Let’s talk ideas. Writers are often asked where they get their ideas. Do you have a quick and ready answer? If so, I’m envious, because I certainly don’t.
My first two novels were heavily influenced by external feedback. I listened to everybody. The result? Two books reflecting little of my original story vision. That’s the price of insecurity and why I wrote my third novel in a vacuum.
With my third book, I began with an idea and let it play out on the page. The sole feedback came from a trusted critique partner who saw only the earliest draft chapters. While the manuscript is enormously flawed and may well be unpublishable, it stands as my most fulfilling writing experience. I didn’t compromise. I told the story I wanted to tell, and it felt amazing!
Unlike some of you, I don’t have an endless supply of ideas. For the type of stories I write, predictability is the kiss of death, and it’s the element of surprise I reach for first when brainstorming an idea.
I intended my next project to have a historical setting and spent countless hours studying documents from the University of Virginia’s Salem Witch Trials Documentary Archive (an amazing resource for anyone interested in the 1692 trials). I had several transient ideas, but nothing stuck. For the life of me, I couldn’t find an untrodden path into story. There are so many books dealing with the period, fiction to nonfiction, pulp to literary, every storyline felt derivative.
Then, a stroke of serendipity. I ran across the photo below (click on the image for a better view). It shows the devastation wrought by the Great Salem Fire of 1914.
The fire started at Korn Leather Factory located, coincidentally, right next to where the nineteen innocents convicted of witchcraft were hanged in 1692. Three days after the fire, as the embers still smoldered, the story of the conflagration was forced from the headlines by the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand. A month later WWI was off and running.
During the blaze, more than a third of Salem burned, 10,000 people lost their jobs, and upwards of 20,000 their homes—the population at the time was near 48,000. (Today, it’s around 42,000).
Here was a backdrop I could sink my teeth into. Instantly the main characters were in my head and with them, a story idea with traction. Yay!
How are you with ideas?
Do they come easily, or are you like me?
One of the great things about blogging the third Monday of the month is that I always get to post on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
Here in the US, we celebrate the birthday of Dr. King as a day of service. And just as I do every year, I encourage you to visit mlkday.gov, click on Find a Volunteer Opportunity, type in your zip code, and find a project that interests you. Become involved. Be a voice in your community. Make January 16 count by honoring Dr. King’s legacy and holding tight to his message.