“Where do you get your ideas?”
First off, ugh. Second…no one’s ever asked me that. Seriously. It’s such a stereotypical, annoying question, and no one has ever even hinted like they were going to ask me. Maybe that has to do with having a relatively small readership, or maybe it’s working in the small press, where the fans are generally more knowledgeable about both the genre and the writing process. Shit, maybe it’s my generally abrasive demeanor. I dunno. All I know is no one has ever asked me where I get my ideas.
“Nate, get to the goddamn point.”
I’m working on it!
So, last night I was talking to an old friend of mine, and somehow we started talking about how ideas eventually turn into stories. For me, a good idea is seldom enough to hang a story on. The way I work, I sort of collect ideas and information, and eventually a few of them fit together in a way that makes for a good story (yes, this is also what Warren Ellis does, proving there is nothing I can do that a better writer can’t do…better).
A great example of this (and one I used during last night’s convo), is my recent story “Bottle. Paper. Samurai.” The earliest seed of this story idea is eight years old, when I had an idea for a book called Firewater. In that idea, a dying angel gives a homeless man a bottle of whiskey that may or may not contain the soul of Christ (holy shit, that sounds dumb). I took a stab or two at writing it, but it never really came together. the idea was too thin.
Years later, I tried to write a story called Omizawa about a man who is so good at origami that the things he creates become real. Same deal: took a few shots at it, but it never came together.
Finally, I had this idea for a voice, a clipped, fractured voice from someone whose mind had broken in some way. I tinkered around with it some, seeing if I could get a feel for it. While I liked it, I didn’t know what kind of story I could use it to tell. As I was driving home from work one day, I was creating little sample sentences in my head, and suddenly it happened…
First fold. Easy.
Second fold. Easy.
By the time I got home, I had the first few hundred words in my head, and everything made sense. This fractured voice had brought together Firewater and Omizawa. It was the bridge that took pretty good ideas and brought them together to become a great one.
So if you have an idea you can’t make work, just file it away until later. Maybe it’s missing a piece.