I'm delighted to have Michele Ann Young blogging today! I really enjoyed her romance novel, The Lady Flees Her Lord and will be posting my review later today. Enjoy her fantastic writing in this post until then. :)
One of the questions I get asked most as a writer is: Where do you get your ideas?
A simple enough question. Not rocket science. After all, I am the one getting the ideas. It’s easy to be flip and say something of the sort my Victorian grandmother said to my mother when she asked where babies came from — “under a gooseberry bush”. Not exactly helpful, but in a way almost accurate.
Now I expect most people think writers belong in Bedlam, you know that insane asylum they had in the Regency. If you were the slightest bit odd they put you in there. And with an answer like the one above, I have probably confirmed your suspicions, about me, anyway.
So I will try to do better. What about the idea of “light-bulb moments”? We all have those. That would be a great way to describe inspiration and ideas. The arrival of an idea fully formed and plucked from the air, ready to go. Well I certainly do have some of those. They usually come just before I fall asleep, and I have to struggle to write them down, or if I’m all warm and cosy perhaps I will just repeat them over and over until I am sure I won’t forget. It’s a bit like counting sheep. They send me off to sleep and sometimes in the morning they don’t look at all bright and shiny. But sometimes they really are brilliant.
These though, are usually, small ideas. Solutions to plot problems, a snippet of conversation, a wonderful metaphor that will strike fear into the hearts of the Margaret Attwoods of the world (until the next morning as I already explained). These are not really the idea for the story.
Where do those bigger ideas come from? I seriously am thinking about planting a gooseberry bush in my back garden. No. No. The story ideas, the themes, well they come from many places, a newspaper article that touches my heart and that stays with me for longer than most bits of news, a history book with a brief mention of an event or a person that catches my imagination, a sunny day in the forest, a winter’s night. I have a whole story that ends in such a night waiting to be told. It was the smell of fresh snow that set the idea going.
I write novels set two hundred years ago, so how can I use events from today? Well, as I am sure you have noticed, the human condition, doesn’t change all that much. There is progress in society, law, order, education, science, all those good things. But individuals still suffer from greed, jealousy, love (thank goodness), they act from motives of revenge and from ignorance, even when we know so much more today than we did in the Regency. So I can take a modern day occurrence and set it in the Regency and say what if? And thats how ideas start to form.
Sadly, they don’t come neatly wrapped in foil paper with a bow. It is more like a jigsaw puzzle with only half the picture on each piece. Fitting it together is very time consuming and yes...puzzling. Worse yet, I always get too many pieces and I have to throw some of them away. Those are usually the easy ones, the ones with a straight edge and three little bumps. The ones I keep, that make the story interesting, are those strange misshapen four-sided ones with odd little pointy bits. Are you starting to wonder if I really belong in Bedlam?
I think you will get lots of different answers from different authors to this question. Some will give you the gooseberry bush answer, because they don’t want to look crazy, and some will try to explain, and realize they are crazy. One thing I do find is that much of the inner story, what makes my characters act as they do, evolves from the characters themselves. But, you say, you invented those character.
Well yes. And...no. I don’t consciously set out to create a history for my characters. It is a subconscious process for me. A slow unveiling. This can be quite infuriating, when they don’t tell you something important until you get to the end of the book and you have to go back and fix the whole darn thing. But how the characters act and their beliefs drive the story forward and eventually allows for a happy ending.
So now you know where the ideas come from. Ummm. The gooseberry bush is looking more and more inviting, do you think?