Monday, December 1, 2008

Dating for the Single Writer

I'm beginning to think that the process of getting new novel writing ideas is a bit like dating. Ideas are a bit like men. Some of them get introduced to you by other people and you make polite noises while thinking 'OMG! I couldn't spend five minutes in his company without trying to kill myself!'

Some are handsome and pleasant to be with and generally really nice. And you think 'well... yes... maybe', and turn the idea over in your head for a little and find out that yes, there's potential there. You could live with this idea for a time, and it wouldn't be too unpleasant. It has depths, you could possibly get a novel out of it. And yet that vital spark is missing. You like the idea but you don't have any chemistry with it.

That's the situation I was in with my idea for the novel I was going to write to follow up my Age of Sail novel, False Colors, which is coming out in April. I thought I could do a novel about an 18th Century Ascendancy family setting in Ireland, and the son falling in love with a young man of an ancient Gaelic family who is in one of the many proto-IRA movements of the time.

And it's a nice idea. It's got conflict, it's got that handsome 18th Century setting that I like so much, but for some reason it just didn't set my heart pounding.

Some ideas are gorgeous young heartbreakers who promise to show you a good time, and then leave you in chapter 5 in a compromised position with a long slog ahead and no support. Alas, the one I'm writing at the moment is showing all the signs of this. 'Boys of Summer' seemed to be such a heart-throb when I thought of the idea, but that was in August at the sea-side, when I was surrounded by tanned, lithe surfers. Now that I've brought it home, and it's winter time, I can't quite remember what I saw in it.

Though of course, it may be that the relationship is salvageable if I put enough work into it. If only there was a 'Muses Guidance Service' where you could go and talk these things out!

On the other hand, some ideas are the sort that you refuse to meet for a long time because you know they're not your thing. Then one day suddenly you see them across the room and go 'ooh....!' Your stomach tingles and you think 'ooh yes. Glamour. Enchantment. Potential. Chemistry.' There's no accounting for that 'love at first sight' flash of inspiration.

The problems come afterwards, when you discover that the 11th Century setting that looked so fine on a cursory glimpse is a time you know nothing about. That pairing you thought was so perfect would be really hard to justify in that context. And where would the conflict come from?

But if it's The Real Thing, the problems themselves become a challenge you enjoy conquering. The research that looked so formidable for the idea without a spark looks like a pleasure and an adventure instead.

Why, having specialised in the mid 18th Century, have I suddenly been swept off my feet by an idea from the 11th? I don't know. Possibly it will turn out to be another heartbreaker and leave me high and dry with 10,000 words and nowhere to go. But you have to take the chance, don't you?

Writing, like love, offers no guarantees that what you start will hold out to the end. But it would be so much worse not to start it at all.

1 comment:

Jeanne said...

Love the comparison, Alex. I do know what you mean. I have folders filled with ideas I thought that would be perfect for a story only to realize after pounding away that the attraction had fizzled.
As for exploring a new world...that's one of the many pleasure I think we as authors have. We can go anywhere in the world and any time and no one can say us, nay!