Story ideas can knock around in a writer’s head for a long time. Inception can happen in a variety of ways: an image of a particular character, an inspiring passage, a plot element, theme (though many authors emphasize never to start with theme), what have you. Nearly fourteen years ago inception happened to me in the form of a title and a memory: The Butterfly Girl.
I knew a girl in high school with that nickname. I can’t remember precisely, but it seemed she liked to sport butterfly hair clips, so classmates gave her the alias. As I reflected on the memory of that girl, I found myself repeatedly saying to myself her nickname. It had a catchy quality to it. I thought it might serve as a great title. There was a mysterious quality to it, suggesting all kinds of connotations. Since my imagination often wanders into the strange shadows of the horror tale, I began to imagine a transformation story, one with monstrous possibilities.
Writers will often use metaphor in the attempt to understand what they do. Thomas Williams described the writing process in his novel “The Hair of Harold Roux” akin to characters standing around a small fire, their faces barely visible in the dim light. The author’s job is to keep the fire ablaze, keep the sparks flying, or the characters will be swallowed up in the dark and forgotten. Stephen King has described the writing process as like excavating a fossil. An idea, character, or phrase is the location of a fossil. Writing the story is the work of digging up the bones. Revision then must be cleaning off the bones and connecting them in their proper formation. I’ve heard others describe the writing process as like planting a seed in the ground and giving it a place to grow. The rough draft is the hedge bush grown to its most rampant potential, shaggy and shapeless. Revision is seeing the true shape that could exist, and making the proper cuts to bring that shape to life. With my story, the title was the first spark of story-creation fire. The title was the first protruding hint of a fossil to be dug up. It was the germinating seed.
Since then “The Butterfly Girl” has now become a full-length story. Right now I’m in the process of cleaning off the fossil and realizing how it all fits together.
How do you envision the writing process?