All writers, especially those who write fantastical literature, get asked the following question: ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’ The short and somewhat glib answer I usually give is ‘Everywhere’. It’s true though: the germ of story might come from something I heard on the radio, or read in a book or on the web, or from an off-hand comment, or as a random ‘What if?’ that just arrives out of the blue.
I’m sure that anyone with any imagination – which generally includes readers of SF and Fantasy – has ideas at least as interesting as I do. The difference is that I follow a few of these ideas through and make stories out of them. And that, I think, is what is really being asked: ‘How do you make daydreams into novels?’
Any answer to that question will be long and complicated, because there are a number of stages, some of which I’ve already talked about on this blog. For me, one of the earliest stages involves walking through the countryside near my house, or sitting in t’garret staring out of the skylight whilst listening to appropriate music. Or, to put it another way, I let the idea ferment.
The visible froth from my mental brew is copious quantities of notes, written on whatever comes to hand; I try and carry a notebook at all times, but in the past bits of future plot have been recorded on envelopes, shopping lists and menus.
From this fermentation, I hope to get a skeletal plot sequence, character sketch, or detailed scene. At this point I deploy a secret weapon not available to any other writer in the world: my husband. Beloved is one of those SF readers who has great ideas but no desire to convert them into novels. He’s as widely read in the genre as me, though with more of an emphasis on hard SF and (unlike me) he is scientifically trained. So, I often run my current crop of plot bunnies past him, generally somewhere comfortable where we have time to talk. Hence the plot pizza.
The most recent plot pizza resulted in the sudden and unexpected introduction of a new character into Bringer of Light. I knew that one of the plot threads was about to take off in an interesting direction, but because I don’t outline in detail, and because we’re about to go to a scary place (scary to write anyway) I’ve been glossing over the details. When Beloved and I went through my scribbled notes and questions – never underestimate the value of asking questions when converting ideas to stories – over a bottle of Italian red and a large pile of garlic bread, we concluded that the story needed someone else. And a very odd someone they look likely to be too. But now I’ve realised this – with his help – their presence in the story has gone from an unknown variable to an essential component.
I just wish I could convince the Inland Revenue of Beloved’s usefulness to my writing; he (or at least the meals I buy him while we plot) really should be tax deductible. But then there would probably be some sort of mileage allowance or something …