Sunday, 18 May 2008

Pondering about ideas

Where do ideas come from? This is something writers are asked regularly. And every writer will have a different answer. We talked about this at our Novel meeting/brunch on Saturday. But the source of an idea is only half of it. The other half of the discussion is what one does with those ideas.

Some people have hundreds -- thousands -- of ideas. They see potential in everything from stray comments to episodes witnessed or experienced -- or even described. Take my high-school reunion, for example. My experience of not being easily recognised sparked at least three different story ideas (one for each of us present at the time). (And then there's the etiquette of using ideas sparked from another writer's experience . . . but that's something else again!)

Most writers carry around notebooks to write these ideas down. One of my novel-writing friends has multiple exercise books filled with first paragraphs, some of which extend to multiple pages of a story opening, or a character description etc.

I used to carry such a notebook, but long ago gave it up. I simply don't have that many ideas. When I do have one, I bounce it around in my head for a while until I have a chance to write it down.

A plethora of ideas is probably what drives a short story writer. With so many things to write about, how can you take a mere one (or maybe a few that mesh together well) and devote all that time to a novel? What about all the ideas you'll never have time to follow through?

Some of those ideas will doubtlessly be bad and so it's a good thing they'll never see the light of day. But to lose truly great ideas would be a tragedy.

So the alternative is to do what I do -- which is to take just about every single small idea I have and try to weave it into my current work in progress. Obviously there are some ideas that will simply not fit into my setting/story, but for every character quirk, behavioural anomaly, life-shaping event that smacks me, I invariably end up weaving it into My Great Work. I don't know whether this will make MGW brilliantly complex and layered or a total tangle! But I can't help it. For so many years now I've been living with my story and my characters, and they get everything of me. All of it.

It will be very interesting to see how I deal with subsequent stories/novels, assuming I write them. I can only hope that I have some great ideas saved up for 'the next chapter'.

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