The other night, I decided to start a new blog series based off the question I’m asked the most: How do you write a book? That question is really asking–and sometimes the askers know this!–how do you turn an idea into a story?
In Part One, I talked about letting yourself think creatively again and see possibility everywhere you go to find the ideas. And I said that turning an idea from a premise into a story is about asking questions.
Today, we’re going to talk about asking questions. We’re not talking yet about character stakes and motivations. We’re talking about more basic questions, like the who/what/where/when/why/how. Which sounds childish, and basic, and of COURSE you know the answers–but do you? Sometimes I think I know the answers to these questions, but when one of my critique partners presses me, I don’t. And that’s when I know I need to go farther down the rabbit hole.
Let’s go back to the sinking house on the sinking island I talked about in Part One. Remember how I played iwth ideas about who was in there and what happened? I said that the story was contained in the why. So if we say it was a boarding school for institutionalized girls at the turn of the century, why were they there? They read too much. Why is the island sinking? It was built on sand and silt. The island does not actually contain any bedrock. It’s more of a large sandbar. Why is the house sinking? Because it’s sinking into the sand of the island. Why are the girls still in that boarding house?
Because they were forgotten. INTERESTING.
Why were they forgotten? Because these were girls cast out and forgotten by their families, because at this time, institutionalized women were not seen nor heard from again. They weren’t spoken about. So when the headmistress of the boarding school dies, the girls sent her body out to sea, and remained there. Where else would they go? It was the last house on the last island and it was sinking.
But how are they surviving? Fishing. Mussels grow on the rocks and the tidal pools. Sometimes horseshoe crabs are washed up on shore and the girls catch them before they go back out to sea.
But this still isn’t a story. This is a setting. A scenario. What’s the next step?
The girls discover a rowboat in the basement of the house. It is still functional. They could escape the sinking house on the sinking island. If they wanted to.
Do they want to?
Some of the girls do want to leave. And some of the girls don’t.
OKAY! Now things are getting interesting! That’s conflict. Conflict is the crack in the status quo where the story shines through.
Tomorrow, we’ll talk about components of the story and how they interlock.
Questions? Leave them in the comments or shoot me an email!
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