Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Eureka!

Writings of The Muse
One afternoon last week, a character Renee thought up a while ago but didn't really have a story for yet accidentally wandered into the Guardian room, where those characters have been tossing worldbuilding and plot ideas at the walls for the last few months, and the poor girl got herself splattered right into the story.

Everything stopped. We all cocked our heads to the side and looked at the shape of things now that she was standing in the middle of it all. Someone gasped. Some swore (quite colorfully and not entirely in a language I recognized). And then we all started to giggle and clap and it turned into quite the party. It's possible even the Inner Editor cracked a grin when she came to investigate the disturbance.

I might have done a little jumping up and down and squealing like an overexcited preteen fangirl until Renee sat up and took notice.

She did that bit literally. She woke up from a dead sleep and wasn't even mad about it, despite the fact that she was freaking exhausted and it was one of the rare, rare days when both her kids were napping at the same time for more than half an hour. This was that big a deal.

Because just like that, Guardian clicked into place and started making sense. A couple of ideas for new scenes unrolled and the rough arc of a plot popped up where only the hazy cloud of a potential idea had hovered before.

Which is really good timing, since we'd really like to start writing it during NaNoWriMo this year and we were all starting to get a little edgy about having let it percolate for so long and still not having much clue as to what it was going to be about. With Familiar's deadline extended, Guardian isn't actually going to get any dedicated plotting time between now and November. Renee has always been a pantser, but she's trying to change that.

The whole incident got me thinking about my job around here and how best to explain what I do to the blog reading public. According to the Idea Salesman, we haven't been blogging enough lately, so hopefully this will get him to shut up and just let me do my actual job already make him feel better.

There are a lot of random ideas floating around here in the background of Renee's mind. My job as her Muse is to constantly stir them up, getting them to jump around and turn in new directions to see what can be best used where.

People are forever asking storytellers where they get their ideas and by and large storytellers have no idea how to answer that question. It's a question with an unsatisfyingly simple answer. Ideas are everywhere, just lying around waiting for someone to notice them.

Try this: look away from the screen you're reading right now and take a mental picture of something completely random. Doesn't matter what. I guarantee you, there are stories waiting there.

That pale ring marring the surface of your wooden coffee table? It's just a random stain, right? Someone put down a glass without using a coaster and let it sit there too long. It's nothing. Happens all the time. Background gibberish you ignore every day.

Except that it's not. How did it get there? Who left the glass there? What was in it? Why did they leave it?

Maybe it was just an ordinary glass of water you got yourself and then forgot about because you spent the evening spacing out in front of the television and wanting to cry but not having the energy to bother. It had been a long shitty day of listening to yet another string of complaints from your obnoxious customers and daydreaming that one of those lottery tickets you buy every week religiously, but without any real hope, would just hit already so you could quit the damn job and tell the assholes to stuff their toll receipts where the sun doesn't shine. The ring on the coffee table was just one more thing you didn’t have the energy to care about. Thank goodness you got help and managed to pull yourself out of that cycle of depression.

Hmmmm... that's not terribly upbeat, is it? Maybe instead you forgot about that glass of ice water sitting on your senile grandmother’s coffee table because you started making out with the inexplicably funny accountant who was just supposed to be there to help you figure out why she suddenly owed so much on her taxes.

Or maybe the stain is something you don’t really noticed anymore; it’s been there for a long time. You left the water sitting there because you were twelve and you just found out your parents were getting divorced and your whole life was about to change and who gives a shit about water at a time like this?!?

Maybe the glass got left there because the cops wouldn't let you into the room until they were done processing the crime scene three days later.

Perhaps it wasn't really water at all; some of the nastier potions in a black witch's spell book can look quite innocuous right up until they kill you.

Hell, while we’re venturing into the realm of the fantastical, maybe that circle wasn't made by a water glass at all, but instead marks the place where the first ship of an invading race alien nanobots bent on world domination landed.

That's what? Half a dozen stories--a literary fiction and/or women's fiction, a romance, some young adult, what looks to be the beginnings of a mystery or maybe a thriller, urban fantasy, and a little science fiction tossed in just for kicks--from one little stain on the coffee table?

So you see, where writers get their ideas isn't much of a mystery. They get them from all over the place. The trick is that instead of glancing right past ordinary things like coffee table rings and dismissing them as miscellaneous nonsense, storytellers take those little bits and bobs and mentally photograph them and file them away. They let them drift around in the background until one bumps into one another in a way that clicks right (the image of the table ring gets snagged on the nanobot aliens someone talked about seeing in a made-for-SyFy tv movie that one time, for example) and Poof! A story is born!

My job is to keep the ideas swirling around and to make sure that when one does finally show up in just the right spot, Renee knows about it. Even if I do have to do some rather undignified squealing along the way.

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