Don’t you just love cracking open a new book? The excitement of delving into a new world filled with interesting characters and fascinating adventures? Taking a peek into someone else’s life, maybe even living vicariously through them? I do. And what I love even more is writing that new book.
The past nine years of my writing career have been largely dedicated to the completion and publication of two books, Hollywood Ending and Picture Perfect. Writing each of them off and on for years, finding my way, learning my craft, studying the publishing industry, all while typing, typing, typing in hopes of one day actually finishing them. It has been a long journey. And now that Picture Perfect is ready for its August 31st release, I’m ridiculously excited to start working on something new.
At first, I wasn’t going to develop a new idea. I had the beginnings of a story I’d started a few years ago, and I thought I would just work on finishing that one. But, I wasn’t inspired by that story or those characters anymore. Instead, the seedlings of a completely different novel began to sprout. To be honest, though, it had been quietly maturing in the back of my mind for a good long time. In fact, the idea itself came from a dream I’d had. It was so vivid and captivating that I woke up in the middle of the night to write down every detail I could remember. And those details have never left, never faded, never given way to other flights of fancy.
So now, having chosen to develop this budding book, I can’t wait to start writing it. But, my years of writing Hollywood Ending taught me something important. They taught me to be patient. To spend a lot of time up front discovering the characters and plotting the story. And even though I could start typing the first chapter right now, I won’t. Because I still have work to do. I have characters to draw, scenes to paint, plot twists to iron out, and oh so much to discover. But that’s the fun part. The time where I just get to play and explore.
I have a system. It’s a simple one. First, I begin with my cast of characters, and literally cast them. I pick film and TV actors that would best embody my characters and build from there. For this book, my lead actors are Amy Adams (as Willa), Jane Levy (as Rachel), Ryan Gosling (as Graham), and Gabriel Macht (as Ted), as well as a spirited Cairn Terrier (the family dog). With my cast assembled, I now create their bios. But this is more than just their education and work history. This is about who they are and who they wish they were. Where they’ve been and where they think they want to go. It’s about details. It’s about knowing why Amy’s character loves Barry Manilow and why Jane’s refuses to open her bank statements. It’s about uncovering secrets and shedding light on desires. It’s almost as much fun as gossiping about your co-workers!
And that’s where I’m at right now. Then, it’s on to the plot. Building the story, paving the way from the beginning to the end. I do it scene by scene. Idea by idea. And I write everything down on index cards. When I have about 150, I go through them, tossing extraneous stuff, and finding the holes, filling the holes. It’s very similar to building a puzzle, one misshapen piece at a time. And only when the pieces are all lined up can I begin to assemble it. Only then do I begin to type. Put words on a page. Because once you start typing, it’s much harder to change a plot point, a character, a setting. But when it’s still floating around on an index card, it’s flexible, mutable. And it’s still only an idea. The page is where it breathes, lives, takes flight. Where it is much harder to bend to your will. Much harder to kill.