I am an organic writer. I might begin a story or novel idea with just one scene, one snippet of dialogue, a single image, one idea or concept. These ‘seedlings’, as I call them, can appear from many different sources, which I will not expound upon in this article, except to say that they can come from conversations you have had or overheard, dreams you’ve had or others have told you about, news items, personal experiences, and so on.
The plot can be an organic process in that you may not be sure where it’s going to end up, or the pit-stops it might make beforehand, but some detail in setting, motivation, or theme will lead to another facet that fills it out. This is where research can be beneficial. If you learn all you can about the subjects you’re illustrating, those details alone can often provide you with seedlings that gel (sometimes almost magically) with the other elements of your plot.
For instance, in Also Known As DNA, a sequel to Armchair Detective (which is in progress), I moved my characters to another state. In the first book, the main character drove a ’62 Falcon, and it was important in the story; the main character also referred to the other main character’s house as “the Manor.” So in researching the area for the new book, I discovered a setting i needed, and it was called Falcon Mountain. And then I discovered that the perfect house for them just happened to be located on Manor Lane. All quite accidental discoveries, but significant in more ways than one. And the synchronicities like that which often appear can give your writing process a little boost.
Unless you’re basing a character on someone real, whom you already know well and want to use, characters can be organic, too. I never write out personal histories for my characters, as I find that stifling, and frankly, it’s time wasted that could be better used in writing the actual story. If you spend all that time getting every detail of your character in place, the process of writing the book will, in my experience, force you to omit those details or change them entirely, so I prefer to just have that general idea and then see what is required. This all depends on your own approach to the writing. Some write from plot, some from character (Hence, the phrases “plot-driven” and “character-driven”). But I allow both plot and character to remain organic and this keeps the process exciting. It’s almost as though I am “reading” the book with as much anticipation as a regular reader would, because honestly, I’m not quite sure how it will turn out. I enjoy letting characters tell me the rest through the machinations of the story. Sometimes these things fall together through dialogue, and sometimes in some other mysterious way that has to do with setting, motivation, seasons, unexpected events, or any number of other possibilities.
In one of my novels, a character once appeared whom I had not even created. Two of my established characters were on their front porch in their isolated country home, and “Tilly” suddenly just rode up on horseback and began to reveal herself to be strange and interesting, and I have no idea, to this day, where she came from.
This is part of the exhilaration of being an Organic Fiction Writer. Writing in this way helps insure that you don’t tire of the process. The journey is one that you take just like a reader, but you just get to take it before they do.