Friday, October 9, 2009

The Write Way: Labyrinth and Building Idea Men

It's that time of the year when all insane writers come out to play.  Well, almost.  This will be my fifth straight year nanoing.  Now, not all of my novels that came out of November Madness were successes, but out of the four years, I managed "win" nano (i.e., meet the 50,000 word count) for three times.  My first success was Labyrinth.  Yes, my current fantasy revision-in-progress (aka RIP, he he).  I did not complete the novel at the time.  That came later.  So 50,000 words in a month can be done; I've proved that three times over.  But how?  If this is the first time you are joining the lemming herd, you might fear that jump off the cliff.  Don't. 

After all, even the biggest snowmen are built with handfuls of snow.  So, what is the first handful you have to gather?  The idea. 

Let's go back to my first nano for a moment.  How did I come up with Lab's core idea?  From the Nano forums themselves.  There are always posts--sometimes dozens of pages worth--of challenges or plot bunnies seeking a new home.  Someone offered an idea about a person constantly being forgotten a few minutes after meeting people.  Whammo, bango, Six was born. 

But just like a single snowball does not make a snowman, more ideas are needed to build Six's tale.  The Collector, his enemy, is one idea.  Then there is the labyrinth.  There is the two headed, one bodied Sphinx guarding the labyrinth.  There are multiple worlds.  There is Six's invisibility.  There is the plant goddess, Six's nemesis.  And there is Six, former thief with a magic-detecting needle.  Where did these ideas come from?  Not from thin air or cold clouds.

They came from different methods. 

First of all, visit the Nanowrimo website.  In particular, the sub-forum where people post prompts and challenges.  Maybe you won't use them, but they may spark a new idea.  Nanoers also post links to other places they found particularly inspirational.  But while you are online, stay online.  Look at Ralan, Duotrope, etc, and search for the contest and anthology listings.  Oftentimes they want certain themes.  Use them.  Or, check out plot generators at places like Seventh Sanctum's, Random Plot Generator, or Plot Scenario Generator.  Helpful and fun to play with.  As I said above, I got the first germ of my nano idea from a challenge on the forums.

Next, try reference sources.  I found my two-headed Sphinx and the Labyrinth through reading books.  In fact, I collect reference books, but if you aren't careful, that is an expensive pastime.  So unless I'm expanding on a topic, I go cheap.  Use bargain booksellers like E.R. Hamilton and Daedalus.  Look at the used book sections of Amazon and B&N.  Buy from the bargain bins at your local brick-and-mortar store.  Patronize used book stores.  Go to yardsales.  Visit your recycling center and rescue a book (they'll thank you, or rather, the book will).  Last but not least, you can always borrow from libraries, download free ebooks at sites like Project Gutenberg, or Google articles.  Wikipedia is great online resource, for example.

So, back to Lab.  Where did I get my Sphinx idea from?  A picture in a woman's dictionary of symbols of Aker, which I got from a yardsale.  If you look closely at my username, you may notice something familiar ;-) And, a labyrinth?  Same book, but from there, I did more research about the labyrinth's connection to transformation--a big part of what this novel is about.  Besides, I just love the concept of labyrinths.

After that, look about your neighborhood.  Not literally; I'm talking about your literary neighborhood.  What are your favorite books?  Take an idea from them and use it.  This Holly Lisle article will show you how.  Popular books?  Invent your own twist.  That's just a starting point.  Go on Amazon or B&N, and search for books in your genre or outside it.  Read the summaries.  Look through TV guide.  Look through "new releases" DVD booklets at your local movie store.  Or do the same search online.  Do you belong to a book club?  They send fliers, they have websites, all with summaries to catch your eye.  It's time to use them to get ideas from the world of words and images all around you.

In Lab, Six goes to different many different worlds in one novel.  Where did that idea come from?  Several sources.  Stargate SG1, for one.  But more so from Gulliver's Travels.  And what about the Collector, cool, calm, impeccably dressed, and not to mention, an avid connoisseur of worlds?  I was inspired by the Chrestomanci character from Diana Wynne Jones's  Chrestomanci tales.

One last tip.  Keep an idea journal.  There are countless ways to get inspired, but all that inspiration is for naught if you can't remember it.  So, write it down.  Keep a little notebook with you constantly, so wherever you are, in bed, at work, at a grocery store, you can capture it for later use.  The best thing about that is, ideas generate ideas.  You won't run out.  Once you start coming up with ideas, you will fill up those pages in no time.  And best of all, unlike food, ideas do not go stale; unlike snow men, they are not meant for one season alone.  Start small and build big.

Invisible men, for instance, came from past ideas never used; plant goddess came from a rolling ball of ideas, collecting more as it went.  The concept of a "forgettable boy who had adventures in many worlds" collected the concept of invisibility, and a goddess who cursed him, and his being a thief.  After all, how else will an invisible child survive in a world that has forgotten him?  By stealing.

So my idea-snowballs grew in size, and from those I assembled my first novel, Labyrinth.  You will too; after all, snowmen are started by rolling snowballs and collecting more snow on the way.  That's how ideas build into novels.

Got your handful?  Start rolling.

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