As news spread about my upcoming book, the most frequently asked questions from other aspiring writers have had to do with how the story line is developed.
"How did you get your idea for your book?"
"How do I keep my story from fizzling out?"
"I've got the beginning, and the end, how do I come up with the middle?"
"I thought I had plenty of material, but when I put it all down, it's only twenty five pages."
"How do you think up twists, or build suspense?"
In one way or another, these all were my same concerns, several being large contributors to my early failures, but in this post I will address the first two. I have a gazillion ideas in my head, but like picking an ice cream flavor when there are too many choices, sometimes deciding on the exact right one for a story becomes an exercise in futility.
What do I do?
I decide before I go into the store based on my immediate craving, be it chocolate, mint, some tart sorbet, ...what ever, and when I do, the process is made simple. So how does this relate to picking a subject? Once I stopped trying to pre-determine the perfect subject, compelling plot and creative story line, I found that writing flowed much more freely. In other words, go with what moves you in the moment, a gut instinct, craving, or just a mindless notion.
The inception of"Posey Dawson" (one of my manuscripts yet to be submitted for publishing) came in just such a manner, popping into my head out of nowhere, as little more than a funny thought. Immediately upon arriving home, I began to write it down and something amazing happened. One thing led to another, and as my two characters began interacting, the story grew legs and just took off on its own. That was the moment, when I first began to understand the principle of "Cause and Affect" as it applies to writing fiction. Most times, all you need is a couple of characters reacting to what the other says or does to start your story going. Then, with the addition of other characters, each acting consistent with their individual personalities, opinions, histories, attitudes, strengths and weaknesses, the community of your fictional world begins to interact within itself, and life magically happens. All we have to do as writers, is start the ball rolling, and then gently guide it along. Of course that's over simplifying it, for surely there's more to writing a novel than that, but it's a great place to start, and once you have something written, then you'll have a base to manipulate and shape any way you wish. If a potter wishes to create a pot, he must first produce a lump of clay, and start his wheel to turning.
From time to time while following the natural flow of my characters, I find my story veering in a direction that I don't like, so I simply go back and change the cause, or what ever happened to turn it in that direction. By changing the cause, I also change the reaction, or affect, thus steering the story back to where I want it to go. While working on "Search For Yesterday", I didn't discover this phenomenon until late in the story as I struggled to find the right way to wrap it up. For days, I obsessed, over my unresolving plot, trying to contrive something mind blowing, and then one night while at dinner with my wife, my mind did blow. Without even realizing I had done it, I had long since written in all of the components necessary to produce the ending I sought, but had failed to see it until just then. With only a simple change in one of my supporting characters moral condition, I not only found the solution to my plot, but within a few days, the ending wrote itself.
A common thread in all of my writing teacher's and professor's instruction over the years, was the need for any writer to practice, or more specifically, to write often. So try this, you have to hone your skill on something, why not give my theory a whirl and see where it takes you, you might be amazed.