By Alexi Venice—
I’m going to describe what it’s like for me to catch a story in my imagination and turn it into a book. It’s a thrill ride. I intentionally use the term “catch” a story. I feel like a story finds me, rather than me looking for it.
A good story is like a kite flying on a windy day, and I’m holding onto the spinning reel for dear life. The kite soars, lifting me off the ground, then yaws, rolls and dips, dropping me to brush the grass with my toes. It lifts me again and again, as we sail through the air together, me trying to chronicle the ride.
Joy bubbles up from the center of my core, sending jolts of electricity to my fingertips as they dance across my keyboard. (Okay, that’s a little graphic. I’m scaring myself, but I’m excited. Colorful language is the currency of my trade, so I’m going to spend it lavishly in this post.).
I experienced the immense joy and intensity of a story populating in my mind at 2:39 a.m. last Saturday night. I almost got out of bed and started writing, but based on past experience, I knew I wouldn’t be as good as I could be at that hour, and the thoughts were rough and disorganized. I just smiled and fell back to sleep, knowing my subconscious would mull over the storyboard and mentally map plots, subplots, characters we love (and hate), and conflicts that would need to be overcome.
An element of urgency emerges when I write a story, as if I’ll forget it if I don’t write it down right now. After writing ten books, however, I’ve learned—perhaps the hard way through trial and error—that a little bit of krausening can enhance not only the flavor, but also the fundamentals. Nowadays, I write the story, let it sit for a few weeks, then pick it up and edit it before giving it to the creative team to review. I gather their feedback, do a lot of rewriting, then submit it to my professional editor. Recently, he really earned his fee by requiring me to rewrite the last three chapters (twice) of Sativa Strain. I loved his input and did as suggested because, together, we make a better product. It’s a group effort, and my next blog post will highlight the creative team for Sativa Strain.
For the last several days, I’ve attacked my laptop with such vigor that my duck toller, Daisy, and Bootie Pepper’s puppy, Buster, stared at me to see what all the fuss was about.
(They look like they’re ready to go outside and chase the tennis ball!)
Sometimes the storyline flows out of my fingertips so fast that I feel like I’m merely transcribing something that’s already written in my mind. I don’t stare at a blank screen wondering, hmm, what should I write next? If the story doesn’t flow naturally, I close my laptop and do something else with my time. While I’m doing something else, like riding bike or driving the car, long sections of dialogue or action scenes will appear in my mind–fully written. Only then do I return to my laptop.
When I later read the story in its entirety for the first time, seeing how it hangs together as a full book, I’m sometimes surprised that the story originated in me. I actually have less control over the concept and design of a story than you might think. I feel like it’s presented to my right brain as a gift, which reminds me of something Joan Dideon once wrote, “I don’t know what I think until I write it down.” This nugget of wisdom has proven true for me as well.
I’ve also experienced the magic of storytelling with characters who become as real as imaginary people can become. I don’t always know what they’re going to say (or do) until I’m writing their interaction with a lover, friend or foe. As each character assumes a specific personality, I get to know them, just as you do while reading. I actually find myself thinking, I wonder what Dr. Jen, Detective Tommy or DA Amanda Hawthorne are doing today?
Even though I have mentally mapped a story, and reduced some of it to an outline, little gems pop into it to create scenes and relationships that I didn’t anticipate. That’s super entertaining to me.
The emotions I feel while writing are similar to those I feel while wake boarding. While on the boat, butterflies gather in my stomach, as I zip my life vest and squeeze my feet into the tight boots. I take the rope handle and jump over the side into the water, shivering from the cold splash. When the boat glides away from me to take the slack out of the rope, my muscles tense and my adrenaline pumps. I yell, “hit it,” and the engine roars to life, threatening to pull my arms out of their sockets if I don’t pull back with just the right amount of tension.
A tidal wave of water comes over the top of the board at me, and I invariably think, I’m never going to get up over that, but two seconds later, the board pops up and over the wave to glide smoothly in the boat’s wake. I twist my hips, allowing the fins on the underside of the board to grab the water for my first slice through the wake. On a sunny day, when I lean back and create a rooster tail of water in the air, I can sometimes see a rainbow in the spray. That feeling ignites bombs of joy in my heart.
So it goes with catching a story for a book. I can’t see the story in every level of detail, because 35-40 chapters usually involve a few layers, but I can see the trajectory of the plot and the character arc of a few characters. When I get going on a good story, I’d rather write than eat. I’d rather write than go to work. I’d rather write than play with my dog. If I add a dash of music—the baritone of Eddie Vedder and the gravelly edge of Dave Matthews—I’m in heaven.
During the creative phase, while at work, I’ve had close colleagues look at me and say, “Stop staring at my face. I’m not a character in your book.” Ha. I smile while thinking, Well, you are now. Have you ever noticed tiny, nascent wrinkles at the corner of a woman’s eyes when she smiles, making her smile all the much sweeter for that? That’s the type of thing I like to integrate into a story.
Anyway, I know in my heart that I’m on the right path when experiencing such joy, day after day, while writing a book. After it’s published and released, if I receive an email from a reader telling me the story entertained him/her, my life is complete. Humbled and deeply grateful, I use that positive energy to fuel my imagination for the next project.
After writing until my fingertips are raw and my forearms ache, I feel energized to take on the world. Then I remember that I don’t have to take on the world. I just have to do my part in my corner of the world. Creating stories and publishing them.
Thank you for visiting my corner today. May you experience moments of joy in your life, whether it be at work or at pleasure. What brings you joy? I’d love to hear from you.