A couple of years ago, or maybe three, I was in my comfy chair about ready to go to bed when a scene appeared in my head. I had no idea what it was — just two people in a dark, dank place afraid to talk in a normal voice. So I wrote what I saw, wrote what I felt on a notepad I always keep handy. I thought about it as I fell asleep, but don’t remember finding its meaning or purpose. But it was written down, so I’d return to it later.
I would’ve, but by the next time it tickled my imagination, I couldn’t find it. It should be noted here that I often write longhand in the evenings as scenes or dialogue come to me. So I have a lot of lined notebooks, most clearly marked with a title. Suffice it to say, I looked for that paragraph, on and off, for the next couple of years. I was intrigued with the situation and I wanted to know who these people are and what they’re doing in such an awful place. When I was looking for some notes for a completely different project, I found the paragraph in all its pristine glory, so I immediately typed it into a file on the computer so I wouldn’t lose it again. But what to name the file so I could remember this fragment? After way too much dithering, I came up with a name, saved it and closed it.
I went back to what I had been working on: #5 of the McCrumb County series (entitled Spirit Like Water) and finished the first draft. Following my normal practice, I started on the next book in the series. Do I ever know the whole story when I start writing? No. I may have a rough idea of what themes I want to include, maybe an idea of main movements in the novel, but I write to find out what happens. It’s been that way since I started writing fiction. I trust my characters to tell the story. It had always worked for me, mainly because I think I’m a good listener. I was about 15,000 words into #6 when Win decided she wanted to go on vacation to the mountains. Sarah said, “Be patient, she’ll be back — in her own time.”
So I said okay and flipped to this opening paragraph I’d written a couple of years ago. I added details as they came to me. And then BOOM! The whole story came to me! The characters, the twists and turns of the plot, the ending. This has never happened to me before. So I began writing it, still sans title. I was about 10,000 words into this Work In Progress when Win tapped me on the shoulder and told me she was back and had some really important stuff for my other WIP. And I did what anybody would do: told her to wait. She said she couldn’t. I told her she’d lost her turn. She said, “Absolutely NOT!”
The upshot is, I now am working on two WIPs, switching between them as they tug on my shirttail. And though the count varies day by day, I’m between 30,000 and 35,000 words into both. For me, this is not just new, but a remarkable experience listening to two different sets of characters, being in two different settings, writing two very different stories. I’m enjoying the process, though I’m really glad I know Win and Sarah as well as I do. I think the two stories are keeping one another fresh, if that makes sense. But I will admit, when I sit down in the morning, turn on the computer, I wonder who’s going to show up that day!
The paragraph that shoved me into this journey? This, still in draft form:
The silence penetrated, burrowed into the subterranean streams of her consciousness. Too much, way too much. Angel cleared her dry throat and felt a hand grab her arm. The thumb caressed her wrist, slowly, a circular motion around the bone that calmed her.
The silence seemed to soothe Drew, as if whispers or breath or light was too corrosive for this utter blackness. Too much, way too much.
You’ll have to wait to find out who they are and what happens. Just like me.