The Spark that Sets My Knickers Ablaze or Lights My Way (Melissa Robbins)

Earlier in this year, dry, grassy areas caught fire along the highway in our town, sending my neighbors into a frenzy.  Neighbor helped neighbor.  Firefighters showed up to battle the fires to keep them from spreading and damaging the houses.  Children watched everything in awe. 

We asked the firefighters how the fires got started.  One said he saw sparks shooting off a trailer on the highway.  With the dry conditions and that darn Kansas wind, that’s all it took. 

“Uh, Mel.  The topic is your writing process, although we won’t complain if you start talking about hunky firemen.”  What does this have to do with my writing process?  Take that spark the fireman talked about.  If you’re panster, that spark would set your knickers ablaze and you would take off, writing like a fire frenzy.  I’m picturing Thunk (from The Croods) who thinks the fire is biting him so he runs into the tall grass and sets the entire field on fire. 

Now me, I’m a plotter.  I’ll take that spark, light a torch, and stake it into the ground.  Then I’ll circle it and to make my teachers proud, I’ll ask the Who, What, Why, When, Where, How, and the What Ifs.  Let’s go back to that fire by my house.  What if the firefighter didn’t see that trailer or what if they discovered it was arson?  What if a neighbor wanted to burn down his house for the insurance money or to cover up a murder?  My “spark” could be an incident or a character.  What if one of the homeowners was a single woman who gave a bottle of water to a fireman.  That one act of kindness could melt his cynical heart for whatever reason.  Romance!  Or one of the kids witnessed the heroism and the event reminded him of his dad who, also a fireman, died in the line of duty.  The possibilities are endless. 

I take another torch and, using the fire from the first torch, I light it.  Then, I run ahead or hop into my car and drive all the way down to the end of my story and stake that new torch into the ground.  This is where I want my story to end.  Then, I run or drive back to the first torch.  I can see the last torch.  I know it’s there.  With more torches, I start to light my way to the last torch.  First they are sporadic, spots were certain things must happen.  Some call them turning points.  I use Alexandra Sokoloff’s screenwriting method of plotting and she calls them act climaxes. 

More scenes are written.  More torches light my way.  Sometimes, characters light their own torches and go a different way.  As a writer, I have to decide if that’s good or bad.  Keep that bucket of water handy to douse any unwanted fires. 

Same goes for when I finally reach my last torch.  I may turn around and go yuck, that’s not a very pretty path of torches or my last torch is in the wrong place.  Some get extinguished altogether.  Some get moved around.  New prettier torches may take their places.  Only you know when the path of torches is complete and beautiful. 

Now go find those sparks and light up the world with your stories!  


Z. Minor said...

Great article Melissa