Wherein the writing prompt escapes; ideas form; a runny, messy draft is born. Read on…
What is Writer in Motion?
Writer in Motion is a short story writing event where participants draft a short story from a prompt and show their entire revision process, draft by draft, blogging as they go. Anyone can participate! The first round of revision is a self-edit of the piece, followed by two rounds of revision with feedback from critique partners. Then, ten lucky raffle winners get a final round of revision with a professional editor. This year the stars aligned and I won the raffle! I will be blogging here about my progress, and you can follow other writers through the Writer in Motion blog and the #WriterInMotion Twitter hashtag. And if you want to join the fun, jump in!
The 2019 Prompt
There’s the prompt, in all its confounding (to me) glory. I’m in a weekly flash fiction group so I’m used to drafting fast from ALL kinds of prompts (last night it was a mermaid jack-in-the-box). Sometimes I get a first impression from a prompt – a character, a memory I can alter, a setting, a situation, a feeling. Then I dive in and pants my way through for 20 minutes and see what happens. I can usually see story potential at that point.
This time, I had nothing except a dark feeling, and I didn’t want to work from that because the novel I’m revising is dark, and I wanted a break. But here are some things I liked about it: the rust, her “wing,” the broken off pole/antenna thingy, and the feeling that this whole situation is probably physically cold! (Also hand sweat…)
That’s certainly enough to go on. I just don’t wanna. And if I’m not excited or at least CURIOUS about these little impressions, it’s not going to work for me. This calls for wandering. Onward!
Digging deeper for ideas
First I tried a trick from art school – look at the picture in different ways. I let my eyes unfocus on it; I tried to look at the shapes of the negative space; I lightened it a little bit; nothing. Then I rotated it. That did the trick. Because upside down, to me this girl looks like she’s hanging off a spaceship looking down on the earth from waaaaaaay up high. I’m not feeling a space story but I can work with this.
Then I just started free-writing any phrases that came to mind. And I mean any.
All of this so far took me a couple hours of dedicated thinking, and before that I just looked at the prompt once and let it marinate in my brain for a day. At some point toward the end of the “dedicated thinking” phase I decided this story would be about a girl on an airship. “Girl” = 11 or 12 years old = middle grade age category for the story. “Airship” = Steampunk. Then I went to Pinterest and made a board.
The half-baked starter idea
“It’s about a girl on an airship looking for her missing pet.”
I love this idea but I discarded it because I didn’t think I could distill that quest into 1000 words, and I also didn’t think I could pick a scene from that quest without figuring out the whole quest. So that one gets written down for later.
I noodled a little more until I got to something I thought I could start drafting:
“A girl stuck on her parents’ airship for the summer accidentally causes a major kerfuffle in the Sky Port where they are hovering.”
Note – this isn’t a fully fleshed-out idea. I’m going in with no character arc, no character motivation, and no idea what happens after the kerfuffle. Too bad, so sad. I aspire to outline in detail so much I can’t even, but at this point it’s actually faster for me to get in there and write whatever and try to figure it out as I go. I do feel scared jumping in without an idea that has a basic beginning, middle, and end, with a character I can feel at least a little. Because what if I don’t figure it out? But the above half-baked idea is enough to make the part of me that loves to write feel comfortable going on the airship and poking around for the first draft.
Later this week I’ll post the rough draft (which is still not done) and describe how I got from the above idea to the hopefully-more-complete, but probably-not-final story idea in the actual draft.