As a writer, you hear a lot of “what’s your process?” and “How do you start?” and “Where do you get ideas?” and so on and so forth.
I’m starting a new novel draft for Camp NaNoWriMo, so I figured I would share my “writing process” while it’s still fresh in my head — at least as it pertains to this particular project, because to be honest, I don’t think I have a universal process. I don’t have a tried and true “method” for “getting ideas” and “prewriting” and then “writing.” Maybe writing this will help me figure out a more efficient method of shaping my ideas into coherent drafts, as well as give you guys some ideas.
I often start with a concept or emotion. For my NaNoWriMo draft back in November, I started with a concept along the lines of “opposites helping each other, sort of against their will.” For this new draft I’m starting, I woke up one morning with a thought in my head: I want to read a gay romance with a dom/sub relationship…. with asexual characters.
BDSM is a very sexual thing. I find it appealing in books because, as I discussed in my post a couple weeks ago, I am intrigued by the exploration of power dynamics in relationships (especially in m/m). BDSM is power dynamic exploration to the extreme. But it is very sexual, but given my recent realization about my own sexuality, I thought… how would a couple with at least one asexual member explore their BDSM kink?
So first, with this concept in mind, I went on a quest to find books to read for research. I wanted characters that are explicitly identified as asexual, so after posting a question on Twitter, my Facebook, and the Facebook M/M Romance group, I consulted the wonderful Aro/Ace Speculative Fiction Database first (maintained by Claudie Arseneault). There, I found one entry mentioning a D/S relationship, in the web series Iwunen Interstellar Investigations
Next I moved on to the M/M Romance Goodreads group and looked through their shelves. No shelf for asexuality, so that was a bust (get on that, guys).
I found a different Goodreads list of asexual characters – any gender, orientation, or genre, as long as it has a confirmed asexual character (with a whopping 105 books on it). I browsed through that and found one published novel that fit my ace BDSM criteria, from Dreamspinner Press – City of Soldiers by Sam Burke. I bought it.
Then I went back to my Facebook posts where I’d asked for recs. Nothing. I had three people who were interested enough in the same topic to follow the FB post, so I provided them with the two items I’d found.
So after several disappointing hours of searching, I decided FUCK IT. Guess I gotta write one. I’ve always thought there is nothing original left to explore in the world, but APPARENTLY, asexuality is pretty damn original. Asexuals are like unicorns or something.
So I had a concept, and two vague character archetypes to plug into the concept – In addition to wanting to write a “no sex” BDSM relationship, I also want to write a sub who is more physically imposing and/or financially successful than his dom and a dom who is not a suave millionaire stereotype. (on that note, if you have recs for m/m BDSM books with a dom and/or sub who fit those criteria, please drop them in the comments for me – they can be explicitly sexual, I don’t mind, since this is a different aspect of research than the asexuality aspect).
Anyway, with my concept in mind and a fair amount of excitement (I’m exploring new territory here, apparently), I went and got in the shower, because as a human being, I must sometimes do mundane things such as this.
And I got like FORTY MILLION IDEAS while I was in there. Thank God no one else was home because I kept going “Ooh!” and “OH MY GOD.”
When I got out of the shower, I sat down and wrote out about 2-3 single spaced pages of brainstorming. It was going to be urban fantasy. Magic! Danger! Curses and cures!
And then I went to bed, and at work the next day, I couldn’t get the idea out of my head. It wasn’t quite right. Needed refining. The characters weren’t quite right for the plot I was trying to put them into. So I yanked them apart–these characters were not meant to be in this situation. So then I had characters in need of a plot, and a plot in need of characters. I also needed to do some worldbuilding, because if I’m going to write urban fantasy, I need it to be original. Urban fantasy is pretty popular these days and I don’t want to copy the Dresden files… So I consulted my sister for worldbuilding advice. We exchanged lengthy emails about worldbuilding for this story idea I have.
After another day of simmering, I ended up splitting the characters up, too. They had too many clashing aspects. I’d gotten excited and attached some feelings to one of the characters that I couldn’t shake off him, and they didn’t mesh with the other character. So I pulled my sub and dom apart, gave the sub a new dom, gave the dom a new sub……… and then I split some aspects out of each of those couples to create 2 more couples that could explore even more aspects of this idea I’d had.
So at this point, I had 4 potential couples/plots to work with. The characters were all still in the “vague concept” mode, but the plot was starting to have some substance. To decide which characters to work with and put into this plot, I brainstormed careers — I texted some friends and talked with my husband for career possibilities that would allow someone to be physically strong/imposing/able to handle themselves. I put together a list, but the vague notions I had for the plot immediately latched onto one career choice as soon as it came to mind, so the decision was easy. The same thing happened for the other character. I asked Twitter for career possibilities and the second I saw one of the suggestions I said YES. THAT IS IT. Almost like the characters were there, they’re in my head, but they don’t have any vocabulary yet. They know themselves, they know what they are, but they can’t provide the words. I have to drop words into the well with them and see which one they throw back at me, saying, “This one.”
It took me 2-3 days to shape that initial brainstorming session into something useful, and in the end, the characters that came out of it are nothing like the ones I initially thought up. This is why you don’t share first drafts! My original couple that I got excited about while showering was a magic-using bodyguard (dangerous/physically imposing sub) and a scientist (not so physically imposing dom). After shaking them down and peeling them apart and kicking the dust out of my plot idea and gathering that dust up and making a new plot out of it, my final couple is a personal trainer (or physical therapist, I have to do a bit more research) and a sociology professor. No magic. No danger. Just a nice, normal, contemporary romance… with an asexual character in a dom/sub relationship.
The characters’ names come to me with varying amounts of difficulty. One of them has had a name since I thought up his initial concept in the shower. The other one… I knew his name started with S. Throughout the day at work, various character facts come to me, rising up to the surface of my mind like soap bubbles, popping into existence with brillaint “a-ha!” certainty. I also begin to get flashes of scenes as those facts begin to appear, snippets of dialogue, vague notions of plot and events. All of this goes into my handy-dandy little memo book which stays on my desk at work and comes home with me each night, full of new ideas.
So to summarize, the birth of a new story, for me, goes: 1) concept or emotion, 2) research, 3) wild, excited brainstorming, 4) simmering & refinement. Of course, it’s not a nice even neat progression of events. It’s more like having a bucket of lego, and there are a few really cool bricks and a bunch of other pieces that aren’t as exciting, and you immediately grab onto the cool bricks and think I’M GOING TO MAKE SOMETHING WITH THESE. But then, when you try, it turns out you actually need all kinds of other pieces in order for the cool pieces to fit together, and some of the cool pieces just won’t fit no matter what you do, and you try rebuilding a couple times with a bunch of different types of pieces in a bunch of different ways in hopes of making your original “something” work, but eventually you have to discard some of your precious “cool pieces” and accept that your lego house will be better off if you sacrifice a little bit of “cool” in exchange for structural stability.
I’m always curious about others’ writing processes. Where do you guys get your ideas? How do you refine them down to something useful? Do you actually have a process? Let me know in the comments!