Saturday, February 16, 2008

One Pinch of Fertilizer

Well, this week something rare happened.

I came up with a new idea for a book.

Coming up with a new story idea, in itself, isn’t all that unusual. What’s rare is when a whole story, and not just a concept, suddenly appears in your head and as far as you can tell, it isn’t a story you read earlier that week with the wallpaper changed.

I’ve done that so many times. I invest 50,000 words in a new story, only to put it aside for a while…and when I pick it up and read it through to refresh my memory before continuing, I realize I’ve basically re-written something that’s already out there.

That’s the moment you feel your heart sink. You thought it was good, hell it is good…but the reason it’s good is because it’s ‘The Lord of the Rings’ or ‘Harry Potter’…only the main character is female instead of male, the ring has become a necklace and instead of a wand, your protagonist carried a staff instead.

It’s fine to ‘borrow’ from other writers. If people insisted on being totally original, there wouldn’t have been a fantasy story written since ‘Lord of the Rings’…but there’s a difference between ‘comprehensive inspiration’ and flat out plagiarism.

For me, the hardest part is about to begin, and believe it or not, that’s not the actual writing part…it’s knowing when to write it.

Start too soon and you’re left with a story that’s a sketch, rather than a painting. Sure, you re-write anyway, but the idea is the foundation. Those ideas and flashes of inspiration come when the idea only exists in your head, not when the framework is already written down. Before an architect puts pen to paper, that building he’s designing could be anything. Once he starts drawing, he’s going to end up with a variation of what’s on that paper.

Leave your story just long enough, and you discover all the things about the story you didn’t notice at the start.

Leave it too long, and everything starts to get tangled up. That idea you had was awesome, but if you include that, you have to cut out this, which is just as good as the other part…but if you include that, you have to rethink this character, who you thought you had just about perfect.

Leave it way too long, and you either get completely and totally bored of the idea…or brain crack sets in. You realize that this idea is just too perfect to rush, and requires a lot more thought. You have to protect your idea, and putting it down on paper now means you wouldn’t get it just right…and this inevitably becomes the ‘great novel’ that would totally get you to the top of the best seller lists…but will only ever exist inside your head.

Unfortunately, there’s no sure-fire way to get this right.

If anyone knows a way, let me know.

1 comment:

MC Etcher said...

"Just Do It" seems to be the best way. Once it's done, you can always go back and edit to your heart's content - but at least it will be done.

Ray Bradbury has said he puts manuscripts in a drawer for a year, and then reads them completely fresh - sounds like it would work, but I wouldn't have the patience.