Writing down the headwork
I don’t talk about my writing process all that much on this site because every writer has their own way of figuring things out. That and I generally find it dull, but the motorcycle ride yesterday reminded me of a trick that I find handy and you might, too.
I spent a lot of time on the back of the bike doing “headwork” and trying to sort out character motivations and worldbuilding. The moment we stopped, I pulled out my keyboard and started writing. Not story, but jotting down what I’d been thinking about during the headwork.
In fact, the term is misleading because, while I spend some time just thinking, like yesterday, I usually write a lot of this stuff down in the form of a dialog with myself. Sometimes this happens at the beginning and sometimes in the middle when I discover a plot problem.
The key is writing it down, because that makes the ideas less slippery. I can see when I’m covering the same territory because I have a log of my thought process.
I was going to use yesterday’s session as an example, but it’s sort of too in the middle of the project, to be useful to anyone except me. But, while working on “American Changeling,” I found my characters stalling a lot, which is a sign to me that I don’t know what they want. Now, I knew that my main character needed a Key to open a magically shut gate. But what was that key? I had no clue. Here’s my log of the headwork I did to sort that out.
What does Kim want?
To fit in.
What do her parents want? Love her, but loyal to the Faerie Queen
How does she unlock the gate?.
First of all… Who locked it? Queen Elizabeth? To protect her borders because the Fae were going to make a deal with the Scots or the Irish. Research that.
OR did the Faerie Queen lock it herself to keep out the mortals who were corrupting her people OR to stop a threat from the Unseelie Court.
Let’s go with Queen E or no… the catholics but for similar reasons. ((Eventually wound up with Queen Mary)) Now. Where did the key wind up?
Ah… The Portland Art Museum as part of the Britannia exhibit. Make something up there that makes sense. Clearly the key is iron. ((Because then fairies can’t touch it, which was important to the story)) Is it necessarily key shaped? No. What else could it be…
A chalice. A mirror. An ink pot. A vase. A… What’s a reliquary. Now that’s an interesting idea. Yes. If the — oh, not the Art museum. A catholic church — reliquaries hold the bones of a saint, preferably a woman or child, but is actually the bones of a Fae. Yes. That makes sense.
All of which led me to a clearer understanding of my backstory and once I knew who my bad guys, I could make smarter choices about their actions. The thing about writing it down is that it makes it less ethereal. It gets it out of my head and lets me look at it without the sort of idealized Ah-ha! moment that vanishes when actually examined.
I won’t pretend that I made this idea up. I know a lot of writers who do it. I picked it up in Orson Scott Card’s Literary Bootcamp and, boy, has it made my life easier since.
How about you? What’s your favorite trick?