The Seed of a Story
It’s a none-to-uncommon question for authors, “where did you get the idea for your book?” But it’s not always an easy question to answer. I wonder if we can do a little better?
For me, I have many ideas swimming around in my head. Sometimes it’s a character, but I’m not sure where I’ll use them. Other times it’s a setting, a plot twist, or just a moment of intensity all without corresponding context. Once in a while, with a little luck, a bunch of these ideas come together and form something bigger, a foundation. Who’s to say which of that cluster was first, or even where it came from?
With my recently released novel, “Until the Sun Rises – One Night in Drake Mansion,” I similarly can’t put my figure on any single element as having spawned the rest of my tangled web. However, I can recall the very first scene from the story I began developing.
The majority of the novel is set in the present, but a portion takes place in the past. The first past section involves a mysterious, secret, and very thematically dark magic show which adds to the mystery set in the present with a parallel mystery to unfold in the past. Essentially, it’s a tangential story line, a secondary mystery that draws the reader to learn about certain characters pertaining to the primary mystery and plot. It adds character depth, intrigue, and plot layers. Of course the two plotlines intersect explosively, but it’s interesting in retrospect for the secondary plotline to have been the genesis of the main story, converse to what one might expect.
This magic show moment and its characters were first. From there, I created scenes to give readers background on the characters, to get you acquainted. Next, I developed plot that puts the characters into that moment. After that, I developed additional scenes to give that moment direct consequence, and more to show readers what those characters do after that moment, how it impacted them. With this thread woven, I stepped back and asked, “how can I make this even deeper, even more consequential, intriguing, captivating?” The answer came with adding what eventually became the primary plotline, which underwent it’s own similar development.
Returning to the question, “where did you get the idea?” It feels like I just had that first moment in my head. Did I see a weird magic show that made it dawn on me? Not that I recall? Did I base the characters on something I saw, read, or heard? I don’t think so. In fact, I believe I invented the scene and the character specifically because I’d never seen anything like that scene before. The rest was created to give others a chance to find it as interesting as I did.
Perhaps in the future I’ll read an article and it will directly inspire a new story. Certainly that occurs with non-fiction, and I can imagine the same for fiction - where a real life story inspires a similar, but even more intriguing scenario. That just hasn’t been my experience. In the mean time, perhaps a better go-to question for authors is, “what part of your story did you explore first?” This might cut to the desired incite into the creative process even faster.
Authors, what part of your story did you explore first?Originally Posted at the "Omni Mystery Blog," June, 2015.
Repetition of Story (It's Christmas)
Christmas is nearly here and with all of it’s activities, I find it also a unique time to analyze the repeating, or perhaps recycling of stories. Of course story ideas are recycled all the time not just at Christmas, however as a lover or originality I find myself more forgiving this time of year, and I must wonder why.
Simply take a look at TV programing schedules around the holiday and you’ll see what I mean. Be it reshowing of holiday classics, like A Christmas Story (1983) being shown for 24 hours straight; remaking holiday classics, like A Christmas Carol every few years; or recycling a narrow field of storylines into new, slightly parodied, stories, like your standard made-for-TV Hallmark holiday movie, everywhere you look you stand to see the repletion of a story.
One could argue that most stories released, be they movie, book, or other, are derivative of earlier stories in some way, but to me, at Christmas time it is far more prevalent, and far more transparent than the rest of the year.
Christmas is a time when those of us who observe the holiday tend towards that which is familiar. We like to see the same plays, the same ballet, and yes the same movies as we have for years, decades even. Perhaps it is our desire to relive our childhood, to relive and recreate memorable moments from our lives that makes us, or at least me, particularly receptive to the rehashing of a familiar story.
It’s also a time when we’re short on time. After the presents are opened and when we have an hour to kill before heading off to Grandma’s, we flip on the TV, and there we find that oh-so-familiar story. Maybe we missed the first half hour, and maybe we’ll have to leave before it’s over, but that won’t matter. We know the story so well; we’ll enjoy it just the same.
While they’re arguably not high cinema, I must admit to taking in a holiday-esque, overindulgent sized portion of them. They’re perfect for throwing on while engaging in other Christmas perpetrations – baking cookies, decorating the tree, wrapping presents, addressing holiday cards, or if you’re like me and my family, assembling our Lego holiday village for prominent display.
When it comes to story, they’re typically very simple. That’s what makes them perfect for uniting with other activities. They set the mood, but if you have to walk out of the room a dozen times, you still never fall behind in the story. I personally praise originality to a fault, and strive for originality in every nook of my own work but this observation comes without an ounce of criticism, that is honestly and truly why I like them.
It may be true that the storylines lack on variety. In my estimation, holiday films generally fall into about five basic storylines. With the most popular being the main character has lost the Christmas spirit due to prioritizing their high-power career, sales at a store, or simply making money, over family, friends, and Christmas, (e.g. A Christmas Carol) only to have a twist of fate, and often a new romance restore their priorities and their Christmas spirit. Also popular is the main character’s loss of a loved one having soured their Christmas spirit, but through a twist of fate and yes, a new romance, their Christmas spirit is revived. (Note, I’ll admit that the more basically you describe a story, naturally, the easier it is to group a wider range of stories together.)
Our familiarity as viewers with the core storyline is in fact what allows us to so easily digest the stories, even when only casually paying attention, which I mentioned before is paramount to the enjoyment.
Is it fine cinema? No. But tree shaped sugar cookies aren’t fine cuisine and I’m still going to eat a few dozen before the New Year. So to shall I indulge in recycled Christmas tales, and worry about my mental-waistline in January.