Monday, April 11, 2011

The wedding guest

I feel* -- at times -- like the ancient mariner in search of a wedding guest to hold with my glittering eye. You see this is the crucial phase and stage in ANY good writer's process: to see if they can take the reluctant reader away from the feasting and merry minstrelsy** and bind them to their tale, that, willy-nilly they must read. Must finish, somehow.

Now, of course, if the reader is not reluctant, and you are a name they recognise and trust to give them an entertaining read, they'll sit down on the stone and be hypnotised, even if you take your own sweet time about it, and tell them all about the setting and the weather first. For the rest of us, you have an 'elevator pitch' - a paragraph, maybe a page or two if you've been fortunate enough to be granted a good cover, and a bored wedding guest.

However, seeing as I am back on the amatuerish side of ancient marinering, I've found the need to hypnotise wedding guests starts long before the book is on the shelf. It actually starts before there is a book. You see, I have a head with serious decay issues. Ideas ferment up in it like - well, like a fermenting brain. Yes, that was an image you didn't need. It produces WAY too many ideas, and many are best left alone. And the trouble with a lot of these strange ideas is that that 1)I don't really understand them or the story implication behind them myself. 2)Many of them seriously lack the glittering eye to hold an audience, but are more like the glistening something else. So I need a winnowing system - a reluctant audience. It's a worth trying process: if an idea appeals to me, I find an unsuspecting soul(and preferably hoping to rush off elsewhere, poor victim) and I try to explain it to them. If they hit me with sharp objects it was a rotten idea. If they are late for wherever they're going and still keep asking me questions... it's a winner.

I can sell that Albatross.

To put this in slightly less artistic terms, what actually talking the idea through with another person (one who does not know what you am talking about) does for you is to force you into the situation you will be when giving the concept to your agent, publisher, and most importantly to your reader. It forces one to actually formalise and condense the vague, grand concept in your head. Finally it does something that all too few writers do: forces you (well, me anyway)to build a far far broader background to the story in your head, because, inevitably the wedding guest starts asking questions (and not just 'when can I get out here?'). For each of us, of course, the process varies, but this is where I get a real handle on a story.

So what works for you? Do your ideas stay a dark secret in your head until you write them? Do you write them out? Formalise them?

Or have I merely given you a reason to run a mile when you see me on the horison?

Here is my current one:

"I can't cope any more!"
My mother said that about twice a day.
Usually about me.
Huh. I couldn't cope with me either, and I've got no escape. I didn't fit, and I didn't belong and I didn't like it.
But this time she was shouting it down the ‘phone line to my father in Oman. And she normally won't even speak to him. Keeps it to snarky e-mails about money. I know, I looked. Her password is so lame.
"He's a changeling, Tom! He's not normal."
I couldn't hear my Dad's answer to that. But I bet my mother didn't even know what a changeling was. I kinda wished I was one. It had to beat ‘loser'. Maybe Faerie glamor let you look taller, cooler, like you had an I-phone. Maybe it let you get away with shoplifting without getting busted.
"That won't work. The school has asked me to remove him. I don't know what do, Tom!"

*I might feel like one, but it is a tactile illusion, created by the smell. Please stop touching me. It's so embarrassing.
**It is SO a real word. If it was good enough for Coleridge, it is good enough for thee.


MataPam said...

I always write my ideas down. First, it gets them out of my head and secondly, if I can't stop writing, it's a pretty good indication that it's a good story idea.

Either that or I need to mop the kitchen floor.

MataPam said...

Oh, and that particular hook? It would work better if the kid in the background was doing something weird, to make clear what the mother was coping with. Otherwise it's just angst.

Stephen Simmons said...

Of COURSE it's a real word. I use it myself on occasion -- even in conversation, now and again.

Like Pam, I find that the ideas MUST get jotted down. In their own fifty-words-or-so Word files, if they hit me at or near the computer. Or on the back of a handy envelope, or an old ATM receipt in my pocket ... This is because story ideas most often grab me when I'm trying to make myself do something I'd rather avoid. When I sat down to write one of the most emotionally wrenching scenes of the fantasy WIP, I got distratced by at least a half-dozen shiny new ideas in two days. One of which NRP just accepted, in fact ...

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

um... You have been listening in on my issues with little monkey? Well, okay, four years ago. He improves on acquaintance.

WRITE IT. I like it.

Dave Freer said...

Matapam - I used to write them down. then after a while I figured 1)I have too many to write in three lifetimes already. 2)If they're not bright enough to stick in my mind were they any good?

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Dave. I usually try to jot down ideas as they come. They never really go away, just kind of float around like a little cloud that orbits my mind - often colliding with others on the way.

In terms of developing something, especially a novel, I write quite a bit of background. I find that really helps me to formalise my thoguhts.

Chris L said...

Hi Dave

I have plenty of ideas. I used to think I didn't but I actually have gazillions, it's just that I vet 99.99999% of them at the embryonic stage.

I get my best stories from ideas that I actively pursue with a little research. They never turn out to be the stories I thought they would be though. It's like I have that conversation you are talking about, but I have it with myself, and I argue pretty damn hard.

Like my latest, I was researching energy weapons in SF and blogging it. I thought it would lead me to a story about a gun maker or collector. I've ended up writing first person slaughterfest expose from the point of view of a video game character.

Go figure...

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

I only write them down if I want them to leave me alone a while. Which I KNOW sounds weird.

Dave Freer said...

MataPam - good point, I will do that.

Dave Freer said...

Stephen, I can't understand the lack of common usage of minstrelsy myself. It's the standard of English at schools and the fact that far too many editors and yes, even worse, authors have M.F.A's Of course that will degrade English.

Magpie mind is a problem I... ooh shiny....

Dave Freer said...

Sarah, this is a story about little monkeys for little monkeys. Not even with as much potential as your one though. He is just a kindred spirit monkey.

Dave Freer said...

Chris Mc - yep, background is good. It helps them firm up.

Dave Freer said...

Chris L - yep, a lot of mine are BEST strangled at first conception, let alone birth.

Dave Freer said...

Sarah - is it knowing they're safe for later (I have looked at some of my 'notes'from story ideas of years ago and can make neither head or tail of them) or is it the the threat of having to write more?