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Week Ten, Day Two –
Thank you, all wonderful people who asked me questions! I may, in fact, be blogging answers all throughout this week. Exciting times ahead!
If you just tuned in – this week, on Cried But Did The Thing Anyway, I’m taking questions. ANY questions! Well, ideally, they should do with creativity, freelancing, or writing. But if there’s something else you really want to know, try me. I don’t bite… often.
Day One of the Readers’ Questions week is right here, if you missed it.
Mimi aka NoodleUnlimited, artist and trainee teacher, asks:
How long do you keep an idea in your head before you make something of it? Are you that thought-to-art-in-an-instant kind of person – or do you let things sit around to ripen? And if you do, then what’s the longest that you let an idea mature before making something of it? Also, what you think, whether getting it out as fast as you can is best; or letting it solidify in your head first? And which do you recommend?
First things first – I’m definitely NOT the ‘thought-to-art-in-an-instant’ kind of person. In fact, the best way to summarize how long my ideas sit around before I make something out of them would be – TOO LONG. This is something I’m trying to work on.
For a little memory late trip… Some of my first long-ish pieces of decent-quality writing were in the realm of fanfiction (Harry Potter, in fact). The good thing about fanfiction is that whenever you have an idea – plotbunnies, we called them – you can jump right in, with no further preparation. You don’t need to worry about worldbuilding, exposition, the lead-up and the consequences. Just act on the idea that sprang into your head, and see where it takes you.
Once I started writing without the safety net of a pre-made world, well, I crashed a lot. I had lots of plotbunnies jumping around me all the time, but I didn’t dare to grab any one, because it felt like developing any one of them into a story would mean writing a novel, and I didn’t know if I was ready for that kind of commitment. As a result, the majority of my ideas remained just that, for a while.
Then there was a time when Crossed Genres announced their monthly theme (it was ‘Different’), and I felt that one of my ideas fit their bill. So I went ahead and wrote a short story titled My Other Half, and hit the jackpot. That was, to date, the only time in my writing career where I got published at first submission attempt. (You can read the story here, btw.) If I remember correctly, that particular idea had sat in my head for about six years before it made it to paper. And if you think that’s long, well, the short comic book story I’m writing right now is based on a plot I came up with almost TEN YEARS ago. Come to think of it, this current one’s gotta be the winner. I wouldn’t say it spent all that time maturing, though. More like, shelved.
This isn’t necessarily true for all my ideas, though. I’d say that in general, when it comes to getting ideas to paper, there’s no middle ground for me. I either get the story out right away, or it stews for years and years, possibly to never see the light of day. Which is far from optimal, I know.
So if I were to give any recommendations (including to myself) on handling ideas, it’d be something like this. Also, this is spoken from a writer’s point of view, so make adjustments as your medium requires.
– Note it down.
As soon as you get an idea, pin it down, even if only in a few words. This is the frailest stage, and unless you make a note, you might forget about it altogether;
– Write a few paragraphs about it.
If you’ve got the time, develop the new idea just enough to see what it might turn into. For myself, most ideas I get randomly are settings and premises. Some people come up with a multitude of characters, without necessarily knowing which story or world they belong to. Some invent plots and twists. Some might get visited by fully-formed stories, ready to get written. Inspiration works in mysterious ways. A fun little exercise is to write a few hundred words about whatever it was that came into your head.
Storytime: once, riding on a train, I thought the horizon wavered as if in a heat haze (which is unlikely in my current climate). I pulled out a piece of paper and wrote, ‘The edge of the world is on fire.’ Half an hour later, I had the beginnings of a vaguely steampunk story featuring a natural phenomenon that resulted in mildly Orwellian memory holes. So… go figure.
– If it’s working – run with it!
If you’re burning with enthusiasm for the idea – then run with it! Muses are fickle creatures. When you art on a regular basis, you’ll have too many days when you have to sit yourself down and WORK to get the art out. So on the days when the ideas want out – let them fly.
– If it’s wobbly, think about it. Better yet, TALK about it.
Myself, I find that I often say, ‘I’m going to keep this idea on the back burner and see what becomes of it.’ To be honest, that’s me-speak for, ‘I’m too lazy/scared/busy/tired to do anything with this idea right now.’ Maybe for some people, the back burner works. But my ideas develop best when I talk about them. If you’re lucky, you’ve got someone who’ll listen to your idea, and maybe even ask questions to push it in the right direction. If you don’t have a sounding board, try talking to people who live in your story. If there’s no one to ask you questions, then do the asking yourself. Pretend you’re a journalist holding an interview, a therapist in a session, a policeman questioning a witness – whatever works, whatever fits. Pretend you’re an explorer keeping a journal of exploring your world. Pretend you’re in your story, as anything but someone who made it all up. You might be surprised with what you find out when you approach things from that angle.
To sum up:
Question Three – Length of Idea Pregnancy?
Actual length – way too long.
Recommended length – get it out and started on solids asap, then see how it goes.
Question Four – Fantastical vs. Impossible?
Jemma of Incendiary Feminist, part time goth, party time ukulele enthusiast, full time fangirl, asks:
How far are you willing to push the boundaries of realism in your works? Where do you draw the line between the fantastical and the impossible?
Hmm, this is a fun thing to ponder. First of all, everything I write is falls on the speculative fiction spectrum, ranging from post-apocalyptic with infusions of soft sci-fi, to ghost stories and other supernatural fare. (I tend to steer clear from hard sci-fi and high fantasy, though; not for any specific reason, just haven’t found any stories I want to tell in those genres… yet.)
Therefore, just based on the above, it’s safe to conclude that I push the boundaries of realism from square one. How far, though? I try to keep things as internally consistent as possible. In my novels, I have some technology that doesn’t exist today, like plasma-based weapons that is basically gun-shaped tazers with shock strength adjustable from mild to lethal; cars running predominantly on solar power; or a neural imager that makes use of very advanced version of the already-existing cognitive pattern recognition technology (see here and here). But none of those things sound too outlandish – not to my ear, at least. So, I’d like to think that I’m stretching the boundaries, a few decades ahead, perhaps, but keeping things reasonably believable. (No teleporters, sorry, guys…)
In stories where I openly play with the supernatural, I do my best to establish some ground rules and keep things, once again, internally consistent. An interesting challenge in that respect are vampires. I’ve dealt with vampires a few times, and kept them predominantly Anne Rice style (no glitter, no offspring). Recently, Emmi Bat and I have been working on more vampire stories, and I’ve enjoyed working out the theoretical biology involved in the process of turning (we went with a symbiotic parasite-host model).
In short, I think that any setting must follow its own rules, and while suspension of disbelief is required (to the degree depending on the story), the mechanics of the world must be sound. If you’re asked ‘So, how does [this] work?’, and your answer is ‘…Magic.’ – perhaps the mechanics need more work. Even if it IS magic, are we talking Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, or Wheel of Time?
To sum up:
Question Four – Fantastical vs. Impossible?
Answer Four: Anything is possible, if you make up internally consistent rules for it.
Tomorrow, I talk about dealing with storytelling problems, and what I’d do if any of my stories were turned into films. Come back and find out!