Thursday, September 17, 2009

That's a Good Idea...

by Dave White

"Where do your ideas come from?"

Every author gets this question. Most authors I talk to hate it.

I love it.

Why? Well first of all, I get to talk about myself... Let's be honest here. That's one of my favorite things.

But the main reason I love to talk about this is because I love thinking about how ideas grow. I talk about this a lot with my students. We talk about generating ideas, but at the same time letting those ideas mature and evolve.

Where do my ideas come from?

Not one place. Usually most of my novels start with an idea, and I keep adding to that idea picking things out from different areas of life or research.

Let's take my second novel THE EVIL THAT MEN DO. The basic plot of the novel is this: Jackson Donne is asked by his estranged sister to talk to his Alzheimer's ridden mother. The mother had been talking about the past and a murder that occurred there, and Donne's sister wants to know what went on. Meanwhile, someone has started to attack Donne's family with car bombs and hired assassins.

The seed for this novel took place somewhere in 2005. My grandmother had the disease and the more she declined, the more she would lapse into the past. As my grandma spoke to my mother, my mother start learn things about her own grandfather she'd never known. Basically, my mother's grandfather used to work on the docks of the Hackensack River during the Great Depression. During that time he'd get on a boat and drag the river for dead bodies. His work nickname was "Tugger."


I couldn't resist.

So there's my seed for the novel.

The Great Depression idea was great because I wanted to test new writing muscles by setting some of the book in the past.

Next step, the characters... I had Tugger, but needed Donne to have a family. I started to think about writing EVIL around the last draft of my first novel WHEN ONE MAN DIES, so I went back and added a passage about Donne's mother and sister. I also wanted to use some of my friends' names in the book, so I created Bryan Hackett, the villain.

At the same time, I was dating a girl who owned a restaurant. And then she dumped me, right when I started to write the book. So, I decided to blow up a restaurant in the book. (Not her restaurant, mind you. A, um, different, fictional restaurant that happened to be ... okay I'll move on.) Another seed I planted to use later on.

Now I have a bunch of threads to work with.

So I started to write and move the characters around. Finally, when I needed some motivation, I was out with a friend looking at tuxes for his wedding. We ended up in Bayonne, his home town, and he started telling me some cool Bayonne facts about the harbor area. I used those facts for motivation later.

The rest was simple plotting and building on what I already had planted.

I think thinking about where ideas come from is interesting. It shows you how a novel grows and it can help you with the next novel. You think about your own ideas and you realize that inspiration will come. And it will come when you're least looking for it.

I think talking about the seeds of ideas with other authors can give you insight into their writing process. You can learn from how they work and incorporate it into your own. I love hearing where ideas come from. I love talking about it. Often the stories behind the books become just as interesting as the books.

You learn to keep your eyes and ears open. Listen to what people are saying. Listen to the jokes you make... because you never know... a joke might turn into a great pitch for a book.

(That's how the idea for my third novel began. I made a joke to a friend of mine... An hour later I was thinking about if that joke could become a serious and believable novel... I hope it works out.)


Where do you get your ideas?


Dana King said...

I forget where I heard this first (and I'm paraphrasing), but a respected writer said getting ideas is easy; you're tripping over them all day. Deciding which ones can be turned into stories YOU can write well is the hard part.

It's a little like George Costanza's pitch for the show about nothing. Pay attention on the way yo work or school one day, or while running errands or reading the news. You're hundreds of innocuous actions every day, any of which can become sinister with the right motivation. Why did he do that?" may be self-explanatory until you turn it around and give it an ulterior motive.

Dave White said...

Exactly. What I'm trying to show is how ideas are easy, but you keep needing new ideas to finish the novel. You put idea on top of idea and you work them put to make the book work...

Steve Weddle said...

I dig your point about planting seeds.

When you get near the end of the writing one book in what could be a series, I think the next book probably starts hinting around on the edges of your brain. That you went back to the first to add in some stuff that will prepare for the second is great and makes sense.

MerleChloe said...

Loved your sharing of ideas. You have some very interesting stories and insights. It was wonderful reading about the basis for some of your ideas.