Where do story ideas come from? Sometimes, I can trace a particular scene or even a whole chapter back to something that actually happened, perhaps something I captured in a journal.
Other times, I don’t have a clue.
For instance, my first novel was set in Appalachia—logical since I grew up there, but it was not an autobiography. In the opening scene, granny dies sitting in a porch swing shelling peas. One spring day when Hattie, her granddaughter, visits the grave to bring fresh flowers, the wind begins to skip along the tops of the tall pines and she hears, “Dreams torn asunder may never mend . . .never mend.” Where in the world did those words come from?
Was Granny trying to tell her something or was the wind playing tricks?
Another main character in A Faraway Place is Birdman. He is an old transit who tries to take up residence in the miners’ bathhouse. He is based on truth. Turkey Pen mining camp did have a vagrant living in our bathhouse. I was terrified of him. Families took turns feeding him and when mother fixed him a plate heaping with beans, cornbread, and fried potatoes, my sister and I had to deliver it. I’m sure he was harmless, but sometimes I had an overactive imagination.
This first book was long and rambling and may never see the light of day, but that’s all right. I cut my writing teeth on that book. We learn to write from the very act of writing.
From that experience of living and breathing as Hattie Mae Sizemore, I now realize my work is more character-driven than plot-driven and that’s ok too. I fell in love with those characters and continue to love them to this day.
Do you keep a journal? I often do, but not every day. I read one time that if I will write down impressions, experiences, feelings, thoughts, anything really, those words will be there when I need them—much like salting down fresh fish and storing them in a barrel. Preserved until needed.
I’m going to journal for the next seven days straight, no excuses, just do it. I’ll report back on June 23, 2014.
How about you? Do you journal? Why or why not?