Wednesday, June 22, 2011

How a Writing Mind Works--Kernels

~~Writers are asked, "How do you do it? How do you get your ideas? How do you write?" all the time. Sometimes we can't really tell what caused a specific scene, but at other times, it is quite clear. Lately I've been experimenting with what Diana Gabaldon calls "kernel writing." Read her description HERE. In the past, I've not been the most adept at getting these little bits down as they occur and I'm sure some of the very best have gotten away from me.

~~Now that I have Inner Editor entertained and distracted, I've been having more and more kernel moments. Today there were two specific instances. One was not a real surprise--it dealt with a scene I've been working on for FRIENDLY FIRE. The other was completely out of the blue. It deals with an idea that has been bugging me for years with THE DAWN AND THE LION. I've known how the military saluted their superiors in the chain of command for over two decades. It really never made much sense and at times, I've tried to change it, to no avail. Today I found out the symbolism behind the salute.

~~I have been rereading Catherine Asaro's SKOLIAN EMPIRE series and the method of salute kept standing out.
"The officers saluted, raising their arms to chest height, outstretched with fists clenched, crossing their wrists with the snap of muscled skin hitting muscled skin." (THE RADIENT SEAS p. 274)

~~Then I had a clear scene to pop up in my mind that explained the salute and moves plot along nicely. The POV character is Canda Aurora, the female protagonist. Even without knowing all that goes before or comes after, I think this kernel will illustrate how my mind was working this morning. Note that the general mentioned has no specific name yet, so X stands in its place. I hope you enjoy.

A chill walked up my spine. August was dead. No one had to tell me. No one needed to share their grief with me. Mine was larger than the three worlds. Larger than a human heart could survive.

General X, the chief of staff, second in command stood before me. "My Lady Regent." His hand rose sharply and he touched the center of his forehead with his fingers. I'd seen the salute a thousand times since I came to Patria. A salute to Brennan, to August and now to me. No matter how I grieved, I had responsibility. For General X's salute said it all--My mind is yours to command. The chill became a blizzard.

~~How do your scenes come to you? Do you find inspiration in what you read or do they develop from outlines?


  1. Hi Zan! The incredible Laura Stanford answered your call for Women's Fiction titles over at the Cheetah. Thanks for stopping by! :), Marie

  2. Great scene Zan! My scenes come to me while reading, watching a movie, commercial, reality show, sitcom, sitting in church, sitting in a doctor's office... You get my drift. :) But my most exciting scenes have come while watching a very excitinng movie at a theater. May sound lame, but it's true!

  3. well done on the salute - I havent even got a salute yet let alones a meaning - and I'm on the third book - disgraceful behaviour from my soldiers I just can't get my head around it

    my kernals/ well - in the car, the garden, stretched out on the bed mainly - they pop up or we spend a long time kernal and i discussing things- sorting stuff out, you know!

  4. Thanks, Marie. I'll be right over.

    There's not telling where they come from sometimes. I like all your places. The shower works well also. ; )

    Disgraceful soldiers, tsk, tsk. ; )
    Don't you just love it when they come.

  5. My mind is yours to command - ooh! Very powerful.
    My scenes are usually all kernels that grow and expand, like tentacles [g] How do they come though? Shh, don't talk about it too much, what if they stop coming? Sometimes it's a written phrase, sometimes an image, sometimes from a dream. They come, and I'm so happy that they do!

  6. General X [g]
    I can't believe I'm this far along and I *still* have at least 3 characters without names...

  7. Deniz,
    I'm glad you liked "My mind is yours to command." I've grinned about it all day. ; )

    I won't tell your process, just go with the flow. That's what I'm finally learning to do. And I think the names will come to you.

  8. Great post, ZM.

    The fiction I'm writing unnerved me at first because I kept getting small scenes without continuity. Eventually I understood the writer's job is to weave them in such a way that the reader and I both are anxious to know what comes next!

  9. Diana,
    The craft of bridging and transition is still a skill I'm lacking. Miss Editor and I will cross that bridge later. ; ) goiod luck.


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