Seeding a Story on a Blank Page

I am about to start a new book and the blank page is daunting. There is a long way to go from a thought or an idea, maybe a theme or a character, to finished novel.

So where do ideas come from? Where do I start? Ideas for stories are all around us – outside ourselves – and also inside us, in our hearts and minds. 

Ideas spark stories, and mine are usually seeded from a mixture of different sources.

The seed for The Traveller and The Rose, a love story set in the Spanish Civil War, was a location and an image. I saw the hills of Spain south of Granada, and a young man walking through the landscape in the days just before the Spanish Civil War. (Inspired by Laurie Lee – As I Walked Out One midsummer Morning.)  

Ruby Sixpence is a character I had long wanted to write. She is an older, wiser woman who can be outrageous and make people’s dreams come true. She created a whole world of magical realism around herself. 

The Arts Forger’s Daughter, began with stories I had heard about art forgery in WWII. I wanted to understand how the past has a habit of catching up with later generations. I explore this idea through the themes of memory, truth and lies; and how these vary depending on who is telling the tale.

Mining our past life, and our emotional landscape is the most powerful source of ideas. It is where we find the themes which run through our stories.  It is also where our own truth and authenticity as a writer lies.

If we imagine that we are like a Russian Doll; the outer layer is what we are now, but all of those smaller versions are still inside us. Then imagine a five or ten-year gap between those versions of ourselves and think about the spaces in between. here is where we will find the love and laughter, the hurt and the tears. The things we have done, seen, felt, experienced and most importantly, learned. These spaces leave a resonance which we can tap into.  

My new story will unpack itself like a set of Russian Dolls. So far, I have themes and characters. These ingredients become a story exploring identity through the different perspectives of two women: Gianna is on the threshold of a new life, whilst her aunt, Zia, (who is not unlike Ruby Sixpence, without the magic,) has lived a full life and can offer counsel to her niece. 

Whatever the seed ideas for a new novel, I use my three-step process to build a story.

PART ONE is to explore as many ideas as possible. At the moment I am trawling notebooks for snippets and anecdotes and looking for thoughts ideas, reflections, memories and feelings; perhaps even universal truths which resonate with many women. I don’t have a time limit on this part of the process and I have reached the stage where my ideas pool is too vast and complex for one book. There are many stories emerging and I need to find one golden thread which I can draw out. Each idea then has many variations and those variations open further routes. My head is jumble of possibilities, what ifs…? and unexplored routes which I have mapped onto a large blank page.

How do I know which is the right path? I don’t, yet. So time for:

PART TWO of the three step process which is to ask a lot of questions. I will interrogate each character until I know them inside out and then I will ask the best question of all …

PART THREE: I will make connections between themes, places and characters

In reality, these three stages overlap and are messy but I must take care not to miss any out. By the end of this process, I will have a cast of characters whom I understand from the inside out, and a clear idea of their story. I will be ready to write a long synopsis of the story from beginning to end and from that, I will begin a detailed plot of how I will tell it.

Watch this space …

For more information on my creative process check out:

This latest work in progress is supported using public funding by Arts Council England

Published by Anita Belli

Author and Creative Writing Tutor. Novels: Divas, Dogs & Dreamers. Once Upon A Blue Moon. Ruby Sixpence Whistles Up A Storm. The Traveller & The Rose. The Art Forger's Daughter. Non-Fiction: How to be An Author in the Classroom. Write Your Life. Kickstart Your Writing. Unlock The Block. For Children: A Month of Writing Adventure

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