Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Where the ideas strike.

Well, not so much where as when -- or maybe where and when.

For me, IDEAS always strike when I have no time to write them down -- or when there's no paper or pen -- or when (as noted) there are projects on deadline. I have two active projects and just had a dynamite idea for a 3rd which I did manage to outline on the computer but it'll be years until I get to it and there are other projects that would make better sense to do!

So wherever you are when ideas strike, somehow jot them down with enough outline (beginning, middle, end) to draw the whole world back into your mind.

One of the first things I learned about writing when I was a teenager is to keep an Idea File and a Name File (to name characters from later when you're writing), and a file of Place Names that pop into your head. These stray bits of worldbuilding pop into your head because they are attached to a story in there somewhere -- save them and use them to fish the story out at a later date.

The problem for a writer is not finding ideas -- it's beating them off with a stick.

When your idea file is full to bursting, eventually you'll come to a point where you must choose a project to spend the next 5 years of your working life on. That choosing process is totally external to the writing process and has nothing to do with picking the "best" idea you've got, or sometimes not even the one you like best.

Linnea's post just before this one hits the nail on the head.

One of the things they always teach new writers is "write what you know" -- but most people think that means to write about their home town or their grammar school or the Marine Battalion they served with.

That's not what it means. Since you are writing fiction "what you know" is the kind of fiction you are reading.

Most audiences or readerships are conditioned to accept certain "myths" -- or conventions of the genre, an alternate reality.

If you want to violate one of those conventions (like Sherlock Holmes wears a Deerstalker hat) you have to do it in such a way that the readers know you know the convention and are violating it for a good story-based reason that will deliver satisfaction to them for their patience.

Historical romance is of course one of those -- as is "The Western" -- where writers have created comfortable alternate histories for their readers that readers will pay for. For example, today we have a plethora of historical romance novels where the woman is more a 21st century woman than a product of her historical time. That's OK -- I love fantasy!

Now there are two main ways to found a career in writing -- one safe and one really risky. For safe you can aim your work at an established market and add something original to the existing template that readers already thirst for -- or you can risk trying to create a market.

You must sort your idea file into items that can be written to existing markets, and ideas that are genuinely so different they just don't have a place in today's market.

Many of you have lived through the creation of the Paranormal Romance market. It didn't happen all at once and there were only a couple of blockbuster novels that set the tone for this new genre. One oddball novel that cracked resistance was INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE that straddled the horror/relationship genre borderlines.

A lot of people who loved INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE didn't like the sequels at all because they became darker and more horror-driven.

I personally lauded INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE because it showed an audience who otherwise would not read a fantasy or SF novel what relationship could do in a Vampire setting.

The relationship in question is simply that between the interviewing reporter and the vampire -- and the interviewing reporter becomes wholly enamored of the vampire existence and wants in. His ideas and attitudes change as the vampire tells his story. The whole book is just the recounting of a story that makes the interviewer lust after vampire-hood.

And it was marvelously well done.

After the first reprint of INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE, we began to see Romance writers being allowed to play with the human/vampire relationship where they were of opposite genders.

The origin of the Vampire Romance goes back way before INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE -- but the commercial rennaisance happened in the wake of that successful book in another but adjacent genre.

Can anyone refute that analysis? Any other candidates for the market-making book that founded the Vampire Romance and opened up the opportunity to make a market in Paranormal Romance, SF Romance, and Fantasy Romance etc etc.

Does anyone here remember the days before Romance novel spines had sub-genre logos or words on them?

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

1 comment:

  1. "The problem for a writer is not finding ideas -- it's beating them off with a stick."

    Truer words were never spoken.