October means it’s basically Halloween, so I wanted to talk about irrational fears.
A second email from Elaine of Dreams and Whispers fame.
Next I would like to find out a bit more about your inspiration for the twelve books – did you already have ideas before you started, or are you taking it book by book and seeing what develops for each one? As you write, do you find that most of your theme/plot/character ideas are coming from things you encounter in life, people you meet, your imagination, or somewhere else?
I had a few ideas before starting, many of which are laid out on the ‘Get Involved‘ page and in the Facebook photo album. I went into it with the hope that members of the public would challenge me by giving me different suggestions to incorporate as I went along, giving the project a more interactive feel but also forcing me to plan things so that I’d include all their ideas.
As it happens, I think a lot of people find it intimidating to have me say ‘just suggest anything at all’. For instance with book 2, where I got suggestions from staff at The Byre Theatre in St Andrews, basically everything I got was anecdotal stuff about working in a theatre. Nobody seemed interested in motive, murder weapon, or red herrings, and I ended up going on Twitter when I’d already started writing to ask people to suggest names for characters I’d just invented. This meant that the book developed much more out of my own brain than I think I expected.
At the other extreme, with the Western story I got a very in depth story suggestion from someone, but I ended up not using it because it would have required an awful lot of historical research on my part – the suggester obviously knew quite a bit of the history of the west and had some very specific ideas, which frankly I felt a bit dodgy about using! So hopefully he will write it himself one day! It helped me though, because when I read it I realised that a traditional story like that was the exact opposite of what I wanted to do, and came up with what I think was quite a strong idea to work from.
For paranormal romance I think the only suggestion I got was a name and occupation for the central character. I used the name, Jennifer, but changed the occupation very slightly. I hadn’t planned for it to be paranormal to begin with, and was hoping to do quite a bittersweet story. I changed my mind to challenge myself – I’ve never quite got the appeal of paranormal romance and have slagged it off a bit, so I thought why not put my money where my mouth is and see if I can do any better. With all that dithering, though, it probably wouldn’t have made a difference if people had suggested things or not – I had a definite, but at the same time very woolly, plan!
This month is fantasy, and I’ve had a couple of pretty good suggestions for that – clearly it’s a genre that readers of this blog can relate to! But even then they’re basically character suggestions, so it’ll be me that thinks of the plot, dialogue, narrative and so on. That sounds like a complaint – it isn’t! I love making things up – this would be a very strange project to be doing if I didn’t.
I am definitely taking it book by book. I have to, really. So far there hasn’t been time to plan any further ahead than that, and in most cases I’ve not even written an outline till I’ve got about 20k in.
None of my characters are directly based on anyone real, but there are elements of dialogue and characterisation which do draw a lot from encounters I’ve had or exchanges I’ve heard in real life. The first line of my first book, for instance, was, “Nah mate, that’s lies!” because it was something I heard every single day from the kids that came in to my place of work. For some reason most of my settings have been Scotland so far as well, although that was quite unintentional.
Having said that, I don’t think there’s a huge amount of point in ‘writing what I know’ verbatim. I recently read an interview with Susan Hill in Mslexia Magazine where she pointed out that the whole point of reading fiction was to escape from the mundanity of every day life, so of course you should write everything from the imagination. Who really cares about a character who is trying to make it as a freelance journalist whilst also writing fiction and occasionally arguing with her boyfriend about whose go it is to do the dishes?! But occasionally real stuff bleeds through – hopefully funny, insightful or interesting things, though!
I’ve done bugger all research for this book, and as yet I haven’t had time to come up with any sort of outline, let alone a chapter plan. Nevertheless I’ve steamed on and written around 10k so far, most of which is actual fiction as opposed to stream of consciousness padding. I’m not sure whether my voice comes through in the same way as it has done with the last couple of books, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
In the last issue of Mslexia, Susan Hill gave an interview in which she suggested that ‘write what you know’ is a load of old cobblers. Who would want to read about the minutiae of your daily life, she asks. Surely the point of fiction is to take you away from such mundanity? Writers ought to use their imagination.
A somewhat cynical look at the already fading Paranormal Romance genre may not be entirely what she was getting at, but a certain amount of imagination is required to write about a teenage vampire. I’m not immortal, or overly sensitive to UV, and I didn’t spend those formative teen years sucking blood. Well, not any more than is normal for young persons of that age range. So most of this is going to have to be made up.
Still, I’m a bit worried about running into clichés. The imagination is influenced by what you’ve seen and read, which means that the more research I’ve carried out the better because I can avoid doing things that have already been done. Unfortunately I’m limited to ironic viewings of the Twilight movies, 3 episodes of Being Human, and half a short story. I am, therefore, a mite concerned that my imagination will tread paths already trod. Frinstance I have been leaning towards sticking a werewolf in there – like that hasn’t been done to death.
Unless I think of an original twist. Maybe it could be a werewolf FROM SPACE. M. Night Shyamalan eat your heart out…