I never know how to describe what I do and how, when folks ask that fateful question, “Where do you get your ideas?”
I’ve heard all the clever responses other writers have come up with, but the question is often asked with such a perplexed expression, that I haven’t the heart to be facetious. Instead an illustration might help.
I’m working on a new proposal (proposals are the lifeblood of the publishing industry – it’s how we get work, and it’s a demanding and exciting process) and I’m piecing together the main character. She’s a bit of a blank canvas right now, her features obscure, her figure shadowed, but bits of her are coming together. And this morning another little piece clicked into place. I already knew that my character, though a young woman, is old-fashioned, a bit of a throwback. As much as she is completely up-to-date with the digital world, cell phone, MP3 player, etcetera, she also likes to cook, and grow things and antique shop, things that feel faintly old-fashioned, even though they are oh-so-au-courant.
I read someone’s blog entry for yesterday about writing letters, and one more little piece of the character clarified. She likes to write letters. She loves stationery sections of stores, (not stationary, because that would simply mean it was staying still) she adores note cards and nice pens and postcards. She likes to keep in touch with old friends, former classmates and older relatives, but she prefers the pen to the telephone or e-mail.
And that’s how characters get built for me, one little piece at a time. It’s really the fun part of the process, but it gets more complicated as you go along, because each new piece must fit as the puzzle gets more and more complex. It can’t be out of place. It has to make sense. Really, it’s building a human, and what is more complicated than that?