Thursday, July 17, 2008

On the Origins of Ideas

Last night, just before I collapsed into bed and swore not to think about one. more. educational. thing., I decided to try to think of a new idea for my next book. See, for me, writing is all about coming up with an idea whose solution I'm clueless about. The fun of writing is discovering the solution. That's why revising is so hard for me: I enjoy discovering the end of the book, and once I've got the end, I don't care as much any more. (This is also, btw, why planning doesn't work well with me: if I outline the book all the way to the end, it kills the book for me.)

I drew a blank last night--probably because my head was still swimming with the consequences of vouchers for the public school system (vouchers = bad. really bad. realllllly bad.). But my crazy mind did start wondering where ideas come from.

For my hidden-under-the-bed novels, I was basically copying other authors. It wasn't fan fiction; I just took the same central themes, plot structures, etc. from my fav books and put them in my stories. There's a reason those books are hidden under my bed.

For my first "publishable" novel, the idea came from the first line: I had a dream (read: beer and/or sleep-deprived induced haze--I was in college) where a girl sees a cat and the cat says "I am not a cat." The entire novel was built around that one line.

For my second "publishable" novel, I had a very specific agenda. The actual story resulted from three different stories that I couldn't complete--then I combined them and came up with one complete story! But in reality, the idea of the novel was to show the consequences of addiction (on the person, on his family, etc.) as well as the different kinds of love (family, friends, romantic).

For this new novel...I'm not sure what the originating idea was. I wasn't trying to write The Amnesia Door, I was trying to write a book called The Death of Jennifer Morrison which you can see just from the title was a very different book from the one I actually wrote. In all honesty, when I think back to those days when I started writing this novel, I don't know where the ideas came from. I think it may have started out as a short story. I know part of my purpose was to make something completely different. The kids aren't magical--their teacher is. Magic doesn't solve the problems--actually, the teacher's in a lot of trouble because of magic. And one of my biggest purposes: to show that what you learn in school is applicable to life (some of the kids real-life lessons in class help them solve their problems).

But this puts me at a dilemma: one book started with characters, one started with theme, one started with a big pile of dunno. And now that I want to start thinking of a new idea (so that I can quit thinking about revising cuz I hates it! I hates it!), I'm not quite sure where to start. Do I focus my mind-ray on coming up with a new character? Should I turn my Agatha-Christie-like brain towards a plot twist? Or should I just find some brain monkeys?

How about you? Where do your ideas come from?
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