Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

Where do you get your ideas from?

It's a question writers get asked. There is no one answer. To begin with, the question applies to many layers of the writing process. I am going to assume, for convenience, that in this case the question applies specifically to Story ideas. It's a big enough question and it happens to be what I'm thinking about. I'm going to use the two book Fey Worlds series, being The King's Ward and The Heir Reluctant as examples. Here's where the ideas came from. I say ideas in the plural, because there is never one idea. It takes two ideas. You bang ideas together and look for sparks, and the sparks are stories.

Here is the initial idea. It's very visual, but nothing much on it's own. A car exploding, coming apart in slow motion. A young girl, an immature telepath/telekinetic is caught in the path of the explosion. She is gripped by the far distant mind of a mature telepath and her body moved rapidly to avoid all the swiftly moving parts of the exploding car. All the while, during this very graphic, matrix like sequence, a calm voice reassures her that everything is fine. Someone is trying to kill her. Someone else won't have that. Guess who wins?

On it's own, this idea wasn't enough for a story. I held it one imaginary hand and grabbed other ideas to bang against it and got no sparks for months. No story. Not yet. I answered some of the questions that come from any idea and found some answers that kind of worked. Who are the telepaths? Where are they? How come she is immature and alone as a telepath? I decided that they are here in our world, few and isolated, and most importantly that the parents of telepaths don't nurture. Later, this last became one of the other ideas, but not yet. Why don't telepaths nurture? Easy, a child would be imprinted with the mind and memories of the adult. This idea has consequences; one of he most obvious being that female telepaths can't reproduce. Their children would be miniature copies of themselves, imprinted with their minds by proximity during pregnancy. That struck me as a little unfair but it is such a logical consequence that it had to stay. No fudging allowed.

So, for a while, I banged these two ideas together and still didn't get any sparks. The exploding car and the absent parent telepath didn't produce any stories. I toyed with scenarios; our young girl at school, puberty bringing the onset of telepathic development, witch-hunters to provide conflict. It wasn't enough. Nothing gelled. No sparks. No story.

Monsters. I wanted monsters for conflict. I certainly needed something better than witch hunters. But how do you get monsters from telepaths? Well, there was a novel I read a long time ago where a far future street gang projected illusions of monsters by wearing chains shot through with prisms that generated the illusion. I forget the writer and the novel now, but the image is nice and made me think of monsters generated by illusion. Illusion maybe made manifest by telekinesis. Telepaths as mythological monsters. Better, maybe, than witch hunters. So, bang the ideas together; telepaths don't nurture, mythological beings are actually telepaths. They have always been here. Okay. Nice.

Still no sparks, though. Not quite there with the ideas. Maybe turn the ideas some and bang them together again. Sitting around and thinking is pretty much half the writers job – and answering questions that earlier ideas generate is a good deal of that thinking.

So... If telepaths don't nurture their young because proximity triggers a link which would imprint the immature mind, which we have established, then at what point does that stop being a factor? Obviously when the child has developed a personality of their own. Might not it the be the case that proximity, perhaps a touch, is a catalyst to telepathic development? Okay, nice. That felt solid enough and became an idea in it's own right, but leaves a question of its own. What is to stop a telepath triggering that development accidentally or intentionally, and early? Lets call that sudden onset breakthrough. Say then that the young telepaths are camouflaged by their own developing powers, that they are effective invisible, easily overlooked, unremembered, hidden by their own minds so no one remembers them, no one touches them. A picture of the childhood of our young fey, our young telepath begins to emerge. It's a whole new idea, really.

Now, remember the young girl from the exploding car scene? Now she is isolated, walking though her own life like a ghost, unremarked upon, unseen, unremembered. Even her own mother has to be prompted to remember who she is. She is a cuckoo, unaware that she is hiding from humans who will know her for what she is and maybe burn her as a witch (or whatever) but is also hiding from her own kind whose mere touch will trigger a breakthrough, a breakthrough which an experienced telepath can use, a sudden burst of power which can be used to... to fashion reality, to build worlds, mythological worlds where fey beings live apart. She is unaware of any this, though; the whole process is subconscious.

Sparks. Sparks everywhere. We have a story.

Calista, the teenage protagonist of The King's Ward stepped into my mind right then, stealing new clothes from a store, more or less invisible to normal people, and on a quest to find her father, to find out who she is, why she is different. Don't touch me, she thinks as people come close; don't touch me; because an errant touch can trigger breakthrough and the injunction to avoid physical contact has been instilled in her from her mother, her mother's own mind coerced (yes, the telepaths can coerce people to obey their will, redact their memories, heal bodies, project illusions, farsee and hear, and move objects with the power of their minds) so... yes, her mother coerced to feed, clean, look after the baby until the child can look after itself, and frequently repeat the injunction, the command, the reproof and rejection.... don't touch me.

So, if Calista is looking for her father, where is he? How is she looking? Well, he would leave clues, wouldn't he? The fey, the telepaths aren't so common that they can afford to leave one of their number isolated forever. At some point they have to be triggered, achieve breakthrough by a touch and join their peers. So, a photograph of her father, and a clue in the picture. The only clue she has. As to where he is, well we already have a mythological aspect that has crept in, and the idea that telepaths can create reality, that the most powerful can create whole worlds. Pocket universes tucked away, where the fey and maybe others live. Albion, Nifflheim, other worlds. Fey worlds.

From here, The King's Ward came to me in a rush and I pretty much started writing. Calista in the clothes store, stealing something to wear, knowing no one would see her if she stayed still even for a few seconds, knowing no one would remember her even if they saw her. Then Byron, another young fey on the same quest, with his own picture. I made Byron just a little older, mainly because I wanted to answer a question and embody that answer in a person. What happens if no fey triggers the breakthrough? Turns out a fey will begin to develop abilities anyway, empathy, telepathy to begin with, and then an uncontrolled breakthrough that usually leads to a burn out, leaving no abilities at all. Byron, then, has begun to develop some abilities.

I can't say much more without going into the story itself, and I wouldn't want to spoil it for you. It's a good story, I think. Certainly I like it, like it well enough to have written a second novel set in the same world and featuring some of the same characters, and well enough to already be planning another.

Where do you get your ideas from? The image of a young girl moving in slow motion as she avoids the burning bits of an exploding car. That and other things.

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