Sunday, January 9, 2011
Coming to Life
Starting a new book, as Julie said recently over at her blog, can be a bit nerve-wracking. I tend to combat that "being-on-the-brink-of-a-precipice-that-could-end-anywhere feeling" she talks about by using the lifeline of ritual: clearing my desk off and dusting my office and buying a brand new ring binder with labelled dividers to keep all my research notes tidily sorted. And while I'm not an outliner, I do know my first sentence, and a few of my main characters, and what I think their problem is. My problem is, that even though I have the right components, for those first few chapters nothing ever feels exactly right.
As Dr Frankenstein discovered, you can put the parts in all the proper places, but creation still requires a bolt of lightning to ignite that spark of life. And lightning isn't something you can just command at will; you have to wait for it.
I'm not so good with waiting.
But I persevere. Eventually, I know, if I wait long enough, the lightning strikes. Those characters that I've been dragging round from scene to scene like puppets come to life and start to go off script, and suddenly they're saying things and doing things that catch me by surprise. They've made that magic leap from simple constructs to creations, and I know I've got a book.
My mother, who reads all my books in their first drafts, can spot when this moment occurs by the change in the flow of my writing, she says. It will (hopefully) vanish in second draft, when I go back to smooth over the rough spots and take out the parts that no longer make sense, because by then the characters have been alive for me for months and they will bring that vital spark into the rewrites.
But when I was writing yesterday, the hero of my story settled back into his seat and made a comment to my heroine, and just like that, the lightning struck. And suddenly I know I have a book.
I love this moment.
Does the lightning strike for you, if you're a writer? And can you tell, as a reader, when a writer hits her stride within a story?
(Don't forget to come back Thursday, for another post by Julie)