So I'm sitting here, minding my own business, just as amiable as you please--
When a young girl in a wheelchair slides past the edges of my imagination. She hopes I don't see her, but I do. I try to get closer, to find out her story, but she pushes me away. I try to call after her, but my voice doesn't work, and neither do my legs. I am awake, but my imagination is dreaming. I want her name to be Amanda--but is it right? I would know better if I could get closer--but she slips around the corner of a building and the scene fades before I can get a good look. The last sound I hear is her sobs as she is left alone... ignored... misunderstood... story-less...
"Hey you!" a voice cries. I look over and find myself eye-level with a dark-blond-haired Elf who looks like she just stepped out of a Lord of The Rings cosplay. She's crouching on the branch of a tree; I follow her gaze downward, and discover that the ground is a lot further away than I'd like it to be.
"I'm tired of running around with hobbits!" she sighs. "Can I get a new story? One that's all my own, and without all this--" she points down to where a scene from the epic trilogy is playing out, "--fanfiction stuff? You're good enough, you could do it. You've been practicing for a couple years. Make it different--please?"
"Hey! What about us?" A high-pitched squeal rings around my head. I'm still in the tree, but now I'm surrounded by fairies--this isn't Middle Earth any more. It's another world, Phantasm. The Little Folk--elves and fairies six inches high--are clamoring for my attention; the deep, sticky, fruity smell from their homes is making me sick. A small blond fairy in a purple dress continues to complain. "If you're tired of all that serious fantasy business, you can always Return to Phantasm--spruce up the place, you know? What did that one reader say? The sequel didn't have the oomph of the first one? When are you ever going to fix it?"
"Never mind about them." I'm sitting on the grass now, at the foot of the same tree, and a young man takes his seat next to me. He winks, "We haven't spoken in a while--but you do remember me, right? You patched up my story really well. I feel like I'm ready to meet the world--why haven't you done anything about it?"
Finally, I find my voice, "Well, you see--" (Jeepers! I sound so much different in fiction than in real life!) "I... What I'm really looking for is some feedback. I mean, there's so much out there already; what if, by waiting, I can get better at what I'm doing? I mean, they--" I point to the others like the Elf and wherever the girl in the wheelchair ended up, "know how messed-up my writing was, and look at where I am now! Maybe in a couple years--"
Someone next to us sighs. I look over. It's Shereya, in her brown dress and blue cloak.
"The thing is," she begins right away, "you'll say that every year. You're just waiting till you can get attention on this blog-thing of yours--the attention that says that people aren't just reading, but they're actually liking it enough to tell you so. Is that it?"
I look between the two characters I've created, Casey and Shereya. "You're right," I admit to Shereya. "I mean, look at how lame your story started out--I didn't even think too hard for character names, just recycled old ones like Sheerya's for your name, and the Andarian title Laiddrynn for Larryn! All I had was this idea and no names--and now I just have so many ideas, I want to finish them and every time I get close, new ones pop up--"
A man in a white lab coat walks up, "What's this about new ideas?"
I groan, "Doctor Lucas! GO AWAY! I'm not anywhere NEAR your idea yet! It was just a spur-of-the-moment thing!"
Another man in a futuristic jumpsuit moves out from behind him, "But you were so close! When are you going to finish something and let that 'spur' get you published? Won't that clear space on your desk for more stories?"
The Desk--Nerom had to mention The Desk. I hardly ever go there now--much too busy with reading other fantastic books and blogging fresh one-shots that required very little brain power... meanwhile The Desk is swamped with the hundreds of pages of finished and unfinished works, or stuff I "need to tweak" before it's publish-ready... And on the back of the door to my Desk sits a nodding little gnome with big staring eyes who confronts me every time I try to take out a manuscript, nagging, "Are you sure? Are you sure? Are you sure?"
I'm never sure; not by myself, anyway. And who can trust the word of the fictional characters who tell me they're "ready"? So I keep tweaking, I keep writing. Maybe one day I'll hit on an idea that is my Golden Ticket of Absolute Confidence that has people raving and dying to read the rest of it, one that's good enough by someone else's standards (not just my own) to stand on the shelves among the rest of the excellent new authors of today, and not be passed off as some lame wannabe's attempt at reinventing the wheel.
Or maybe I should just suck it up and send it in. Call it quits--let it stand for all eternity exactly as it is.
So this was supposed to be a post about where my story ideas come from--and it kind of ended up as a "Where Is It All Going?" post. So let me get back to my original intent.
I get ideas from reading or seeing them in other places.
Laurel of Andar? Yeah, you guessed it; that started out as, literally, my first fanfiction ever (which, since the rewrite--yes, I did oblige Laurel and overhauled the fanfiction to make it her own story... but I kept the "hobbits", though they're more like dark-skinned "pygmies" in my own 'verse--will NEVER SEE THE LIGHT OF DAY) and, after letting it languish for two whole years as I suffered a crippling form of writer's block that is "fanfic-bane" where there are too many gaps in your story and not enough timeline in the original work, I came up with a brilliant idea--that did not fit with the fanfiction, but what I did was I took the parts of the story that had nothing to do with the copyrighted work--the parts that were already entirely my own invention, with my own characters, and I created a similar plot around those, where each one fit, with no consideration for having to fit someone else's timeline, and all the freedom to make my own. (Of course, this necessitated the invention of some alternate form of Elvish, since I wasn't using Tolkien's stuff... but that's another post for another day...)
Fairies Under Glass, Casey's story (and Sheerya the Fairy) started out kind of like the premise of Night at the Museum, with a janitor discovering an art gallery's terrible secret: all of the exhibits are actual fantasy creatures disguised as "art." From there it was a little bit of a Spiderwick Chronicles twist to "reinvent" the fantasy creatures to suit my own designs, instead of going with the "normal" conceptions. (My logic: it's FANTASY people! THERE ARE NO REAL SET GUIDELINES FOR APPEARANCES! Who's to say what a certain creature is supposed to look like? It's all made up, anyway!) Of course, I took the rousing "success" (among the close knot of much younger friends that I shared it with) of the first book to attempt to craft a sequel... but like the one young reader pointed out, it was a bit short on "oomph" because of shifty characters and a less-than-convincing villain... So... that was the end of that... for now...
I owe the enchantment of Inkweaver a bit in part to both Cornelia Funke and Shannon Hale--with the Inkheart trilogy and the Bayern/Princess Academy books, respectively. The idea of being able to manipulate elements (Bayern) with the telling of a story (Inkheart) was, obviously, a winning situation with me.
The ReBible series, as I've stated before, started from one idea: the story that became Brothers At Arms, as imagined not by me originally, but by a friend of mine. I thought it would be a stand-alone novel, but then a couple years later, I was in a Bible Study for the book of Daniel, and the leader was taking the concepts from the tale and applying them to modern-day scenarios in much the same way. Someone had already taken some popular fairy-tales and spun them into a thrilling series that really didn't feel like little-kiddy tales at all, but gripping teen novels; why not do the same for Bible stories--re-write them and keep them much the same as the original, but change the feel and the context just enough to be something fresh and new, a unique perspective highlighting different aspects of the original that might have been passed over and discarded in the original tale?
So how do writers come up with this stuff? Mostly, by not being afraid of letting the imagination wander. There's a girl standing in a field--where is she going? how did she get there? Maybe your attention is caught by a wind-catcher and a snaggle-toothed panhandler in the same trip to the store. What could those two things possibly have in common? What if you woke up one morning and found that the story you read last night before going to bed suddenly came true? What would it look like--and what would you do?
I turn to the characters who have interrupted my work: Laurel the Elf, Sheerya the fairy, Casey, Shereya, and all the rest.
"Okay, guys," I say, "That's enough for now. I have more important things I need to focus on. Your time will come."
And they leave. My mind can return to focusing on churning out the next batch of words for my current NaNoWriMo project. They know I will come back-- someday, I'll haul things off the Desk, silence the chirping gnome once and for all, and put my characters out there where they belong: in books, to be read and brought to life again and again.