Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Story Idea Rushes

Don’t you love that rush of a great story idea that comes out of virtually nowhere to seize your imagination and capture your excitement?

That happened to me yesterday. I spent most of the day trying to find information about a part of Colombia that lies along the border with Venezuela. I had ordered a Lonely Planet guidebook to Colombia (One wonders how many of those things they sell a year?). Except that when I sat down to read it yesterday I discovered it really should have been entitled “Lonely Planet’s Guide to the Parts of Colombia That Are Safe to Visit (Which is Not Much).” So I was knocking around the Internet, and what I was reading was both disturbing and very emotional. I was getting some great stuff that I madly scribbled down even though it had little or nothing to do with what I was supposed to be researching. (Most of THE BERMUDA EFFECT is set in Cuba and Honduras and Bermuda, with only a tiny part in Colombia.) I kept thinking, maybe I could use this and this and this. And then I thought, No I can’t. This is way beyond the scope of our current book. I was disappointed for a moment, and then it hit me, POW. I could take part of the idea we had for the third book in the series (which will be set in the Middle East) and join it to this wonderful material. Cue orchestra as a Very Exciting Book Idea coalesced out of the mists.

When Steve came home last night, I met him at the door with, “I’ve got this great idea for a new thriller!” He listened, and he liked it, except, as he pointed out, “We can’t set another book in Latin America right after this book.” I said, “No, no. The third book will still be set in the Middle East and the fourth book in Europe, like we’d planned. This is the fifth book.” He said, “Oh, okay.” (He’s not only a wonderful writing partner, but also a smart husband). Then he pointed out the downside to my Very Exciting Book Idea: I’d stolen the main component of what was supposed to be our third book. I said, “I know, but it works better with this idea. We’ll have to come up with something else for the third book.”

The problem is, story ideas don’t always come in a rush. Sometimes they need to be built up slowly and painfully, by accretion. I have a feeling our third thriller will be like that. The funny thing is, I don’t think the resultant book is necessarily weaker. WHEN GODS DIE, the Sebastian St. Cyr mystery that received starred reviews from Kirkus, PW, and the Library Journal, was an accretion book. WHY MERMAIDS SING, the next St. Cyr mystery, came to me in an exciting rush. Yet I suspect there are some subtle differences between Rush Books and Accretion Books. What do you think?

70 comments:

Charles Gramlich said...

The joy of writing lies in the "creation" of worlds, and characters and situations and stories, and to me the "most" enjoyable is when it comes tumbling out one idea on top of another so that I can hardly keep up with it. This has happened most often with short stories for me, although it happened with my first novel. The slow accretion of ideas is also fun, but in a different way for me. It's more like finding a solution to a puzzle. There is satisfaction but the "rush" you speak of doesn't really occur for me.

Steve Malley said...

I'm an adrenalin junkie, and I chase that rush in my writing too. I *live* for those days when the story is like a match lit under my skin.

But I accrete plenty, too...

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