Thursday, October 23, 2008

"Where the Hell did that come from?"

All writers (yep, even the unpublished ones) get asked--when it's discovered they are a writer--the same question: "So, like, where do you get your ideas from?" The answer is always a variation (sometimes nice, sometimes smartassed) of the same word:

Still, as a reader I think people are maybe looking for something more specific. Stephen King once wrote about the "What If?" questions he comes up with, and the books are his answers. I think he talked about it in ON WRITING, but I'm not positive. Anyway, I'm betting that that's closer to what readers are actually asking about--and any readers out there can feel free to correct me in the comments if they disagree.

So I figured this might be a good chance to get people talking specifically about individual stories and books, and from whence the ideas for them came. A good example would be Michael Connelly's THE OVERLOOK. When he was in Greensboro on tour for it, he said that a story he'd been told about radioactive material in North Carolina being stolen had led him to Bosch's next case, and if you've read THE OVERLOOK you see where that wound up.

If you haven't, do it. Now. No seriously, like walk out of your job and go buy the book.

Okay, not really. Wait til after work.

Anyway...I guess I'll start, it being my blog and all that good stuff. My book started with an idea for a villain, a guy who wanted to deflect suspicion from what he was really doing by taking advantage of the recent fears about religious extremism. I thought, "what better way to cover your tracks than to play on what EVERYONE seems afraid of these days. And after the worldwide lunacy over Salman Rushdie, and later Dan Brown, I figured why not create a writer who ALSO likes to play on those emotions (unlike these two, who I've never met, my writer is an unsympathetic jerk about it). This creates conflict for the reader, because he or she is unsure if:
A) the writer is the villain
B) they're okay with him being the villain
C) the writer is the next victim, and
D) they want him saved if he is

I love it when authors twist me up in moral knots like that, so I figured there had to be some readers who loved things like that which made them think beyond the work itself. If I'm wrong, well I guess it'll have to be the next book that starts my career rolling.
Or the one after that, or the one after that, or....

So tell me, if you're a reader, what do you REALLY mean when you ask where ideas come from? And if you're an author, can you pinpoint anything more specific regarding the idea or the original impetus for writing any particular novel or story?

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