Have you ever stopped to ponder on brain activity? Not brain activity in a general sense. I mean your own brain.
Like, how many things do you store in it at any one time – just in day-to-day life? Now overload it with your work environment clutter. Overwhelming, isn’t it?
All Hail to the wonders of a mass of tiny grey cells. Check out this interesting site if you’re interested in creativity and the brain.
As a former teacher of young children, I could not have survived without the BIG PICTURE – lists, checklists, programs and anecdotal records on each child in the class. And daily, weekly, yearly planning? There were greater authorities who made sure I did that.
So why was it as an author, I thought I could rely on storing information in my head or on bits of paper for my work-in-progress?
Ideas surged from my brain, thick and fast or thin and tangled like Singapore noodles. Details of characters personalities, likes, dislikes and motivations; plot line possibilities; sensory inputs from settings filled notebooks, scrawled across torn out articles from the morning newspaper and scribbled on the back of petrol receipts on the floor of the Subaru.
This story began with one tiny idea and one misspelt word – from that it grew into a short story and then into a fully-fledged, intricate story of adventure, history and magic in a north Queensland rainforest. When I finished it I sent it off to several publishers. They rejected it … most with a kind comment about interesting characters, lovely writing style etc, but ‘not loving it enough to take it on’.
A trusted writing friend agreed to have a look at it.
This is the value of having fresh and experienced eyes read your story – most likely you won’t see core inadequacies in plots and characters after you have been writing it for a year or so.
She came up with something I had missed – there was no true antagonist, no BAD ‘baddie’ to thwart the needs and wants of my hero. Hence, no real DRAMA. How did I miss this?
Usually, sorting out a ‘big picture’ of a story allows me freedom to branch out into unplanned areas. So did I plot and plan the big picture of this story, like I would normally do for anything else (anal-retentive comes to mind)?
My author friend showed me her planning methods on butcher’s paper – it was like a veil lifting. I tried it on my ‘completed’ story and was shocked at how much I was trying to store in my head. By seeing those ideas noted as connecting mind-maps and dot-points, I added other possibilities for the story. My mind-map looked more like a multi-coloured mud-map than a mind-map, but it proved the ‘baddie’ wasn’t who I thought it was. She was sitting over on the far-edge of the sheet of paper … waiting … biding her time …
Of course, this all adds to the workload of writing, requires more brain-draining, more pulling apart and reassembling of plotlines, and more frustration and joy, but no story is ever really good until it has been through the fire first.
Click for more more of Dee White’s blog from her May Gibbs Children’s Literature Trust Fellowship here in Brisbane.