Thursday, February 24, 2011

An Image in My Head

Most people don't wonder about a body floating in the water.

Unless you are a writer.

The body is just to the left

That's the image that came to me many moons ago. I saw in my mind a body floating in the water, in the ocean to be specific. Then I saw a boat run into the body, and the shocked fisherman frightened by his find.

Did I mention the man was from Thailand?

This is how my work in progress started. An image in my head. I started asking questions. Who is this person? Why are they dead? How did they end up here?

I learned that it was Travis Dawson, and that he was a missionary in Thailand. I discovered he had a sister named Jenna who was in medical school. She was a spunky younger sister type, and she didn't take too well to the news of her brother's death. She was impulsive enough to jet off to Asia to try and figure out what happened. Oh, and her slacker friend Derek Stephens, who had done a backpacking trip in Thailand previously, decided to tag along.

I don't know how other authors come up with their story ideas, but I usually have images that beg to be explored. Yesterday for the end of the CSFF Tour I talked about whether a writer has their basic thrust as message-first vs. art-first. The responses from Dona, Becky, and Morgan made me think about my own process.

You have the set-up for my novel above. I thought for a time that there would be an aspect of spiritual warfare between the Christian missionaries and the strongholds in SE Asia. That didn't fit the story though. Then I saw how Jenna had been estranged from her faith due to family trials when younger, and she would be challenged in them while dealing with something bigger than she could handle in Thailand. Travis uncovered a human trafficking ring, and this lead to his death and would be a major challenge to Jenna.

It seems that I had the story kernel that wanted told at first, and the themes of faith and human trafficking came out from there. I believe there's always a theme when we write - otherwise what is the point of writing? Even if a writer says there's not, there is something of their worldview getting in there.

Both the message and art pathways are valid ways to begin, and both have their strengths and weaknesses. Like I said in yesterday's post, a message driven book must have a strong story and sparkling writing to not be bogged down by the message. It may not appear organic. But the "let's see where the muse takes us" approach can end up with a wishy-washy theme that doesn't give a work of fiction the power only a story can bring.

What say my writing buddies? What is your approach, and why do you do it that way?


  1. I am still waiting for the next chapter....hurry up with it, ok?

  2. "What say my writing buddies? What is your approach, and why do you do it that way?"

    I write in a different genre than you, Jason, so I do think that can affect the approach taken. With mysteries/suspense/thrillers a writer must ask certain questions (the what-ifs) of himself eventually and hopefully allow for changes which form organically from the story as you did.

    I've gotten ideas from a song, from a real person [an actor], and from characters who appear in my mind's eye and won't be dismissed. Where the story takes their lives comes as I begin to put the words on the page--so very SOTP. However, many of those characters spend their share of time occupying my psyche before they make it to the page. I can't recall ever asking "What if . . . ? because my books deal a lot with relationships and my writing style unfolds the innate problems.

    I couldn't tell you "why" I write like I do other than that's how God has apparently designed me. He told me early on (and I put it on my business cards), "If you pick up the pen, I'll give you the words." Now I use a keyboard, but he's still the supplier.