Feeding the Idea Machine

When someone meets a writer it is a common theme that it goes something like this:
“Oh, you’re a writer?  I’ve always wanted to write a book, but I just can’t seem to come up with any original ideas.”
I think most of us can relate to that before we actually took the plunge.  Not all, a few of you Stephen King types out there that were born to write probably never questioned the process, but a lot of us have felt that anxiety of coming up with something interesting enough to invest the time in for a novel length book.  The funny thing is writers don’t struggle with this at all once they become writers.  Most people I have ever talked to or read something they wrote about the subject all have the same theme:  coming up with ideas is the easy part. 
So how can that be?  You’ve lived for forty years and never had a book worthy idea in your life and suddenly you can’t turn them off.  It’s like having a curtain in your mind lifted to something that was already in there.  The more you write the more ideas you get.  The mind is like a muscle in that the more you use certain parts they better they seem to work.  The human brain is amazingly adaptable and continually adjusts and rewires itself, and the more you exercise it the more neurons develop and the special “Idea Neurons” start firing regularly.
I’m in an interesting position to see very clearly how this works.  For the second time in a year I’ve taken a hiatus from writing and I’ve become acutely aware of the changes in my imagination and my well-being.  When I’m writing regularly I can count on having a new story idea pop into my head almost daily.  They’re not all novel worthy, some are more suited for short stories or maybe not even worth pursuing when analyzed with more scrutiny, but they flow like a mighty river.  I keep a journal for all these ideas, because heaven knows, they are like a succubus trying to entice you away from your current work-in-progress.  But I log them and take them out on occasion and examine their worth,  and sometimes something magical happens — they morph, or you get the notion to combine two of your ideas into one wonderful kernel of imaginative audacity, like a little generator that will power a story.
When I’m not writing the ideas dry up like a puddle of water in desert wasteland.  The vivid adventure dreams that I have regularly come ever more infrequently.  The fireflies of my imagination disappear like it’s winter in my mind.  I also find that I get grumpy and struggle with finding joy in daily activities.  When writers tell you that it isn’t a matter of wanting to write but needing to write this is one aspect of what they are talking about.  It’s just plain good for our mental health and happiness (and probably for those that share our space, we really can be a cranky lot when we aren’t writing).
One of the things I see a lot of established authors tell newcomers when asked for advice is write, write a lot, and then write some more.  It does more than just hone our skills, it feeds our Imagination Machine.  So keep writing and exercising your mind muscle — great things are going to happen.  I’d love to hear your take on this.
Clear Ether!

The Evolution of a Story

I talk to people all the time who, when they find out I’m a writer, tell me how they would love to write but can never come up with any ORIGINAL IDEAS tm There are no really original ideas anymore, supposedly, that may also be a lie, but let’s take it on faith that this is true. What there are, are variations on a theme . . . a juxtapositioning of notions with a different perspective or twist. You CAN find these if you try. I know I did, but it was a meandering path. It was like a seed that mutated as it grew, like a mad Dr. Frankenstein kept adding parts to it. I’m going to share how my current work-in-progress came to be the story that it currently is. I say currently because I’m still revising it. It likely won’t have any substantial changes at this point though, as it’s pretty well fully formed.

Let’s go back to 1991, Desert Storm was ending, and I had just completed my first overseas combat support deployment and I wanted to write the story, but I was distracted by a multitude of other things and really didn’t have the first clue how to start, but the seed to write had been planted. I toyed with the idea of writing for almost two decades and over that period I had this recurring desire to write something about being a pilot as that is the one thing I really know well. I also loved science fiction, and still do. The seed had been germinated somehow (perhaps maturity, I’m still not sure why), but was growing very slowly, it started to nag at me, it broke through the soil. I had to do something. But the whole, “I can’t come up with any ORIGINAL IDEAS tm was still plaguing me. I kept coming back to the concept of a crew on a starship, sitting on alert status. I needed a reason for them to be there, what were they sitting alert for? I hit on the idea of a scout service, which also doubled as rescue service and technicians for a Quantum Data Relay Station. I started reading more science articles on the interwebs. I found a few magazines that I really enjoyed like Scientific American and Popular Mechanics and devoured them. I wanted initially to incorporate Faster Than Light Travel, so I was looking desperately trying to find a loophole in General Relativity. I found some guys out there doing the math and trying to punch holes in the theory. One of them led me to the idea of my Quantum Gates, which is a pivotal part of the story. I chucked FTL travel. I knew it was a trope that would likely upset some potential readers as reaching too far. I still love the idea and I’m not giving up hope, but it just wasn’t needed to make the story work anymore. I had the first couple of elements, and then I focused on the characters. I had originally made the Main Character the captain of the ship and male. He had an all-male crew of poker-playing foul-mouthed rocket-jocks. I based them on a bunch of guys I knew from back in the war — I played a lot of poker in my off time. Now I needed something to happen, a major conflict to be resolved. I needed a villain, a big nasty one was what I was shooting for. It was feeling a little cliché at this point though.

I also happen to love vampires. I love what White Wolf did with Vampire: The Masquerade and all the variations in their World of Darkness. I read a trilogy called The Masquerade of the Red Death, which I highly recommend, and it showed me how really cool they could be. I was in a gaming guild that required regular postings in story form to stay in the guild, and we were role playing as part of the Camarilla, a sect in V:TM. It was fun and apparently it stuck with me, it was also the first creative writing I had done for fun on my own. But it was a decade before this project started.

I finally came to the conclusion that I should meld my two favorite genres together. I love science fiction and I love vampires. I knew there are a few stories that featured this combination, but I don’t think it’s something that had been overdone. I decided that my vampires were not going to be from the typical mythos, but needed a quasi-scientific reason to exist, to make it more science fictiony. I created the Nemesi, deriving from a space-born phage that came to Earth via asteroid collision, but gave them a lot of the same physical characteristics of the mythical vampire. (All legends have a kernel of truth in them.)

Here’s where the interesting thing happened. I was toying with how the Nemesi would fit into the story and started developing my villain, who was going to be a Nemesi. A basic idea started to form on plot and I was struggling with how I was going to tell the story. I was using first person perspective and my captain pilot dude was not going to see a lot of the action, I needed a better narrator. A bolt of lightning hit me; I needed to make the MC the vampire! Suddenly it all made sense! My vampire became the good guy and I could tell most of the story through his eyes. A second story arc with the main pilot character became a female, adding a potential romantic flavor, the plot took shape quickly. I knew what was going to happen! That was a magical moment for me. It’s those moments of clarity that keep us slogging through the days when we don’t feel like writing. At least part of why, it has become a full blown compulsion now. I have ideas coming out of my ears … funny how once the dam was broken the ideas just start spewing forth. The main plot has held steady for quite a while now, but I kept tweaking the subplots along the way.

This is the first installment of a regular series about my novel. I hope you enjoy them.

 

Clear Ether!