Friday, 2 November 2007

Ideas and where they come from...

There are things that are better not said to an author. Lots of things. Like ‘Will we be seeing it on the bestseller list?’ or ‘Is it going to be made into a film? Any writer will immediately recognise those as two of the first three things anybody says to them as soon as the words ‘I write novels’ leave their mouth.

The third of course, is ‘Where do you get all your ideas from?’

I hate that question. It makes me want to grind my teeth, or possibly the teeth of the person doing the asking.
Naturally, I do not grind anybody’s teeth. I am a nice person. I smile and tell the truth. Which is that you don’t actually need all that many ideas – one really good one per book will amply suffice as everything else is just organic development. Or something like that.

I don’t know about other writers but ideas appear inside my head all the time. The sad truth is that startlingly few of them are worth having.
The occasional one will, however, lodge in my subconscious and accrete bits of stuff to it, like a hermit crab. Chunks of memory, slivers of dialogue, things you remember from some book somewhere… or was it the radio...?
As time goes on, you are aware of something growing, but you ignore it and let it take form in the dark. Then, when it becomes clear that it’s getting quite big, you poke it into the light to see what it looks like. If it turns out to be not too grotesque you let it sidle back into the dark to grow and accrete some more. An indeterminate time later (probably defined by the state of your current book) you go back to it and poke it again and see what kind of thing emerges. Only then do you decide whether it can be tamed and bent to your will or should be consigned to the nether pit where all the stupid ideas for books go. Or should be..

The trouble is, if you describe the process in those terms, people tend to look at you rather nervously and start talking about the weather.


Akasha Savage said...

I hate that question too!!
My truthful answer is: I really don't know where my ideas come from. I think I must have some sort of room - a dark cobwebby cellar most probably - where my ideas fester and grow. When they are ripe enough they push through into the fore front of my mind and then kick and scream until I notice them, at which point the only way to get them out of my head is to put them down on paper!

Meg Harper said...

Am hopeless at answering this question myself. Am usually asked when I'm doing an author visit in schools - I ramble on, answer a few more questions (including the usually the other annoying ones like, 'How much do you get paid?' and 'Are you famous?' - and then sometimes it gets asked again, presumably because my first answer was so incoherent!