As a quick aside, I am writing this article at 3 am in a Scottish Bed and Breakfast. The radiator has just started making the most godawful sounds, and this a bad time to have a good imagination!
Anyhow, the reason I am in Scotland is to do research on Stone the Crows, the sequel to Dog Days. Instead, or at least consecutively, I am inundated with new ideas. So I thought I’d talk a little but more about inspiration!
A lot of authors I know worry that they are going to run out of ideas. Not in a genuine way, like you worry about weather or that one weird bloke over the road that might be a serial killer, but you know…neurotically. One day they will wake up, sit down at the computer, and it will turn out they have used up all their allocated ideas. Many of them on pointless lies and short stories. That has never been my problem (I worry about literally everything else, including that maybe you only get so many good words and I’ve
used up so many of mine talking blather, but not that), whether it is people watching, random bits of history, or just staring blankly at a wall the ideas pop into my head.
Now I will be the first to admit that 75 percent of those ideas are what we in the business call absolute balls. They are all otter detectives, bizarre what ifs, and made up stories about why the hot Japanese tourists were in Donegal showing up the locals? Occasionally there’s a diamond- like Bone to Pick,** that barely needs a spit polish before being set in a book, but mostly… not. I am NOT the author that all the other writers want to talk ideas over with. They’re blue sky thinking and I am spit-balling mad-libs over here.
The thing is that sometimes the bad part of the idea is just the lens that you’re looking at it through. I mean, maybe it is just DRESSED like a bad idea? So you have to twiddle it around, pick off that warty bit, and give it a polish on your sleeve. Then you see what you have.
Otter detectives! An unimpeachable children’s book, but not going to work as an m/m romance. Unless I give it a tweak, and look at it from a different angle.
Maybe the otters are were- otters! Deadly Navy Seals who, once a month, turn into adorable Furry otter shifters. It can be useful for recon, but when the Full Moon Falls in the middle of a mission…
Fair enough. Maybe the otter is getting the blame for tripping up some vet and the guy’s broken ‘leg’ is his alibi for something terrible. The zookeeper in charge of the otters has to prove it before his charges are shipped off to Wales while their enclosure is fixed. Hey, I’m just saying that I would read it.
What you have to do is find the core appeal of the story. The one thing that, if you strip everything else away, would still interest people.
Otters are, obviously, an easy one. The core appeal of the story is otters. Frankly, otters are the core appeal of anything an otter is involved in. Also true for racoons.
The trick is to know when you don’t have that core to the story. When you pick an idea apart and there’s no core element that you can spin out into a narrative, that’s when you’ve really picked a bad apple off the idea tree. Sometimes even ideas you think are good, and have all sorts of glossy bits and bobs, end up having no core to them. I mean we’ve all read those books – and I’ve written a couple, or part of them – where all the elements are there but it’s just not….filling.
For me it tends to be the characters. I’ve lots of very, very clever (yes, alright, clever for me!) ideas that have legs for miles. However, no character came with them and when I try and make a cee to fill the gap they just don’t feel real. So when I’m writing it always tends to be the character as the fulcrum the world turns around. Even Javi, who
went from food critic to fed in Bone to Pick, was still Javi throughout.
Of the current crop of ideas I’m juggling right now maybe two are worth something in the long term. Three if you count the one about the hot guy stripping in in the rain. Well, it’s not exactly a story, I just say a really hot hiker strip down to his skivvies in a Scottish car park. Still, hot guy, public nudity, and who needs plot? #AmIRight?
That’s actually not a bad ratio for me.
…the radiator is done gurgling. So good- night?***
* Because they could is, I believe, the answer. However, the reason behind the trip was surfing. I eavesdrop a LOT on conversations in coffee shops.
* * A diamond not because it is so good (although I do think it is pretty good!) but because it was a pretty solid idea from the outset
*** I did edit this at a more reasonable hour. You can tell, because I cut out all the ‘wotsits’ and ‘thingummybobs’ and that one weird paragraph about a man knocking at the door. There was no man…I hope.