If there is one question that every published author hears at other events, it is this one : But where do you get all those ideas ?
Many people who dream of becoming a (famous) writer are scratching their head to find this mysterious well of ideas. Most are under the impression that writers form a tight circle around a secret lair of the golden-egg-laying hen. The secret well of inspiration, teeming with ideas!
This belief joins another one : all writers signing at the events are filthy rich! Or if they are not, it must be because they don’t have access to a good well.
This in nonsense, as chance and fashion are the capricious ingredients that make or unmake successes. Also, many are convinced that once this idea has been fished out of the well, the main work is done, the book will write itself! Hence this ubiquitous anguished question : will someone steal my idea?
Relax, it is rather the opposite. Ideas are like dandelion seeds, easy to blow : pfffffuit!
They are blown in the sky half-formed, and many budding writers try to capture them with clumsy fingers ! When they manage to catch one, they notice that there is still a long way between the seed and the grown tree, between the idea and the completed book!
About ideas, the following scene happens often at a signing table (preferably when the writer is alone). A fan walks by, telling of his wonderful idea for a novel, an idea so genial that the writer should leave all his current projects to do the hard work on it! It happens especially with the SF writers…
An idea may be a very small seed at the beginning, so we must not try to pull from it a completed 600-page spy novel !
(Who is this author?)
Les Nuages de Phoenix (The Clouds of Phoenix) was my first SF novel aimed at YA. The novel idea took a long time to grow.
It began with a simple mental picture, a girl looking at the clouds. One of my favorites activities when I was a child. I happened to like meteorology (and I later followed climatology courses when studying Geography). The place took form, Phoenix is another planet with a green sky. Why green? Ah, enter the airborne particles size, and many other explorations.
In that special environment, I found out that the little girl, Blanche, was handicapped, a consequence of a grave accident, and she wears an exosqueleton that gives her legs the capability of running at 80 km/h (a fun fact when I mention it in classrooms). New characters appear : Blanche has a family: an big sister in love , a father worrying about the oxygen production plant, etc. Those characters grow and eventually become like friends of the writer. This is a very nice step in the creative process, and I will come back to it in a future blog entry.
The clouds of Phœnix‘s seed idea took about one year to grow discreetly, before I was ready to write the full-length manuscript. Afterwards, there has been the long rewriting and edition process under my editor’s eye. All in all, the novel took almost two years (working on it part-time) between the seed and the finished work.
I wrote about the challenge of growing a story in my French blog. A story begins as a tiny seed, which we put in soil and water, leaving it for a time. But the idea grows in silence. And nothing prohibits us to have more than one idea growing! Certain will get ripe earlier than the others.
So, our inspiration tree must be fed, in three ways. We draw first from our own life experience, that help to get empathy with what our characters are living through. Then by our readings, any kind of reading: for researching our subject, for fun, for exploring different genres and ways of storytelling.. and last but not least, our imagination, always creating bridges.
Many of those links may be absurd, but some will prove fecund.
A writer cannot get into an ivory tower and tell himself that his fertile imagination will be enough. Our plant needs watering, fertilizer, care: the three inspiration sources interact between themselves. And when the story gets too profuse, the care will later include pruning…
(to be continued…)