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November 3rd, 2012, 02:14 PM #1
Deconstructing the writing process – aka “where do you get your ideas?”
Cirias’ thread about themes got me thinking about this, and rather than hijack that thread I thought I’d start a new one. So I know how I write, but I’m wondering how others go about it.
Take the last flash comp (the dolls one) – I set the topic of dolls with a vague idea I that I could write something ethnic and old English folklore-ish about corn dollies and traditional witchcraft. As you can see from the end product, that didn’t go very well at all. Here’s why:
I go to work and do the usual mundane things for a few days, occasionally thinking “I really ought to get around to writing something for that flash competition” and not doing it.
We’re about a week into the October flash and I’m sitting at the computer that evening thinking “it’s my flash comp, I really ought to enter something to make up the numbers”, and I’ve got absolutely nowhere with corn dollies and old English folklore other than “it’d be really cool if I wrote something about corn dollies.” Something about corn dollies is so far completely not getting written.
I’ve had a few beers and I’m listening to an old Marillion album (I know, I know….) while my wife is watching TV in the other room, and I’ve got as far as writing “The village”. Hmmm, it’s not going very well so far.
The Marillion album plays a track called “Punch and Judy” (which is awesome, by the way, if you’re old enough to miss the eighties, and someone like me who things "suburbanshee" is one of the best words ever coined in a song! - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OWrwYsSt6OE) and I think – Punch and Judy! Yes! No. They’re puppets not dolls. Bugger. Oh well, no one will notice.
Two hundred words in and Judy’s dead baby becomes a plastic child’s doll because that’s what I see her carrying when I’m writing it. She was (in my head) supposed to be carrying around this blue rotting dead baby, but she just isn’t, she’s carrying a plastic toy baby that she thinks is a real dead baby, and why in the world would she think it was a real dead baby not a real live baby unless she was so far off the psycho scale that…. and the rest of it pretty much wrote itself.
So anyway, that’s usually how my writing writes itself. You?
November 3rd, 2012, 02:24 PM #2
First off I'm passing familiar with Marillion but I never caught on to their influence on your (excellent) flash
I'm not sure where my ideas come from, but at a guess its similar in the way that something outside my physical presence gives me an idea. Now that I'm writing NaNoWriMo for the first time and rushing on and not looking back its interesting to see what is popping up. I notice that both Martin and Abercrombie have a tendency to crop up, either in the way I write a sentence, or how I describe a character ... as to the plot for this particular novel I decided I wanted to do something similar to what Martin did, i.e. base it on historical events, and see where my story goes from there.
As for flash...the "doll" theme kind of automagically makes me (and many others I noticed) go for that creepy/horror-style of telling a story about dolls, so I guess creepy dolls is quite a common trope. I was indeed twisting my mind to see if I could go against the trope (which I really should have done) but ended up with a story about...a creepy doll. Oh well. That particular doll was partially inspired by the puppet Hairlock from Erikson's "The Malazan Book of the Fallen" though it doesn't show.
Point is there's always *something* out there that becomes the seed for a story. Often its simply the theme itself that gets me going (for example, when the theme was "reflection" I immediately decided upon some character going to fight his own reflection, and the rest just grew from there); other times I've seen or heard of read something that inspires me, such as when the short story theme was 'insanity', and I had just been reading about the crime of malingering (that story went nowhere fast though).
November 4th, 2012, 01:40 AM #3
Writers get ideas from everything, but if you're talking about main ideas, authors tend to orient slightly towards one source of data -- setting/imagery, character or plot/device, though they may use the others and there's plenty of overlap. So if you put three different authors in the same place, say a baseball stadium, they'll notice different things. One may notice physical and sensory things about the stadium and how aspects of the stadium shape what's happening around them and what the atmosphere is like. Another will notice various people - how they look, how they act, and wonder about their lives and how they feel. A third will notice things that happen -- a cup being spilled, a guy almost falling out of the stands, a ball boy collecting balls, etc. and they'll start playing with that. These types of things particularly attract their attention, though again, they'll also notice other things and integrate them. But if you ask an author to generate premise ideas while at the baseball stadium or other circumstances and places, it's likely that the majority of them will be oriented in one of those three areas. I've learned over time that I'm pretty setting/iimagery oriented and I build from there.
November 4th, 2012, 02:34 PM #4
My fiction pretty much follows similar processes:
I decide on a time and place and then think of a few characters. I write a few paragraphs and then I write an outline of 10 or more points in linear progression of the story arc. Somewhere between 1/4 to halfway in, the characters assert themselves and most of those 10 points are thrown out or changed.
At some point a character pops up who wasn't intended to last more than a a scene and becomes a major character. In my novel this was a character named Shoji, and I couldn't figure out for the longest time why he was suddenly important or why that was his name. Then it dawned on me that the name was the Japanese word for door, window or room divider: it's that door that someone slides to open and reveal the room inside and this was essentially the function that this character played. It was one of those weird moments where you realize that much of your writing is done on a subconscious level. Another moment was when two of the characters who were in a long term, devoted relationship were suddenly less so. I realized while I was writing the dialogue from one of them that they would be breaking up soon, which was never the intention and altered the story.
When things like this happen it's a choice between pigeon-holing the characters into your carefully constructed stories or letting yourself become their biographer. I choose the latter. Nearing the end, I usually go and write a new first chapter. Throughout the writing I constantly go back to the beginning and edit grammar and the story itself so that it forms a cohesive whole. Once I'm finished the final chapter, I go back and edit several more times. Then I get someone else to edit it and then I edit some more. And then it's done.
November 4th, 2012, 09:43 PM #5
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I'm always interested in tracing the origin of ideas. It's true that much of it (at least for me) is very subconcious, I tend to take from things without realizing it. It's a thin line between inspiration and plagiarism, I find.
The last flash fiction piece I wrote is a good example. The theme for last month was "Dolls", and I thought to myself, "This will be a good opportunity to write something different, something wholesome, to broaden my horizons rather than write the usual story of darkness and madness." So I tried thinking of something nice, maybe a scene involving a girl and her doll.
Eight or nine days went by, and I couldn't think of a scene. I couldn't even come up with a sentence. Usually, when a contest theme doesn't work for me, I get fed up and decide to try and find a way to destroy it, to violate as much as possible. So then I thought, "What's the worst thing I can do with this theme?"
Four hours later, I posted my story. It involved a man falling in love with a blow-up doll, then murdering it and burying it in his back yard.
I like when an idea writes itself. That four hour process went something like this:
"Hmmm. . . How can I use dolls in a way that probably isn't intended? What kind of dolls are there? Let's see: Voodoo dolls, porcelain dolls, barbie dolls-"
-Blow up sex doll-
"Yes, of course! But in order to really mess with the theme, I shouldn't make it obvious that it's about a blow-up doll. I should string the reader along and make them scratch their heads-"
-Treat the doll like a real person-
"Yes! I'll make my main character interact with it like he thinks it's real. But that would make this character some kind of nut, if he thinks it's real. What other nutty things can I have him doing-"
-He's in love with the doll-
"Funny! But what else? How far can I take this idea? How absurd can I make it-
-Find numerous different ways of re-wording the same facial expression, as if he thinks the doll's expressing different things while still remaining inanimate-
-And he should kill her/it accidentally, and try to dispose of the body as if he's actually comitted a crime-
So basically the idea was, "How many different ways can I make this inanimate object seem like a real human being to this guy?" After coming up with several ways that amused me, I tied them all together into the story and called it a night. I was pretty happy with myself. This was a couple of weeks ago.
Then, just a couple of days ago, I remembered something. A friend of mine once lent me a collection of graphic novels by Alan Moore. In it there was a Batman comic centered around a villain named Clayface, in which he'd escaped from an insane asylum and hidden himself in a shopping mall. He lurks around the mall at night and eventually falls in love with a mannequin, and a chain of events similar to my story occur, all of which involve Clayface being convinced that this mannequin is a real person.
No matter how much I think an idea is my own original idea, even if I remember the thought processes behind it and the brainstorming, it still comes down to this: Everything we see, everything we read and hear, moulds the way we think in terms of creativity. I had completely forgotten that comic existed, hell I wasn't even that impressed by it when I read it. But even that seemed to store itself in the back of my brain, to warp my way of thinking when it came to thinking up a story.
November 5th, 2012, 04:48 AM #6
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"There are nine and sixty ways of constructing tribal lays,
And every single one of them is right!" - Kipling
November 5th, 2012, 08:17 PM #7Originally Posted by norm
or Lars and the Real Girl:
and tons of horror stories. That's what I mean when I say by ten, we're steeped in story -- oral, written, visual media. But still particular angles catch your mind and you play with that. Your story -- which I thought was very good -- was probably a good deal different from the Batman story. But the idea of someone loving an image and the further idea that the image might somehow come to life are very old ones.