The beginning of the beginning

On January 2, 2013, Kathryn Briggs wrote, I was wondering if you could write a post on actually ‘starting’, about what you do as soon as you get an idea, then when you write notes, what notes you write, and how you start off writing with out hitting a big brick wall that stretches for ever.

Starting backwards with the brick wall, the problem may be a matter of perspective. I never expect smooth sailing. I do expect to mess up, find my way, meander, get lost, discover a new path until, eventually, I figure the whole thing out. If you don’t march into the wall but walk next to it, it may become a guide, like the guard rail or the shoulder on a highway (freeway, interstate, whatever); it may loop and curve and turn corners and take you where you need to go. Or there may be a gate. I would make friends with that wall. Examine it. Decide whether it’s made of bricks or stone or wood or chain link. Decorate it. If it’s brick, paint it. If it’s stone, stick messages or pretty things in the chinks. If it’s chain link, weave flowers through the links.

Right now I’m just starting to think about my next book, although I’m a long way from finishing the revision of Stolen Magic. I’m talking about it because Kathryn Briggs asked about getting started, and this is the earliest phase. I’m considering – although I may abandon the idea – of writing a prequel to The Two Princesses of Bamarre. If you remember the legend of Drualt, the Bamarrians had to leave their former home, which was “ravaged.” My ancestors had to leave Spain in 1492 because they were Jews, although Spain wasn’t ravaged (I don’t know how I’ll handle that), and I’d like to incorporate some of the history. So I’ve been reading up on the subject, looking for facts that intrigue me.

Here are a few things I’ve learned:

• Before the expulsion, some Jews converted to Christianity, under violent pressure, but many of these “conversos” remained in their Jewish surroundings and were accused of secret “Judaizing,” keeping up their former worship and traditions. This would stop, or so the reasoning went, if the Jews were removed.

• The Inquisition, which began before the expulsion and lasted long after, had nothing to do with Jews who weren’t pretending to be anything else. It tried conversos for Judaizing.

• In preparing to leave Spain, young Jewish girls, maybe even younger than teenage, but I’m not sure, were married off for their protection during the journey. This, in particular, has possibilities for fiction.

This is a passive stage. I’m collecting information and ideas. I am not – this is important! – forcing anything. The data and my thoughts are sitting in the back of my mind collecting mold and, I hope, fermenting, growing tentacles, connecting to each other. When I enter a more active phase, they’ll be waiting.

Here are my very first notes for Stolen Magic. None of these ideas – zero! – are in the story I’m working on now. My original idea was to write a sequel to the fairy tale “The King of the Golden River” by John Ruskin. It helps to know the story, so you might want to look it up. MM stands for Masteress Meenore and L stands for Elodie, because the book is a sequel to A Tale of Two Castles. I hope you can figure out my other abbreviations.

spose t youngest bro, Gluck, has always bn troubled by his bros as black stones.  Hires MM and L to turn them back into his bros.  Gluck cd b old by now.  He has no one to leave valley to.  This doesn’t seem so deductive now.  Maybe Gluck has been too generous.  He nds bros to hold him back, but they’re so evil.  Gluck has persuaded himself they’re not so bad.

Spose there have been groanings heard from t stones.  Spose G believes t bros have repented.  Spose tides have turned.  T river isn’t flowing.  T winds have returned and are wreaking havoc.  T river not flowing cd b bec someone has dammed it.  Too simple.

What if there’s a romantic feeling to t story?  Bronteish, so that nature reflects t feelings.  Is this me thinking, oh people will think this is great, not I think it’s great?

People believe they’re groaning.

Gluck wants them restored.  Mm says a fairy cd do it, but how wd she b persuaded to?  If there’s a king of t river, he cd do it, but how cd he b found and persuaded to?  Why does Gluck want this?  Is he somehow being threatened?  Was he not so great to begin w?

Gluck is demented in old age.  Leaves valley to his bros.  King or count or whoever wants to take it.  Two men show up, say they’re t bros.  MM & L are hired to find out truth, whether these are bros, who they are.  How wd they prove this?

Looking at this, it all seems very interesting and I no longer remember why I didn’t go this way.

My first beginning isn’t worth sharing, because it only introduces the characters in the first book. One of the problems with this early start is that it took forever for the action to get going. At one point, Elodie reads to the dragon and the ogre long passages from a book about philanthropy and greed. Yawn. I even say in the text, The book would make a cup of tea sleepy.

Here’s a segment from this early version:

I looked up.  A few clouds, a light breeze.  No immediate danger from the weather.  I looked around at the still forest.  A crow cawed.  Dead leaves rustled, likely a wood mouse.

A deep, aching groan.  His lordship reined in his oxen, and IT did the same with ours.

An elm tree crashed down on the count’s cart.

Chapter (I didn’t number them)

“Your Lordship!” I shouted.  I couldn’t see him.  Had he been hit?


Relief flooded through me.  Count Jonty Um’s voice was strong.  Nesspa barked, also sounding strong.

IT grasped my arm.  “Stay, Lodie.  More trees may fall.”  IT backed into the cart then hauled ITself out.

Why would be I be safer here than somewhere else?  IT wasn’t deducing clearly.  I waited a minute or two for a show of obedience, then stepped down.

IT and his lordship stood in the road.  His lordship held Nesspa’s collar.  Both were unharmed.

But the tree had smashed the front of the cart.  If the count had pulled the oxen up a moment sooner, he would probably have been killed.  I didn’t think even an ogre’s skull or an ogre’s back could withstand a huge tree.

The elm had come from the left side of the road.

“There may be footprints,” IT warned, advancing into the woods with surprising delicacy, balancing on ITs nails.

His lordship let Nesspa go and rose on tiptoes.  We both placed our feet with care.

None of this is in the current draft. The part you just read comes from the version (of a mystery) in which I forgot to include suspects. Oops!

Going back to the brick wall, when I remembered, after more than 200 pages, that mysteries need suspects, I had to trace my steps back to just about the beginning of the road and find a new branch. But I didn’t regard it as a dead end. I wasn’t precisely cheerful; maybe I was precisely irritated and unhappy, but I bulldozed sideways in a new direction.

Here are three prompts involving walls:

• Write about an attempt by someone (or more than one) other than the prince to get through the hedge that surrounds Sleeping Beauty. Start with a description of the wonders of that impervious hedge and keep going.

• Walls work two ways, obviously. Your MC is desperately reinforcing a wall to keep something out, a flood, a monster, an army of sentient termites, whatever you decide. Tell the story.

• Reread a few of your unfinished beginnings. Pick one of them and write a wall into the plot. See what happens.

Have fun, and save what you write!