I recently had a lovely conversation with a writing pal of mine about the genesis of stories and how they evolve over time. We agreed that most, if not all stories, begin as simply as tiny kernels of information or emotion. A snippet of a dream, a character's face, an emotional theme, a scent. I decided to look back at my original short story drafts for what has become The Bloodsong Swords.
I wrote the original draft in my first fiction writing class back in 2005. It was the telling of a dream that I had six years earlier. This dream was so unusually vivid, emotionally intense, and completely terrifying that I remembered every detail. A few years after graduation I resolved to focus on my passion for creating fiction and dug up some old short stories that I could edit and submit. One of them was this particular original draft which I entitled "Thirst."
I began my rewrites by fleshing out the formless parts and trimming down the ones full of fluff. One passage describes people climbing out of a limousine one by one until there are almost a dozen standing around the vehicle. I only had three of these people physically defined and only a basic idea of their significance and depth. I asked myself a simple question, "who are these people?" Just like that, an entirely new world, previously unimagined, emerged and absorbed me. I suddenly had more material than necessary for a short story. I had more material than necessary for a single novel! I never intended "Thirst" to be a novel but after that day it demanded to be written. Most of the specific details that subsequently developed arrived after I'd written half of the novel during last year's National Novel Writing Month.
Here we are on the first day of November and another NaNoWriMo. I'm still weaving through the various interconnected threads of the same story. The lesson for me is to trust in the creative process. Trust that you have the skill it takes to complete your novel. Trust that your characters know who they are and will not lead you stray. Trust that your vision will coalesce into a readable draft. It may feel awkward or strange or the quality poor but there's a lot of value in what you learn by simply doing. However, I'm also an advocate of having some sort of outline of events, a road map of sorts, however vague. For me it all works best having a balance between these two philosophies and certainly neither is right or wrong, simply different strategies to the same end.