Thursday, July 9, 2009

On Inspiration

I'm so going to cop out on this post today, mainly because I spent nearly all day yesterday tweaking my website ( and am now feeling slightly sick that I've not gotten any critiques done for my friends and am falling behind on my own revisions. But! I am glad to have revised my website. It still featured my other WIP, but now is focused on the current one, Long Way Home. I know that some people like to feature all their WIPs on their website, but I want to focus on the one I'm marketing now.

One of the biggest things I had to change was my page on inspiration. For my last WIP, I had a clearly defined set of character inspirations: the teacher was inspired by Audrey Hepburn, the bad guy got traits of Nathan Filion's character Captain Mal on Firefly, the main character came from the myth of Bellerophon. But in my current WIP, there was no real inspiration from the characters at all. Not physically--one character's traits come from his heritage, and the other has bright red hair only because that was the most different hair color I could think of in contrast to the first character. And these characters had no real inspiration emotionally: who could I compare to them, considering one's been cyrogenically frozen and the other born on a space ship?

Nope--instead, inspiration for these characters came from the plot--this story started with plot, and I fit characters to them. So, where did the plot come from? That's what I spent a large part of yesterday analyzing. It's on my website here, but in case you'd rather not click over, here's where my last WIP came from:

On Writing: Inspiration

I love hearing about where books come from. Although often the source of a story untraceable thing as ideas feed into each other, in some cases it is possible to pick an author's mind.

Three books had the greatest influence on Long Way Home, but the seeds of my inspiration happened years and years ago, reading Agatha Christie in elementary school and junior high. As a kid, I never liked Nancy Drew. Her mysteries were too mild. But Agatha Christie had foreign detectives, murders, and even spies! I try to include some element of mystery in all of my writing--mystery, after all, keeps the pages turning--but I've never done a novel that revolves around a mystery.

A year ago, I read Jeanne Du Prau's first book in the Ember series, The City of Ember. I adored the mystery of that novel, which awoke my old longings to write a mystery of my own. One thing I particularly loved in The City of Ember was that the mystery was in a contained location: the kids couldn't leave Ember (at first), and everything had to take place in that one city. I thought that was brilliant, and started to play around with ideas of creating a contained mystery. Another walled city sounded too close to De Prau's work...a cruise ship had been done before...but what if it was on a space ship....?

But of course, I couldn't write that because I didn't like science fiction. Sure, I liked Orson Scott Card's Ender series as much as the next girl, but those giant tomes filled with physics and chemistry that my husband reads sounded much too much like a science textbook to me.

Then I read The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary Pearson. The plot was amazingly clever and I became instantly hooked on the wonderfully written characters, but the thing that stuck with me was the realization that this was science fiction. This wasn't a five hundred page epic with detailed analysis of the science behind the plot. Pearson used science in the same way that JK Rowling used magic: as a means to progress and enhance the plot, without an dissertation on the mechanics.

And that is what I set out to do: use science like magic, write a science fiction that worked like a fantasy. And, of course, throw in a murder mystery, too.

But it just wasn't...twisty enough. I had a setting, I had an idea of a mystery, but I needed a twist, something more shocking than your run-of-the-mill whodunnit.

Fortunately, I read The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner soon after. It featured a first person narrator, a style of writing I had never used myself before, and honestly, had never really liked. First person point of view always made me feel as if the story is being told to me by someone else, and I have trouble becoming fully engrossed with the characters. Turner was so skilled in this style of writing, though, and I fell into the world so completely that I never realized just how...unreliable...a first person narrator can be. I won't ruin the book here--you need to read it for yourself!--but I will say this: after discovering the twist the main character Gen creates at the end of The Thief, I realized that not only did I need a twist in my own novel, but by using a first person narrator, I'd be able to use my own main characters to deliver that twist.

Of all the stories and novels I've worked on, this one has had the most influence from books I've loved. Although Long Way Home isn't a copy of any of these works, it is the result of a reader's mind!

So, where does your inspiration come from? Do you start with characters (as I did with my previous WIP) or plot (as I did with my current one)? Or something else entirely?
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