Every story ever written begins with a blank page.
Oh, yes, there may be thoughts circling in your brain. Some as-yet unformed characters. The first glimmers of a setting and a plot. But none of this has made it to the page—or, more likely, the computer screen.
A blank page means limitless possibilities. Anything is possible. Even if a writer has ideas, those ideas can still change because nothing is set in stone. This is as true for plotters (those who plan out a story in advance) as it is for pantsers (those who let the story unfold organically as they write). Either way, as words begin to fill the metaphorical blank page, the possibilities narrow. If X happens, then Y is no longer a possibility. If my protagonist chooses a particular course of action, the alternative (barring a major rewrite) must be left behind.
Writing a story is a process that involves choices for both the characters and the writer. Those choices will impose limits that must push the characters toward a conclusion, a revelation, that, at some point, becomes inevitable.
When I think about writing a new book, as I’m doing now, I always think about my life.
As a child, I was taught by my parents that all possibilities were open to me. With enough desire and work, I could become a teacher, a doctor, a lawyer, an archaeologist, a professor, a business executive, a writer, or anything else that captured my passion.
Over the course of time, my choices, plus the skills and abilities I possessed, narrowed the field. Since I wasn’t blessed with the math gene, a career in science wasn’t in the cards. My dislike for hot weather and sweating made archaeology less appealing. I didn’t care about the world of business or the law. I didn’t have the patience it takes to teach children. What I did love was reading, writing, researching, learning, answering questions, and communicating what I’d learned. That narrowed my field of opportunities pretty dramatically, and the resulting path led to my two careers—teaching theology to adults and writing mysteries.
At the moment, I’m trying to apply the lessons I’ve learned in life to the main characters in my new book (whoever they turn out to be). Here are the questions I’m asking right now: What does my main character want? Why does she want it? What foe (external or internal) will prevent her from getting it? What events will force her to make choices leading to consequences and eventually to change and growth?
This brings me back to the blank page. I’ve yet to write a single word. First, I have to make choices. I must narrow the field and place my main characters on the path I’ve chosen for them.
Does a blank page terrify you or fill you with anticipation?