But I kept getting asked and I soon decided my answer needed some work, because my answer was no answer at all. So I analyzed my process of taking an idea and turning into 80,000 words of story. What do I do on Day 1?
When I stopped to figure it out, I realized I don’t start on Day 1. I start before. I pre-write in a way that doesn’t involve much writing at all. I mentally flesh out my characters before I write about them. They spend several weeks with me, attached to my ankle like prisoners on a chain gang while I pepper them with questions. I ask them about their past, their future, their goals, their fears, their pet peeves, their greatest joys. I invite them to comment on my day, on their day as my prisoner, on life, on truth, on justice, on love. I file away their responses in my head, and each one of these responses adds tissue and muscle to their character.
I call this marinating.
My characters – who all want something and are opposed by someone or something because that is the very essence of story – are becoming more pronounced, more distinct, more flavorful, if you will. The story – their story – is marinating in my head. The story appears to be sleeping, I appear to be not writing.
But I am. I am just not using words at the moment.
And when enough time has elapsed and the story, the characters. the plot, has been tenderized, well, then I start writing. The story usually flows out – with considerabl effort, I assure you – in a span of three to four months. Sometimes two. Sometimes five.
I’m pretty sure it happens that way because of the marinating time.
And that sure seems like a better answer than, “Duh, I dunno.”