By Glynn Young
I spent almost four years writing my first novel before I put a single word on screen or paper.
Writing a novel wasn’t intentional. A song had captured my imagination, a single image formed in my mind, and gradually a story unfolded to accompany that song and image – all in my imagination. I mentally nursed the story for years, changing the characters, adding scenes, and altering the story line.
How you imagine a story, or create it in your imagination, is very different than what happens when it’s time to actually write the story. In my case, what I was imagining was a cinematic story, moving from scene to scene while developing a story line. Writing that down had two benefits: it forced the story out of my head and on to the screen, and it made me realize how big the gaps in the story were.
I could imagine a character participating in a bike race, for example, and gloss over the details in my mind. But to read it on the screen showed the gaps and shortcomings. It was missing color and depth. The imagined account has left out the emotion, because I could imagine the emotion in my mind. It took six years of rewriting to get the draft to a point where it not only made sense but also told a complete story.
The rewriting and the filling of the gaps also began in my imagination. I have to think it through, creating in my mind, even while editing, rewriting, and fixing problems.
But the effects of that imagining linger. Readers have told me how much the novel and its successors “read like a movie.” And they do. When I go back and reread them, I can see it.
This was a very different kind of writing from my day job. Most of my professional career was corporate speechwriting. I was always facing a deadline, often multiple deadlines. Rarely if ever did I have the luxury of imagining an entire speech before I started writing. Instead, I’d simply start writing, working from notes and an outline. This was from necessity. My workday was typically punctuated by interruptions, which could play havoc with the imagination.
Writing fiction has been a very different experience. Imagining a story for four years before the actual writing is a bit extreme, I admit. But I suspect that, for most of us, the story starts in our minds and works itself over and over again before we start capturing it in written form. Or we go through a progression of starts and stops, getting part of the story written and then stopping to revise, edit, delete, or add.
For me, this imagining time is vital. I can’t simply sit and start writing a novel, even with a barebones story idea. I have to ponder the story, the scenes, and the characters. I’ll think about them when I’m working in the garden, taking a shower, shopping at the grocery store, and particularly while taking long walks or hiking.
How long do you write a story before actually writing it down?
Glynn Young is a national award-winning speechwriter, communications practitioner, and novelist. He’s the author of four published novels, Dancing Priest, A Light Shining, Dancing King, and Dancing Prophet; the forthcoming Dancing Prince; and the non-fiction book Poetry at Work. Visit Glynn at Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, his blog, the Dancing Priest book page, and his business web site.