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A cool bookstore at the Commons in Traverse City, Michigan (April, 2017).

There’s no rhyme or reason to how my imagination works, at least as far as I can tell. I am not in control. That’s a sure thing.

The general misconception is that a writer is the god of their own world. Perhaps that’s true for some, but that’s something I’ve never experienced. George R.R. Martin once said, there are two types of writers: The architect and the gardener. The architect has a blueprint for the whole story. The gardener plants a seed and the way the story grows will depend on the weather, the soil and the time and effort one puts into caring for it.

A couple years ago I had an epiphany and stopped writing detailed outlines, because my characters always have other plans. I prepare to an extent since I have too many ideas to remember them all. Once I sit down to write, it’s mayhem. I can try writing down the directions and the stops we might make along the road, but then again, we can run into traffic, car trouble, rain and thunder, et cetera.

When I got a story to tell, it’s like having a movie play inside my head and there’s no pause button. It’s like being possessed. While this movie is playing, my body switches to autopilot and I hardly speak a word to anyone. Some scenes run on replay and sometimes when they replay, little details change, such as a line or a character’s movement. The perspective can linger in a single moment for hours, then it jumps forward five, ten, twenty years and runs through a sequence of events within minutes.

These scenes can be intense: Mentally I’m there with my characters, it doesn’t matter if I’m at work or in my bed, starting to snooze or trying to do homework. If they’re in a cold, abandoned shack, I know that the wood smells like dirt and rot and that the walls creak when a wind runs through. I can feel that the floor is uneven from the way people are standing. I make a note of how many rooms there are, the state of the furniture, what the characters are wearing, who clearly doesn’t want to be there and who came there with a purpose… I even feel the emotions my characters are experiencing. I’ve made myself cry or laugh or brood more than a few times.

I don’t make up the characters. They come to me and introduce themselves. Sometimes they make it difficult.

There is this one character who has been with me for over three years, Francesca Ivers. I must have gone through six to seven drafts without getting anywhere with her. My mother, friends, other writers, professors, they’ve read about her. The reason I haven’t been able to finish anything is because I couldn’t figure out what her story was. It wasn’t until last weekend when she returned out of the blue. The cool thing about her is that she herself hasn’t changed much over the years: She has always been a lover of music and a singer, a daredevil, affable, and way too curious for her own good.

For a week straight, I’ve been taking notes about the people in her life and the major events that are going to take place. (In Detroit to be specific; there aren’t enough Michigan stories out there.) Today I’m actually starting the first chapter, which is really exciting.

Honestly, I am glad I’m a gardener. The architect might finish the story faster, but I get to come along for an unpredictable joyride.

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