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A fronte praecipitium a tergo lupi. (In front of you, a precipice. Behind you, wolves.)

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Gravid With Ideas

I once read a story about a woman who felt she had nothing to say. She was like the person clinging to a cliff who was losing purchase and fearing the plunge to the rocks below. She simply couldn't see that there were three hand-holds just an inch to the left, two to the right, and a great ledge for her feet just a half inch below her right foot.

(I'm going to write that story in my own way but the gist will be the same. The original had to do with the stones of her porch and the ants beneath it.)

The woman in question (we'll call her Moira) was complaining to someone who told her to go to her door and look out, then describe what she saw.

So she went to the door and looked out into her yard. "I see my yard."
"Well what's in your yard?"
Moira shrugged. "Grass and a clothesline."
"Describe what's on the clothesline."
So she did. "There's a shirt of my husband's on the line."
Then the person said, "What do you know about that shirt?"
"Well," said Moira, "it's red."
"What kind of red?"
"Uh...cherry red."
"How do you suppose the dyer came up with that red color?"

The questioning went on. After each question, Moira went off to do research. Soon she knew everything about that shirt and the construction processes, the dyeing processes, the manufacture of buttons, the distribution to stores, and a plethora of other interesting facts.

"Now," said the wise person, "what else do you see?"

Suddenly Moira's proscribed little world blasted wide open. She could find interesting things to say (and write about) all around her.

Check these out:
There was a baby in the toilet. Don't you want to know why the baby is in the toilet? It's a horrendous idea, but it grips you like a white-tipped shark and won't let you go.
Blood bloomed in the puddle Mary stepped in on the edge of the road. Why is there blood for crying out loud? Where did it come from? Is it enough blood to indicate that someone is violently dead? Where's the body?
The day June got home from the hospital a man fell from the sky. He landed in her prize geraniums, squishing the whole bed. Why is it raining men? Why was June in the hospital?
The frigate slipped into dock without a sound, its sails tattered and fluttering in the breeze. How is the ship going anywhere with tattered sails? Where is the crew? Why is it docking?

(Dang. Now I have a few more books to start.)

Finding idea fodder is a matter of seeing the world through unglazed eyes and training your brain to actually see what is out there. Or in the case of fiction writers ask yourself, "What if...?" When you don't know something, research it. Ask the difficult questions and don't be lazy about the answers. Fear not about putting those answers out there into the wide world. After all, Wikipedia is written by people like you and I. They go research something and put it up for all to click and read about. With one click hundreds of people a day could be reading something you wrote.

Almost more important than starting the book, is finishing it. If you leave your characters to rot in a literary oubliette, it will be as if you never brought them to life in the first place. Can't you hear their voices at night calling you to get off your fat rear and finish their story? I can. Shudder. Don't let them languish while you putz along polishing incessantly. 

On the other hand, do hone your book into the glittering, sharp sword it has the possibility of becoming. If you put material out that is full of typos and plot holes, your readers will abandon you in disgust. Fill and pave over the plot holes and don't rely solely on spell check. A great editor will save your book.

For some years now, I've been trying to find a good book on how to live with people who have Asperger's Syndrome. As yet I haven't found one I like. I've come to the conclusion I'm going to have to write it myself at some point. But it all hinges on when I figure out how to answer my own questions. It'll take time, dedication, research, and a will to pay it forward. As yet I haven't pushed this project to the front of my huge line of ideas waiting for exposure. 

That's one.

Every time I turn around, there's another book idea pushing at me to make it breathe. There is a Dickensian skeleton awaiting flesh on my operating table as we speak, as well as several needing life blood and the last spark before they spring from the table. I will get around to CPR on Larkin and Charlotte and Luke and the gang at Prima Nochta. 

Soon, my pretties.

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