Thursday, February 07, 2013

Where Do Story Ideas Come From?


Where do story ideas come from? Unlike actual babies, there are many different answers. I'm story weaving two books just now, one of them since the beginning of January. That one I've actually begun to write. There's a plot. I know more or less how it will end. I know the major turns in the story.

But there's so much I don't know. I look at this young story, at these partially realized characters, and wonder what more they're going to tell me about themselves along the way. How will they teach me, or change my perception of them and their world? Even writers who plot their stories get surprised, and I'm one who isn't too worried about throwing over her plot for a new one if those surprises are big enough to warrant it.

I based the plot of what I'll call Story #1 (the one I've been working on since Jan) on a Biblical account from the New Testament, even though the setting for my story is the 18th century American frontier. This is a first for me, though other authors (Liz Curtis Higgs, Francine Rivers) have borrowed Biblical story frames and recast them in later time periods.

Though I borrowed a plot, the story has all the freedom it needs to grow from that, but so far the bases for it is still recognizable.

Story #2, however, is in its infant stage. What was it's spark?

My husband had read a book and as he described the basic set up of the story (which has a contemporary setting) I realized that something like that would work very well in an 18th century historical context. And, being busy with Story #1, I meant to leave it at that for the time being.

The story has other ideas. No matter that I was busy plotting and researching Story #1, and fully dedicated to writing it over the course of this year, the Story #2 situation kept niggling at me. So I did what I do: started a file for it. I even thought of a good title--very unusual at this early stage. I had a hazy idea of the main characters, but didn't know their names, or histories, or exactly where and how their paths would cross that first time.

That was fine, I really wanted to stay on track with Story #1.

But Story #2 is a demanding child. I find I'm opening that file at least once a day to jot down more ideas, further insights, possibilities for conflict, motivations, history, plot turns.

I have a face for my hero now. I have almost settled on names for the main characters. I have the historical context/backdrop to set the story against. I know where it will take place. I know how it will intersect with a few characters from what will be my second published book.
(I try to do that with all my books, have my story worlds cross and recross each other in at least a small way. Why? I think it's a cool thing to do. I guess you can take the writer out of the fantasy world-building genre, but you can't take the world-building out of the writer.)
The story has grown from that initial inciting situation that occurred to me as my husband described a contemporary story he'd read. It no longer resembles that scenario save in the broadest terms. I'm beginning to know these characters, a little. When I open that file and stare at them, at that lone picture of the hero, at those names I think are their names... I feel a stir of excitement wondering who they're going to be, the facets of themselves they will show me or make me dig to discover. How are they going to surprise me? Delight me? Challenge me? Grieve me? What do they have to teach me about the human spirit, about God's grace?

For now, though, I'm still focusing on Story #1. I have a month of plotting and researching invested in it already, which for me is like pushing a giant rock uphill. Stop (or even pause too long), and that rock rolls back to the bottom and I'll be starting over again.

Still, whether it's North Carolina in the 1740s (Story #1), or the Ohio frontier in the 1770s (Story #2), I have a lot of exciting discovery ahead.

Hopefully, in the fullness of time, I'll be able to share it all with you.

~photo by Travis Morgan, flick commons

3 comments:

  1. I love it when this happens. My Cherry Hill setting is fertile ground for it. I thought I was only writing one story, but the characters and their backstories had other ideas. I'm now juggling five novels. Though, the first one gets the bulk of my time, I do stop and take notes much like you do. Go, Lori, Go!

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    1. It's a great feeling, like knocking tentatively on a door and being welcomed in like a long lost friend.

      "Go, Lori, Go!" Aww, you know who you are reminding me of? :)Thanks for being a cheerleader. I hope I cheer you back. Five novels is great (are they sequential, a continuing unfolding plot, or are they linked together through the characters (a separate but related story for a different character each time?)).

      It's a good feeling, too, knowing there's more stories inside us. Until I have one starting to form beyond the one I'm presently working on, I feel a little uncertain whether or not there'll ever be another. Not sure why I still get concerned about that after doing this for so long. Probably a residual affect of that long dry spell after cancer.

      I need to rest in the assurance that as long as God wants me writing these stories, they'll visit me in the fullness of time.

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    2. What is it with me and "the fullness of time"? I keep using those words. At least they mean what I think they mean. :)

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