virginity at a tender age’, which usually is very distracting to the others.”
Mitch is fighting the smile but it finally comes out. Then he chuckles.
“Ha. Anyway, Bill wants my next day on the calendar.”
“Well you told him no, didn’t you?” Bill should know better. I let them broker calendar dates amongst themselves, but everyone knows I botched my last day with Mitch.
“No, actually I was calling to tell you that I said yes.”
“What? But I miss you. I wanted to be with you!”
“Sorry. He had a convincing argument.”
Oh my God.
“This wasn’t a trade, was it? Please tell me he did not bribe you with credits.”
Now Mitchell was grinning ear-to-ear. “Yes, he did.”
“Mitchell Jameson Toulouse! And how much was I worth?”
Mitchell laughs. “Sorry, Honey, but it’s your own fault. There is only so much Lexus Pie to go around and I don’t like mine falling asleep.”
I sigh. “Fine.”
“Oh it’s the ‘fine’, is it now?” He crosses his arms.
“You’re mean. You know this case is important. You know how much war shit bugs me. And here I was going to offer to meet you in my office!”
His eyes go wide. “Really?”
“Well forget it.”
“No way. I’ll be there in ten minutes.”
“I’ll give you the 500 cred.”
“MITCHELL! I am not the family whore!”
“I’m coming over there. You will be naked by the time I get through the door. You will take the credits. Are we clear on this, Lieutenant?”
I snort. Mitchell was never in the military. I do not even think he knows what a Lieutenant grade actually is. “Or what?”
“Or I will call Bill back and tell him he can have the second day too. And for what he is planning, you’ll regret the four days of Bill Time.” Mitchell was grinning again, and this time it was all predatory.
“What?! What does he have planned?” This did not sound good, not good at all.
“Leaving now.” He stabbed a button and the video went off.
“Ahhhhhhhhh!” I actually scream. It does not make me feel better. Why why why, why did I get married at all, much less four times? I have no one to blame but myself.
Well, this bomb was not going to go anywhere. I carefully lock away all the parts, snap my sidearm to the side of my desk, take off my clothes and lie on top of the workbench, staring at the ceiling.
It only took him eight minutes to get to my office, which was impressive; as was the speed of which he peeled out of his own clothes. I start to giggle and he jumps on me, kissing me, putting his hands on me.
I do not fall asleep. If Mitch was annoyed with me, he sure does not show it. His passion consumes me and soon I am mindless.
And I wind up taking the credits when he points out I can use them to buy Bill something nice. Fine.
“You have a priority call on line three,” Bob, my office comp, tells me sweetly. It wakes me up instantly, but Mitch just grunts and snuggles closer.
“Privacy audio only, connect.” Mitch does not need to know work details. Line three was official Investigation business.
“LT, this is Scott.”
Uh. Scott. Scott is a Constitutional Enforcement Officer. This call will not end well.
“What up, Scott?”
“Kaliston.” Bob is listening, of course, and instantly puts up a map of Washington on the ceiling. Kaliston is in central Washington, in the middle of nowhere, not even close to I-90. Nothing but desert and wheat fields.
“Double homicide,” Scott adds. “A mother and her daughter.”
Now it was my turn to grunt. “Why me?” Anyone who knows anything about Investigators knows I do not advertise for homicide. I saw enough dead bodies in the war, and the Reaffirmation. And Scott knows everything. Maybe literally.
“You’re the best LT, and my field comp got a flag from your agency on this one.”
I can feel the blood running away from my face, the room grows cold.
“Were they found tied together, facing each other?”
“I’m taking a hopper. I’ll be there soon.”
“Got it.” Scott disconnected. Only a CEO would be un-frazzled by an Investigator use of an orbital hopper. Actually, nothing usually bothers Scott; he has the emotions of a work bot, but I could hear it in his voice. This bothered him.
As it should.
I get up, pushing Mitch off. But I feel dizzy. Mitch says “Hey!” and stands up, grumpy that I interrupted his post-euphoric nap by pushing him off the workbench.
“Mitch, can you hand me that wastebasket?”
Mitch nods seriously and hands it to me. He really is a sweet guy, really he is.
I promptly throw up my lunch.