Guest blog by Shawn Martin, author of Shadowflesh
In order to supplement my writing habit I bring in a steady paycheck as a firefighter. The two occupations seem to have little or nothing in common, but strangely enough I've found fighting a fire has all the elements of writing a book. Conceptually, not literally. I can't recall a time I've hammered out a chapter in sixty pounds of gear on breathing air in blinding smoke with fiery ceilings crashing down on my helmet, though some of the tougher scenes have often felt that way.
So what does fighting a fire have to do with crafting a story? Let's begin at the beginning.
On an otherwise average day you find yourself going about your daily routine, and all of the sudden an idea pops into your head. It's a lot like the alarm sounding, calling you to action. You get excited and worried at the same time. This could be the big one - the great American novel or the blaze of glory everyone is telling you you're going to go out in. You drop whatever it is you're doing, grab your tools of trade, and make a mad dash for the place where you get things done: either the keyboard or the big red truck.
In a matter of minutes, the daunting task confronts you. You see a chaotic story unfolding before your eyes and screaming characters running about, begging you to bring order into their lives. The coward inside you blinks and says, "Do you really want to do this? Maybe if you pass this one up no one will notice." But that just isn't an option. Passion and courage demand you dive into your work.
As quickly and as diligently as possible you learn everything you can about what is going on and who is involved. You develop a strategy with an outcome in mind, but you know deep down that the conclusion will never turn out the way planned. Unexpected twists and new characters are bound to pop up, demanding all of your skill and challenging your creativity.
Before another minute slips by, you type your first paragraph. You enter the smoky murk. You see very little at first, having to rely on your other senses and intuition just to maneuver your way through that first chapter. You crawl through the world you have entered, taking note of little things. A family photo, an old pair of sneakers, a dog dish. These are the things which make your characters real people with real lives. You feel the heat and it draws you closer.
As you make progress, the flames confront you. You come face to face with your epiphany, with what brought you to this strange place. That flaming epiphany wants you to dance with it only so that it can consume you. But you know you have to control it.
Water douses the flames like words flowing onto a page. The big fire is easy to see, easy to extinguish. It's the little ones you have to be worried about. You can't leave them burning, just like you can't leave questions unanswered in your story. They'll come back to burn you.
When the fire is out, when the book is done, you emerge from that daunting and haunting task exhausted and exhilarated. The plot has unfolded and the story has drawn to an end. The characters who you've come to know and care about have either suffered or been saved. The chaotic world settles into peace.
So the next time a wonderful story ignites in the far reaches of your mind, answer the call. Write your novel with the passion and energy you'd put into what might be the greatest adventure of your life. It might just be smoke, or it could be the big one.