by: Staci Stallings
Every book is a challenge. Some are more challenging than others, and some are challenging in different ways than others.
For example, when I wrote a book about a dancer, I had to do lots of research about dance. I had to learn terms and how to put specific movements into words that flowed like music. That was a challenge.
When I wrote about a young journalist covering a dangerous story, the research part was easy. I had been a young journalist in a newsroom. I had lived that experience. What I hadn’t lived was being a new student in a huge school. I hadn’t lived having someone stalking me. I hadn’t lived trying to protect my friends from someone who literally wanted to kill them. That was a challenge.
Every book has its own challenges, but one of the challenges that presents itself in every book is that of how to weave a story. How do you take all of these random threads and bits and scenes and somehow weave them together so they a) make sense, b) keep the reader engaged, and c) tell a heart-gripping story that makes readers simultaneously want to read it, not put it down, but never want it to end? Yeah. That’s what I’m up against every time I audaciously start a new story.
Now, you might already think I’m out of my mind to take on such a crazy-difficult task, and honestly, there are times I totally agree with you. But in this writing season, I’m finding myself even more challenged than normal. The good news is, for way the most part, many of the technical aspects of this series (The Imagination Series) fall pretty well within my own life experiences. I am a musician. I play the piano and the guitar, and I sing. I write music. I’ve written poetry. I’ve been a student. I can fake knowing about cars. (HAHA!)
I’ve put on proms and decorated spaces. I know about punch and sound systems. I’ve even studied psychology, religion, and film. All of those are threads in this series, and those are relatively easy.
There are a few threads I haven’t had direct experience with such as domestic violence and the court systems. So those have taken more research, but by and large, that hasn’t been a huge challenge.
The really challenging thing with this one is the sheer immensity of it all. Of course, it didn’t start out that way. In 2009, when I wrote the first book, it was literally supposed to be ONE BOOK. Now, I’m working on Book #9 with #10 and #11 swimming around in my head constantly.
So with this one, the real challenge has become how to craft this whole ginormous story into something that is going to, in the end, have all the elements I’ve been given and actually make sense. And it’s funny as I go because scenes I knew were going to happen, happened out of sync of what I thought they would while some just hang out there illusively calling like a Siren Song I can’t get out of my head.
For example, I know that Greg and Taylor go to Meow Wolf in Santa Fe… twice. (Right now, they haven’t even gone once.) I have seen the car ride as they are traveling. I have seen them as they explore the crazy-cool art gallery. I have seen what happens at the top of the stairs. It’s all right there for me, in my head, always calling, never leaving, but illusive like a dream that may never happen.
The insane thing with this particular series is that some of the scenes floating around in my head have been there for YEARS, and somehow, actually putting them on paper doesn’t change that. It’s like having someone else’s memories… even though some of them haven’t happened yet…? That makes no sense, but to me, it’s perfectly normal. (I think that makes me weird!)
When I think about Taylor and Greg, I know all these little details like how he was in school and how that shaped him into who he is today even though he doesn’t even really know how or why, where he got his first guitar and why that changed everything about everything in his life, her actual spirit and life calling that’s been buried under equal layers of shame and trying to be something she’s not, and those red cough drops… oh, yes. Those are still coming. No, I haven’t forgotten about them. Trust me.
It’s all right there in my head like this is my life I’m writing down, even though I don’t really have a plot written nor is there an outline of how I’m going to get where this thing is taking me. It’s like driving with no real map other than a vague understanding of where you’re supposed to be going.
Anyway, I guess we can call this blog musing on the odd quirks of being a writer, or something like that. Yes, sometimes being me is a real challenge because this stuff never stops in my head. It swims there 24/7.
So, dear readers, I’m curious from you… when you think about authors and how books and series are written, do you envision plots and outlines or just sitting down and writing? How do you think the stories come to be? Can you tell if a story is plotted from the beginning or written as the author goes? How? What types are your favorites?
Can’t wait to hear your thoughts from the other side of this project called the written life!