Cue the Thunder...

ALL. Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and caldron bubble.
2 WITCH. Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the caldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt, and toe of frog,
Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,
Adder's fork, and blind-worm's sting,
Lizard's leg, and owlet's wing,—
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.

-- From Shakespeare's Macbeth

These days, I'm plotting, tossing a lot of ingredients I barely understand into the cauldron of my work in progress. It's an exciting time because almost anything can find its way into the story: aspects of characters I've met in real life, shards I've plucked from gossip or news items, shiny bits of life that have caught my eye and won't let go.

It's a dangerous time, too. With the wrong combination, the whole plot can blow up, showering the story with corrosive gook and melting down my bright hopes for a worthy novel... as well as a completed manuscript before my springtime (gulp) deadline.

But more often than not, the strange ingredients, no matter how disparate (or desperate) eventually form worthy characters and a cohesive tale. How does it happen? I could tell you it's all due to hard work, time... imagination.

Or I could speak the truth: that's it's a form of magic -- a mystery I've never understood and can't begin to explain.

So what's your recipe for beginning a new story? Do you dream plots, as does an author friend of mine? (I'm frankly jealous.) Do you start with a simple idea and then embroider upon it? Do you begin with a character? A place? A situation? (I've done each of these, at one point or another.) How do you get started?

And does anybody have an eye of newt to lend me?


Suzan Harden said…
For real creative magic, a local Wiccan high priest suggests peppermint oil.

Break a leg on the new book, Colleen!
DG Holt said…
I suggest sticky notes. Once I have my characters firmly in mind (who they are, what they want, why they can't have it) I start jotting down possible scenes. They may come in order. They may bubble up randomly like your newt's eye in a cauldron.

Once I have a critical mass, I arrange them on a full length mirror. This allows me to spot holes in the story and keeps me from noticing those extra writer pounds that tend to creep on.

Then I use my notes to write my working synopsis. This is strictly for me. And it's more a road map I occasionally consult than a disembodied GPS voice directing my story from on high.

Your work is terrific, Colleen. Can't wait to read your next one!
Peppermint oil, hmm? Into the cauldron it goes!

And thanks, DG. I often use sticky notes with key scenes *after* I write the synopsis, but I can see the sense in using them before. I'll give it a try.

Thanks for the kind words, too!
Joni Rodgers said…
I second the stickies. I recently cleared most of one wall in my office and put up six foam-core boards, which has a smooth sticky-notable surface but can also function as a bulletin board with push pins. Two sections are for random reminders, kids photos, and other organizational and motivational flotsam and jetsam. The other four are set up to accommodate Characters, Location Research, Timeline, and Scenework.

I feel very highly evolved when I look at my foam boards. It's a little sad.

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