Writers’s Craft # 96 – Some idea myths

Michèle Laframboise
Michèle Laframboise

A science-fiction lover since childhood, Michèle Laframboise juggles her time between drawing comics, writing stories and caring for her family. With her scientific background, she elaborates intricate plots filled with sense of wonder, poetry and adventure. Three of her novels received literary awards. She lives in Mississauga, Ontario.

The myth

The Well of Ideas
The Well of Ideas

Many people who aspire to become a (famous) writer believe that writers form a tight circle around a secret well of inspiration, teeming with fresh ideas! Where do you get your ideas? the writer is asked.
Also, many readers are convinced that once this idea has been fished out of the well, the main work is done: the book will write itself! Hence this ubiquitous question : will someone steal my idea?

Ideas are dandelion seeds
Relax, this should be the least of your worries! Ideas are like dandelion seeds blown in the sky. Budding writers try to capture them with clumsy fingers. When they manage to catch one seed, they notice that there is still a long way  to the grown tree, the completed book!
The following scene happens often at a signing table (preferably when the writer is alone). A fan stops by the writer’s table, telling of his wonderful idea for a novel. The writer kindly explains that she has a lot of projects waiting.  “Oh, but my idea is so stupendous that you will leave all your current projects to work on it!”  Another explanation later, the fan leaves, angry with the writer who just could not pull from her secret well a completed 600-page spy novel!
Nurturing and growing the seeds
A story begins as a seed, which we put in soil and water, leaving it for a time. But the idea grows in silence. Les Nuages de Phoenix (The Clouds of Phoenix) was my first SF novel aimed at YA.
It began with a simple mental picture, a girl looking at the clouds, one of my favorites activities when I was a child. I happened to like meteorology (and I later followed climatology courses when studying Geography). Then, the setting became Phoenix, a planet with a green sky. Why a green sky? Enter the airborne particles size, and many other explorations. Our seed idea needs watering, fertilizer, care: the three inspiration sources interacting between themselves. I tapped into my experience, consulted friends, read science facts, etc.
In that special environment, I found out that the little girl, Blanche,  was handicapped, a consequence of a grave accident. She wears an exosqueleton that gives her legs the capability of running at 80 km/h (a fun fact when I mention it in classrooms). New characters appear : Blanche has a family: a big sister in love, a father worrying about the oxygen production plant, etc.  Those characters grew and eventually became like friends of the writer, a very nice step in the creative process.
The clouds of Phœnix‘s seed idea took about one year to grow before I was ready to write the full-length manuscript. Afterwards, came the rewriting and editing process under my editor’s eye. All in all, the novel took almost two years (working on it part-time) between the tiny seed and the finished work. And when the story got too profuse, the care included pruning… I certainly did not hoist it fully formed from my ideas well!
But nothing prohibits a writer to cultivate more than a sole idea. Some seeds will ripen earlier… So go forward, fellow gardeners of words!

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