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ISO A Few Good Ideas

Our blog chain is picking up new members, which is really exciting. Rather than list them all here, I'm going to direct you to the blogroll column to your left, where new blogs are still appearing!

Though the genres topic was tough for a lot of people (including me), Elana's wonderful question has nearly doubled our blog chain!

The question: Where do you get your ideas?

Now, I took one look at that and started looking forward to everyone else's answers, because I feel like I don't have enough ideas. (Which is kind of ironic considering that Archetype Writing has a whole Muse section...or maybe you know now why it does.)

The truth is that I have plenty of things that catch my attention, it's just knowing what to do with them.

So...I collect ideas kind of like burrs. Some things just stick to me.

Sometimes it's a line from a song, like HL Dyer and Mary have experienced.

For example, I love that bleak line from Bush's Machinehead: If I had it all again, I'd change it all.

That just seized my imagination and wouldn't let go. I can't tell you what the rest of the song's lyrics are, but boy, that line...

Especially because I tend to think of disasters as learning experiences, I was intrigued by the idea of an outcome so bad a character would give anything to start over. By the idea that someone would be willing to take any outcome but the one he got.

I ended up with a character so desperate to do the right thing that he makes all the wrong choices. Eventually he finds himself responsible for the deaths of those closest to him, for the fall of his nation, and for lifting his worst enemy into power. And that's where things get interesting, because without anything left to lose he really becomes dangerous. (And he's the good guy!)

Sometimes the idea comes from another story. One of my novels was born of a trailer for a movie called The Seventh Sign. To this day, I have not seen the movie, nor do I really know what it's about, but the first time I saw the trailer, something about the concept stuck. I liked the idea of a group of people coming together to try to stop an apocalypse. In my characters' situation, they fail. Miserably. And then they have to destroy what they've unleashed.

(I just looked at the Wikipedia entry for the movie. Definitely not what I came up with. My story's high fantasy. :-)

Sometimes I start with a character. Often I'm intrigued by movie characters. I really liked Ioan Gruffudd's Lancelot in 2004's King Arthur. (For the auditory among us, his last name is pronounced Griffith.) What makes the character especially interesting to me is that Gruffudd hasn't played anyone else like him. (Like, could Mr. Fantastic be any more of a polar opposite?) At one point in the movie Guenevere asks Lancelot if he's thought about taking a wife and having children, and he responds that he's killed too many men to have the right to sons of his own. And that stuck. So I have a WIP with a character kind of like Gruffudd's Lancelot, but in a totally different context, with a different backstory...it's more the archetype of the character I liked, and Gruffudd's unique spin made it stick.

Sometimes what sticks is a character's plight from a novel I've already finished. It can be hard to tie off all the loose ends, and I don't like Disney-happy endings, because that's not what real life is like. Twice I've had a character who drew the short straw in endings, and I've had to go back and write a new novel for him.

The first time the character lost his family, didn't get the girl, and didn't learn to use the magic he craved. So I wondered...what happened next for him, after he walked away from everyone else's happy ending with nothing for himself?

The second time it happened the character got to be part of everyone else's happy ending, but he had posttraumatic stress disorder, and that doesn't just go away. Since he had gone from second-in-charge to first-in-charge of an entire nation, I figured there were some interesting bumps in the road ahead of him. I was right.

Sometimes something in my own life just has a lot of emotional weight, and I need somewhere to put it, so the problem or experience finds its way into a character's life.

Whenever something sticks, I try to put it away in a notebook where it will stay safe. But some things don't stay in the notebook. A little corner of my brain keeps turning them over, trying out different possibilities, until finally I'm compelled to start writing.

8 Comments:

  1. RedDuck said...
    Oooh, I like the concept of burrs. You're totally right about certain things just sticking with us. Then we think about them and try to turn them into something interesting. And is this the book you put your query letter up for? I don't remember it...
    H. L. Dyer said...
    Cool posting!

    And, Hey! I posted about a snippet of lyrics first! *snort*
    Mary Lindsey said...
    Ahhhh. You pointed to my half-assed post in the middle of your fabulous essay on inspiration. Honored or embarrassed... hmmm.

    Well done. I love getting to know writers. Thanks for the look inside.
    celticqueen said...
    I agree, the burr comment fits perfectly! I should probably start carrying a notebook around - because I get a lot of great ideas that are lost by the time I get to my computer to put it in my idea file :) I tried carrying around a tape recorder once, that it embarrassed me to use it, even when I was alone...go figure ;)
    Kate Karyus Quinn said...
    I love the idea of taking a character from a movie and using him for something else! This is why I think it is so silly when people worry about their ideas being stolen - don't they realize that when you take someone else's idea it changes and becomes your own?
    brimfire said...
    Yep, I've come up with characters based off of movies, video games, and songs (seems like a lot of us are inspired by music).
    Archetype said...
    Oh, Heather! *runs to fix that* I went back through everyone's posts before I wrote mine, and I knew there was at least one other person who talked about lyrics...!

    Mary, you are too cute. Your posts are wonderful!

    Elky -- I tried the tape recorder thing, too. Didn't work for me, either, partly because I was embarrassed to use it and partly because I thought I sounded like a moron when I tried to listen to it.

    Kate -- Thanks, I kind of feel like I'm cheating when I do that, but I do it a lot.

    I'm really glad you guys like the burrs metaphor (analogy? I never know which is which). I love how writing about your process helps you clarify what the experience is like for you.

    The book I put the query letter up for is this one: "The first time the character lost his family, didn't get the girl, and didn't learn to use the magic he craved. So I wondered...what happened next for him, after he walked away from everyone else's happy ending with nothing for himself?" It's also the one I'm posting bits of in the romance crit forum.

    I'm also going to look for readers for this ms, but it's science fantasy: "I ended up with a character so desperate to do the right thing that he makes all the wrong choices. Eventually he finds himself responsible for the deaths of those closest to him, for the fall of his nation, and for lifting his worst enemy into power. And that's where things get interesting, because without anything left to lose he really becomes dangerous. (And he's the good guy!)"
    Sarah Jensen said...
    That's a great post. I don't feel worthy.
    And is this work the one you sent me, which after Michelle's, is next?

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