Thursday, January 21, 2010

The alchemy of ideas

So my book is being taught in a King Arthur in Literature course at the University of Minnesota this semester. I'm pretty much thrilled about that. I'm also very excited to have the opportunity to go in and talk to the students about the book after they read it. One of the things I've been asked to focus on is how I went about putting the Arthuriana in the text, and this has led to me asking myself a Very Important question:

"Self, where do you get your ideas?" 

Sometimes, I even know the answer. The book starts with a fight scene because I wanted to see if I could write one. Which meant that the lead character needed to be a fencer, because this book started out life as a Clarion story, and so I didn't have time to learn a new combat sport. Fencing I knew, muscle-memory level, so I could block that correctly. The title of the book comes from a song I had listened to the night before I started writing it, and the nightmare with tentacles is for Steffi. 

When I have to make specific choices, I can almost always go back and tell you why this, and not that. Sometimes when I'm reading back over a text, I can tell you what else I was doing when I was writing: three instances of describing something as "bigger on the inside" in twenty pages? Doctor Who marathon (and a note to self to go back and edit at least two of those on the rewrite.)

But the big idea? This story is about a woman whose nightmares manifest in the waking world, and I have no idea where that came from. And when I started writing it, I had no idea that the story would take the shape it did. Once I knew I needed the Arthuriana, it was a matter of choices, of rereading the Preiddeu Annwn and of giving a nod to my long held desire to have a dog named after King Arthur's, and of the combination of any number of other things that have built up inside a head that has loved King Arthur since the first time I watched "The Sword in the Stone."

But ideas come from everywhere, and the immediacy of the idea is only the beginning of the story. Wanting to write a story about vampires covers everything from Dracula  to Twilight. That's a wide range, with room for a nearly infinite variety of stories.

So I think that the most interesting part of ideas isn't where they come from, but how they are transformed in the alchemical process of story.

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