That idea that just won’t leave you alone…that image that plays in your head…that scene you wrote out of the blue…that character who talks to you while you’re doing the dishes…
That can indeed become a story. But, you ask, how?
My Own Experience
One day at my desk, with no warning or fanfare, I wrote two pages about a boy being pursued by a monster. Man, I loved those two pages, but what in the heck were they? I set them aside.
That was in 2008.
Two years later I rediscovered those pages when my then agent asked if I could write a book “about jewelry” (I kid you not) because an editor asked if it was possible. Five minutes later I was running through Facebook (because what else do you do when you are fresh out of ideas?) and came across an image of a chatelaine posted by one of my friends.
I didn’t know much about chatelaines except that (a) this one was purely decorative (hence, a piece of jewelry) and (b) really weird. And then, somehow, those two pages about the boy became wrapped up in a story about the chatelaine, and five days later, I had written 30 pages of a novel.
Now, you’d think that was it, right? But no. Because, even after writing 3 YA novels, I really didn’t know what I was doing, craft-wise. How to take that spark and make it work. How to build that idea into something kids would read.
It took another four years, getting my MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults, losing my original agent, gaining a new agent, and finally selling it to an editor who was a wizard at helping me round out the story before The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle became my most popular honest-to-goodness book.
My spark, those two pages, are the first chapter, almost without a single change.
How to Capture Lightning in a Bottle
Instead of following my torturous path, here are my super-simplified suggestions for grabbing that spark you may have and making it into a book-shaped object:
- Answer the fundamental questions:
- What age will this book be for? (Yes, it does make a difference to know that right up front.)
- What’s your genre?
- What are some potential comparable books?
- What’s your tentative title?
- Can you describe in detail your ideal reader?
- Know the fundamental craft issues:
- Who is your main character and what do they want?
- What is the story problem?
- What are the stakes and obstacles?
- Who is the antagonist and what is your supporting cast?
- What is the setting/world?
And that’s just a beginning.
It’s a lot of work, and it’s an inch-by-inch process, but not one you can ignore. I’ve seen so many writers with brilliant sparks who launch off unprepared only to realize they have a hundred pages of unmanageable words, lightning that has drifted away.
Heck, it almost happened to me, except that I kept that spark held tight – even when some readers told me to delete it – and I was lucky to find mentors (critique partners, my new agent) who helped me through the process.
If you need such a mentor, I’m here. I’ve made a 20-year study of writing craft nuts and bolts and would happily guide you from spark to book.
And…coming soon – some of my earliest clients are now seeing their work come alive. I can’t wait to share!