Danielle asked me about the title of this post on my FB page and to be honest, it wasn't one of those questions that I really thought might be interesting. But maybe it is, so I'll try my best to explain it.
I'm sure this works differently for every writer, but for me, ideas come in pieces. Usually it's kicked off by something I'm reading, watching, doing, discussing. I "see" something (or "hear" something). It's normally masquerading as something banal or fleeting. A phrase. A concept. A song lyric. A question. Literally anything can become a story.
I don't think it's any secret (now that I've splashed it all over the newspaper and my blog!) that the original question that kicked off "Absolution" was: "What if you felt so guilty about something, you ran away?".
That one simple idea can clearly have a lot of meanings. For me though, it became an interesting question about human nature. What would make someone run away from everyone they knew and loved? It'd have to be something big. Something life-changing. Something that couldn't be fixed by "I'm sorry".
From there, the story began to grow. Plot points rose up. Characters introduced themselves. Friends, family, relationships, places, events. All these things showed themselves slowly, almost of their own accord (because I don't actually remember making any conscious decisions about any of these things). Interesting, now that I look back on it. Remember, the initial idea came to me about four years ago. I note all these things down - characters, points of view, plot lines. I come back to them later, changing as I go.
A lot of the time, I'll dream up a conversation or event for the story in my head. I'll spend a few hours writing it out in a basic form, trying to remind myself what I'm trying to achieve for later. Then, when the time is right, I'll cut and paste that conversation or event into the story, altering it as needed. Some conversations or events never make it into the final cut, but for me it's all about exploring the ideas. Creativity is addictive and it's all about keeping those lines open.
I don't dream, as a rule. The only dreams I can remember are nightmares (most unpleasant, usually involving me running or hiding from nasty people. Ugh). Regular dreams - even crazy ones - I haven't had for years. I think maybe, as I'm a nightowl and do all my best work at night time, I just go to bed so exhausted, I don't have the energy to dream.
But going back to Danielle's question...once I have the basics in my head, the rest is pure and simple: hard work. I work at telling that story.
The first draft of a story involves the one idea that I had wanted to explore. I'm desperate to get it out of my head and onto the screen (in that I write on my laptop). I then refine that in the second draft. By the third draft, I'm bored. I need more. This means I need to ADD more to the story, because I figure if I'm bored, so will the reader be. So I try to think outside the square and figure out what needs to be added to make it a rounder story. Does it need to be grittier? Do relationships need to be explored more deeply? Do I need another character or another angle? There are lots of variations, and in drafts four and five, these things are added. By the sixth or seventh draft, I'm usually happy. Now it's time to refine the story. Edit after edit after edit...
Throughout this whole process, the characters are becoming more and more real to me. I can literally SEE them in my head. Towards the end of the final draft, the story is more or less writing itself because the characters are so familiar to me. I could tell you how each would react in any given situation, just as if they were real people. Because by that stage, to me, they are.
I pay no attention to chapter length or word count until the final stage, by the way. Up until then, it's all about the story and fleshing it out evenly. That stuff comes later.
I hope that makes sense (and that it answered your question Danielle!).