If a Butterfly’s Beginnings
Originally posted on Michael Runs the Gamut on October 4, 2014
In the previous post I talked about how NaNoWriMo was helpful to me because it forced me to attempt something I had never done before. I wasn’t thrilled with losing that first year, but I was happy that I had tried, and I had a good start on a novel (nearly 40,000 horrific words, but it was 40,000 more than I had the month before). I still thought it was a good idea for a novel, but — after rereading what I had written — I realized that the quality of my writing was crap. After unsuccessfully trying to revise and expand the novel a few times, discouraged, I gave up in mid-December, deciding that version the book was hopeless.
I started thinking about NaNoWriMo again during the spring [of 2003], and did a bit of brainstorming. I took notes, puzzled through various possible scenarios, and decided I didn’t like any of them.
It was summer before I came up with an idea I liked. I was daydreaming, sitting in an airport, when a fly buzzed past me. I started wondering what a fly’s life was like. The Edward Lorenz quote, “If a butterfly flaps its wings in Central Park, will there be hurricanes in China?” popped into my head. Incorrectly. His actual quote is, “Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly’s Wings in Brazil set off a Tornado in Texas?”
Here’s an interesting video about Lorenz’ work.
My first thought was that I could follow the effect of a butterfly’s flapping wings as it generated a storm on the other side of the world. The thought lasted about ten seconds, until my rational brain kicked in and decided that would make an intensely boring book, but I kept fiddling with the idea.
By the time NaNoWriMo rolled around in November I was ready. My plot had a spine. A Monarch butterfly would travel from Canada to Mexico on its epic annual migration. As it flew, it would intersect with the lives of several people, and the novel would pick up each of their stories; and, of course, there would have to be a storm to impede everyone’s progress. For a few months I read about butterflies and hurricanes, and began making notes about the various individuals I thought I might want to populate the novel with.
Being ready to write before I began, instead of trying to figure out what to do while NaNoWriMo was underway, worked much better. I managed 53,098 words that time, and had a workable (but very skimpy) novel at the end of the month. It was far from complete, with tons of plot holes to fill, but structurally sound. It took me nearly a decade, and some major restructuring to finish it; plus a few additional years of pitching and querying (and multiple revisions and trimming) to discover that no agent wanted to touch anything that large from a first-time author [in 2014 it was a little over 200,000 words, trimmed down from over 300,000].
I’ve moved on to other projects since then, but I haven’t given up on Butterfly. I’m seriously considering self-publishing it.
How do your plot ideas come to you? How do you develop them?
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