Writing from scratch is harder than cooking from scratch, unless you’re copying someone else’s recipe. When you write from scratch, you must concoct the ingredients, too.
The first ingredient of The Girl on the Mountain grew from my dream about a poor child huddled in bushes at the door of a privileged home. An open carriage stopped at the door and a man pulled his children roughly to the ground. One child fell, and the small girl rushed from hiding to help her. The story, I thought when I woke up, might be about the poor girl and the privileged children who’d just lost their mother.
I pursued that idea, looked at pictures of carriages, imagined scenes for the child, created her history, and considered where and when the story might take place. Eventually everything changed: I didn’t use the bush scene, reduced the children and their father to minor characters, made the poor girl a lot older, and forgot about the carriage.
Before reaching that point, I’d recorded even the least promising idea in my messy spiral notebook and the better-organized OneNote Notebook, part of Microsoft Office, sometimes waking at night and scribbling a note in the dark.
I thought a lot about the main character and possible bumps in her road, and tested ideas in brief scenes. In a OneNote section labeled “Problems,” I created a page of “Character Problems” and one of “Author Problems.” Author Problems included things like “Why would she be in that place at that time?”
My OneNote research section grew to 49 pages. There I also pasted pictures, thanks to Internet, of period features like decorative iron gates and primitive washing machines, and copied words to a Fanny Crosby hymn and quotes from Longfellow’s Evangeline. I did not use most of my research, including descriptions of glove-making and instructions for cleaning a slop jar. Images from the period were very helpful. One of my characters reacts to this beautiful engraving from an old edition of Evangeline, depicting Acadians forced from their homeland:
Researching more than I needed for the story made me comfortable with the culture of a logging town in 1899 and aware of influences on my characters, including what they read.
My current project continues the story of Wanda and Will from The Girl on the Mountain, so I’m not writing this one completely from scratch.#