Lo-Mein, or my love affair with the noodle

lomeinAccording to the Oxford American Dictionary which is built into my Mac, to noodle is to “improvise or play casually on a musical instrument.”  

For me, noodling is playing casually on paper or on the computer or even in my head, trying on images, ideas, plot lines, characters.  It’s the What If process plus the kind of research that wanders through the stacks and follows interesting links for the joy of it (as opposed to the kind that hunts down a specific datum) plus bits of writing that may or may not lead someplace useful.  It’s pages of nonsense and folders full of documents (real or electronic) and pictures and maps and half-formed ideas.

Mostly it’s the search for serendipity. For that one thing–or two things–that makes the story come together. And for me, it’s utterly necessary to the process.

I thought I had done all the noodling I needed to in order to dive into IMMORTAL CHAMPION, that I knew just who these people were and where their story was going. Yet when I tried to get the words on paper, they just wouldn’t come. I couldn’t figure out why. I just knew I was having trouble.

Then a few days ago, I was looking up something and I blundered into a myth, and I realized that’s what had been missing. The myth. Each of the first two books had a myth or legend attached. It wasn’t something I’d consciously set out to do, it just happened naturally–these are paranormal historical romances, after all. When I stumbled on this myth the other day, I had a jolt of recognition. Perfect. THIS was my myth, and it was my missing ingredient.

A few hours later, I got a review quote for Immortal Outlaw from Kathe Robin at RTBOOKreview in which she said I know “how to blend myth and magic.”  (see full quote on my Home page)

Talk about confirmation. Serendipity. Magic.

Anyway, for the last few days I’ve been noodling again, using my myth as a starting point: What if x does y, then she’ll go blah-de-blah and he’ll be all upset. And then what if so and so tells him she’s got a…Is that even possible? Let me look that up. Well, you get it. Crap. But necessary crap–the kind that also let me  hit on the real, historical characters I could tie the myth to, something else I’ve been doing in the series (although the term “real” was applied  quite loosely in IMMORTAL OUTLAW). 

In a fit of noodle-generated inspiration, I wrote a new opening scene. Then I killed the darling. More crap, as it turned out, but useful, as it did tell me something about my characters — like what Gunnar actually wants as the book starts. And now, at last, I’m making progress. I’m going to get the proposal out the door, take my son and his girlfriend off to look at colleges (he’s gotten two of the big envelopes so far!), and then I’m going to try that Fast Draft thing again. Or something similar. Something disciplined that will get the book done fast. (None of the usual dragging things out, then having to write fast anyway. Just write fast at the outset.)

You’ll understand if I don’t tell you what the myth is or which historical characters I settled on, right?

How do you approach a new project, whether writing, knitting, composing a song, or painting a wall?  Do you noodle in your own way, or do you just sit down and get ‘er done?

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