When people ask me, “What are you working on?” they’ll often get a blank stare in return. It’s not that I don’t know what I’m writing about, but in the early stages of a project, so much can change. Plots evolve, characters take over, and themes emerge. What might have started off as “a book about the war” will undoubtedly evolve into a book about something completely different, such as a story about how people deal with grief.
My novel, The Smallest Thing, (coming out later this year) was inspired by the plague village of Eyam. I had envisioned retelling a 400-year-old story of love and self-sacrifice, but once I started writing it, I couldn’t find a way to make it contemporary.
I started writing anyway, beginning with two real-life characters, Emmott Syddall and Roland Torre, and wrote a few scenes in present day. I liked the scenes, but the story wasn’t compelling. Frankly, it was a bit too sappy for my tastes. Undeterred, I kept on writing. I wrote about the village, about Emmott’s fictional family. I wrote a scene where the quarantine is imposed (I kind of loved that scene), and I sketched out a story idea. But it still wasn’t gripping me (not to mention my plot was full of holes!)
And then, in a writer’s workshop, I was given a first-line prompt, “He hides in the marrow of my bones.” I wrote what amounted to an internal monologue, with no idea where it would lead. All of a sudden, a new character walked onto the page and hijacked my story.
Suddenly, my dear, sweet Emmott wasn’t carrying on a chaste affair across the river with a boy from the next village; she was falling in love with an untouchable man. Suddenly the story wasn’t about how a village is ravaged by a plague; it was about one young woman and her journey of self-discovery. And suddenly, I loved this new story.
The story continued to evolve once my mystery man sidled onto my page and, even as I got closer to a finished draft, I kept discovering new details. It’s one of the things I love most about the creative process!
I’m noodling ideas for my next novel project now. So, if you happen to ask me what I’m working on and what it’s about, and all you get from me is a blank stare, know that something is going on in my head, and my story is just waiting to evolve.