Friend: How do you write a book? Me: One word at a time. Friend: But where do you get the ideas to write 200 or more pages?
I don’t know. Not really. I don’t think any author does.
But I do know WHEN I’ve got an idea for a book. There’s a niggling in my head, like a fish on a hook, followed by “You know, this might work.” Usually, I’m doing something earth-shatteringly important when this happens, like scrubbing the toilet or mowing the lawn. When I don’t have to focus on what I’m doing because I’ve washed the dishes approximately four million times, and my mind can wander.
The WHAT is straightforward, too. 99% of the time, a novel starts as a single image, strong and clear in my head. For Inferno, it was a woman kneeling on an old wooden floor. She’s blindfolded and bound. A long cloak wraps around her and the shimmer of a grey gown can be seen through the slit. The rhinestones of the dress bite into her knees. Though she’s in a vulnerable position she’s not afraid. In fact, she smiles to herself.
Everything else spools out from that image, and then connects to other images. In fact, that scene happens very late in the book.
Thus a story is born. I have lots of these pictures stuffed in my head. I don’t go write them down because the memory is strong, and if it isn’t, well, that story wasn’t meant to be.
My current image is of a woman sitting on the floor by a large, ornate door. Her head is in her hands. She’d be slumped if her corset wasn’t holding her up, and her despair is palpable. It contrasts with her elegant appearance. Her striped dress pools around her (White with green vertical stripes, trellised with embroidered roses) and emerald chandelier earrings sway with her ragged breathing as she tries to keep from crying.
Her head is in her hands. She’d be slumped if her corset wasn’t holding her up, and her despair is palpable.
There you have it. The seed for my next book. I’ve figured out exactly where she’s sitting and why she feels as she does. I just keep asking questions until I get the whole story out of her. That’s the HOW of writing: asking questions until I get the answers.
The WHO is me, or you, if you write or daydream or paint. I think it’s similar for most of us. WHERE these images come from is uncertain. Probably from an amalgamation of daily life. As an artist friend says, “Its all goes in the hopper.”
And occasionally, a nugget pops out and becomes a novel.