Saturday, 25 July 2020

The Wishing Brick - idea development

I am just about to start writing a new novel so I thought I'd dust off the blog and document the journey from concept to final, edited manuscript.

This book is going to be a bit of a change from the last one, not for any strategic reason, more because the idea hit me and made me chuckle. I really enjoyed the comedy of the Buttercup Sunshine books, so when the idea for The Wishing Brick hit me, I thought what the hell - it might be fun to try something with an element of comedy for the adult market. It's always good to try something new, especially if your last efforts were so bad! 😜  (The sample chapters of my Victorian Horror novel have been out with agents for 12 weeks - the fact that I'm still waiting to hear isn't a good sign).

Anyway, back to current project. Like all ideas, it started with something simple. It was really just a scene in my head about a couple of investigators turning up at someone's garden to find out about a local legend called The Wishing Stone - only to end up looking at something that was nothing more than a concrete slab. That was it. That was the idea. And while the title The Wishing Stone sounds like YA Fantasy, just changing that one word to Brick changes the feel completely - now there is no doubt that is not a serious novel.

From there, I started thinking about who the investigators were and why they were in this garden. I started with them working for a local newspaper but dropped that idea quite early on. I played with the idea of them finding it by accident, perhaps they were gardeners. At the same time, why was the stone there - it clearly isn't a genuine legend, so what's going on? Who owns the garden? Is this a really poor set up or an April Fools joke? You can see how ideas begin to grow.

At this point, I want to see if I can actually write the thing, so I do a few days of pre-writing. In the case of The Wishing Brick, I knocked out around 15,000 words of random scenes, just to get a feel for what I can and can't do - what works and what doesn't. The important thing to note here is that these scenes are not necessarily going to make it into the book; they are literally play-time. 

The next job is to settle on a style - the point of view (POV), tense and tone. To do this, I rewrote my opening chapter six different ways - I did 1st and 3rd person from the female character's POV, then 1st and 3rd from the male character's POV.  I dropped the Male POV and rewrote the two female versions in present tense to see what that looked like. 

In the end, I settled on 3rd person limited, which gives the advantage that I can show scenes where the MC is not present - This is also really useful for cliffhangers, and as the idea was leaning towards being a crime caper, that's exactly what I need.

The next job is where I am now - knocking out the plot. And that means a character arc and story beats. 

The character arc is the most important. The character arc is the transformation of the main character. Either they gain confidence or respect, or they learn something important - the story must have an impact, and the character needs to be clearly different because of this. Think of Chief Brody in Jaws, Woody in Toy Story or Sarah Connor in The Terminator. Being able to see how your MC is at the end allows you to create an alternative version at the beginning - if your MC is going to become super strong and confident, make them weak and nerdy at the beginning (Spiderman). 

Next comes a detailed plan of the entire story. To some writers, this is the worst thing in the world. There are lots of writers who prefer to dive right in and discover the story as they write. But me, I like to plan. I open a new document (or in Scrivener, I create a new file in my Research folder) and start typing. As simple as that. 

At first, these are very loose - just a hundred words or so outlining the novel, very much like the Snowflake Method where you start with a simple sentence that nails the story, then expand to three sentences that quickly become three paragraphs and so on.

Once I'm looking at a very simple outline, I either duplicate it and continue to build it up, or I create a new file and play with a few alternative ideas. I do this again and again until the plot begins to make sense. I don't write scenes or dialogue - just the main points, otherwise known as the key Story Beats. 

If you're not familiar with the idea of story beats, do a quick search for The Hero's JourneyDan Harmon's Story Circle or Save the Cat (or Save the Cat Writes a Novel). Even without these, you have probably seen enough movies or read enough books to know that, generally speaking, most stories follow a similar path - 
  • An opening image where everything is fine (start of the character arc)
  • An inciting incident that rocks the world slightly. 
  • The need to do something about this. 
  • Ooh, this is going quite well. 
  • Hang on... things are suddenly complicated. 
  • Things are going wrong. 
  • Oh, we're in trouble now.
  • Shit... there's no way out... 
  • This is the end!!! 
  • Oh, but wait, what's this? 
  • It's a million to one shot, but it might just work. 
  • The fight back.
  • The big boss / finale. 
  • Victory dance.
  • Resolution. 
  • Final image (end of the character arc)
This is just a skeleton. To add some meat and muscle, I need a subplot to impact the main thread - this gives reason and motive for all those things going wrong. I consider the motives of secondary and minor characters. I add twists and turns and consider the worst case scenario at every stage. 

So far, I've been working on my plan for about two weeks. I'm not in a rush - if anything, I try to really enjoy this stage rather than get it out of the way. This is where I can go wild and think of really crazy stuff in order to dig down deep enough to come up with something that makes me think, 'Oh, yeahhhhh.'

At the time of writing this blog post, my current plan is 2,500 words long and runs at 44 bullet points. Each bullet point is a chapter, and each chapter contains several beats. (This is also the reason I don't use beat sheets - they are too simplistic for a novel).

Once I complete the plan, I'll set up the manuscript and get writing.

And that's it - that how I set about developing the idea for The Wishing Brick.

Colin Mulhern / Writing Col. 

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