When I write a story--I start with a spark. There's always one small idea that captures my attention and makes me think I should explore some particular character or concept in more depth. This ignition of thought is usually sugary sweet and utterly delightful. I shall call it jelly.
No matter how freaking fabulous jelly is, I don't know a lot of people who just eat it by the spoonful. Okay, there may be a few of you out there. In fact, now that I think about it, my mother might be one of them. But the truth is, most of us want our jelly on warm buttered toast, or stuffed in a light and fluffy donut or married to peanut butter on soft pieces of bread. Jelly, as fabulous as it is, needs something to support it.
Story sparks need this also. Imagine the Hunger Games. Kids fighting to the death in an arena is the jelly. Pretty awesome jelly, I might add. But that's not why we stay in that world. It's not why we flip the pages. The thing that contains and supports the spark is the nuanced characters and their relationships. It's watching a reluctant hero rise. She takes us up with her.
Looking back at my own book, TOUCHING THE SURFACE, I can remember my spark. The first spread of jelly was the idea that Elliot has died for the 3rd time. It's a concept that set my mind on fire. It set of new ideas in a dominos effect. The minute I allowed my self to fall outside of the typical box of ideas and grab a fist full of jelly, was the moment everything changed in my writing. Of course that was only the start. It took me a long time to concoct the perfect peanut butter and jelly sandwich of a book. On early attempts I ended up with sandwiches that had too much jelly or too much peanut butter. I had stale bread and sometimes even the wrong bread. Cinnamon raisin is not a good choice for my PB&J. And Jalapeño jelly might not be for everyone. But if you practice enough, you'll eventually learn the best way to sandwich your spark to create your best writing.
I'm tempted to stick around a little longer and talk about this in more detail, but I'm suddenly a little hungry and I should probably get back to my jelly manipulations. But before I go, I'd like to remind you that not every spark gets out of the romantic, brand new relationship dollop phase. And that's okay. If you're smart, you'll learn something from that little glob of goo, that will still inform your writing and give you hours of entertainment on blogs and at speaking events. My favorite spark (that fizzled out) was a PB robin that fell out of his nest and wouldn't get back in because he's afraid to fly...making him a Rob-out instead of a Robin. <3 I adore that little fella, especially because he taught me a lot about what not to write.
Time to share your jelly globs before you head out to sandwich your next spark into something that everyone must get a taste of.