Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Beginning

It's dark and chill, a low layer of mist swirling around moldering gravestones. An aura of menace permeates everything: something bad is going to happen here, to this skinny, pale teenage girl who has no business being in an Italian cemetery at night.

A vampire looms up out of the darkness in all of his traditional glory--fangs, cape, viciously seductive face. Smiling wickedly, he leans in for the kill and...

She sighs and tases him.

Wait, what? This is the point in the daydream that I suddenly sat up in bed, frowning. Why on earth did she tase him? Why not stake him? Because let's say she was there on purpose--why keep a vampire alive? And, if you were to keep a vampire alive, how would you then prevent said vampire from killing anymore?

And that, dear friends, is how the idea for Paranormalcy started. It spiraled out from there as I figured out just who Evie was, where she worked, and that vampires had very little to do with anything, after all. The whole thing was, quite frankly, a blast to write; who doesn't love Tasers?

If you write, where do your ideas come from? Do you start with a scene? A character? A premise? Or do you have some ridiculous trigger that demands you spin a story out of it?

(I promise this blog is not all about Para, really! Usually it's just plain nonsense. But Natalie suggested people might be interested where the idea came from. And if you weren't, well, yell at me in the comments and I'll tell you a joke, instead. Coming tomorrow: I answer all of the people who click over to my blog looking for Revenge Poetry*.)

*Note to self: Buy dagger to lift dramatically in the air, because any blog post on revenge poetry pretty much requires brandishing sharp, deadly things.


H-Duck said...

ha ha ha. I totally misread what you wrote. I read "She sighs and tastes him." Yep. TASTES, not tases. Clearly I was thinking one Vampire was taking out another vampire in a bizarre showdown. But then I read the next sentence and realized I must have read something wrong. But it was funny :)

I think you mean "It was dark and chill", but maybe you meant "It was a dark and chill."

Anyway, I glad you shared where your idea came from. Natalie was right.

Kiersten said...

Ha! Thank you for a) catching an actual typo, and b) sharing a funny misread.

Dominique said...

That's hilarious. And I concur. Everyone loves a taser.

The start of my last book was a pain in the neck. Literally. That's what I get for not sleeping.

T. Anne said...

I love that it all starts with a daydream. Doesn't it always?

Can't wait to read all of Paranormalcy!!

Leon Basin said...

Hey, how is it going?

writtenwyrdd said...

I usually first write a scene that springs from either nowhere in particular or from a slim idea. Then I write until I'm stuck, back off, get angry and pout until I get an idea where to go from there.

Kiersten said...

Dominique--Ah yes, sleep. Not a writer's friend.

T. Anne--Too true. Where would we be without daydreaming?

Leon--Fabulously. And yourself?

WW--I love the image of you pouting : )

Rachel said...

I'm just writing my first book (at 35!), but I start with characters. That's what I love about a really good book is well-developed characters, so I figure out a couple of them first, then figure the rest out when I first meet them in the story.

Rachel Bateman said...

First-I just now read the text above this comment box. Love it!

I get my ideas from everywhere. I find most of my ideas come at work (after all, I am here 8 hours a day). Luckily I work in about the coolest office on the planet, with the coolest people, doing almostthe coolest job (wow...put it that way, and why would I ever want to leave this place? Oh, right...following my dreams and stuff), so I can always stop and jot some notes when I get a new idea so it doesn't get lost in the jumble I call brain.

It seems that anything can prompt a new idea. A couple examples:

Last Friday, I was watering all our sad, dry little office plants. I can't even remember what made me think of it, but the whole time I was watering, I was trying to remember what they call people who compulsively steal things. Ah, right! Kleptomaniac. And from that one word a full plot formulated.

Yesterday I was filling my water bottle. We have terrible drinking water at the office, so we use a Culligan cooler. The thing released water slower than molasses. It takes a long time to fill a 40oz bottle. As I was standing there, I got a little flash in my mind: Charleston, SC...cemetery....ghost story...heartbreak story....and from there a full plot.

And then I overflowed my bottle all over the lobby floor. Oops.

Okay, I think I am done. Do I get some sort of prize for longest, ramblingest comment?

Natalie said...

Hehe, that's awesome. Mine mostly come out of nowhere and knock me over. Usually a character first, one who demands to be written.

Kiersten said...

Rachel--Hey, 35? Not old!

Rachel B--Yes, you win the coveted "Longest and Most Rambling Comment" award, combined with the "Coolest Office that Now Has Wet Floors" award! : ) (I love that mental picture, by the staring off into space as the water bottle gets closer and closer to being filled...and then SPLASH! Tee hee.)

Rachel said...

Oh, shoot! I always mess that up. I'm 36. But even 37 isn't old according to Monty Python's Holy Grail, so I'm not worried!

So you wrote 3 books before that you didn't publish, right? And this one is at last good enough to publish? How long ago did you start (with the first one)?

Weronika said...

I love this. Thank you for sharing that <-- it's definitely an inspiration.

Kiersten said...

Rachel, no worries, even 36 isn't old : ) Tack on another sixty years, and then yeah, that'd be old, but until then you're fine.

I started writing about five years ago. A lovely, BORING middle-grade novel that took me about two years of off-and-on work before I was done and querying. And after querying one agent at at time for about a year, I started writing a YA book and completely forgot about my poor MG book. I had no business writing MG in the first place, though. I wrote that YA book, Flash, June of 2008. It got me my agent, Michelle. Flush with excitement, I wrote a companion book to Flash last December, then Paranormalcy in January. Flash didn't sell, but rather than change it and try again, I decided to focus on Paranormalcy, which Michelle and I both felt was better suited to the market right now.

It did sell : )

And it's kind of awesome.

So, honestly, I wouldn't say I was seriously writing until just over a year ago.

storyqueen said...

90% of my ideas start with a title...even when I end up changing the title later.

5% start with a premise.

5% with a character.

I am so excited to read your book!


Kiersten said...

Weronika--I'm so glad!

Shelley--That's so interesting about the title! That's actually where the one short story I've got published came from. "Wouldn't it be great to write a retelling of Rapunzel called Tangle?" So I did. But usually titles come much later for me.

Valerie said...

Very funny! I love the way "she sighs and tases him" shows so much of her personality, right there. It sounds like it's right up my alley. I'm really looking forward to meeting it.

My ideas come from the most random places. Frequently it's the first line of the book just kind of popping into my head and at that same time I realize I know exactly who's saying it and why.

My current WIP came from a desire to read something where girls kick serious butt. I was working on a YA Paranormal Romance that was all dark and mysterious and emo and I wanted to read something different. I kept looking and not finding and the harder I looked, by trying to refine my search to the specific events/characters what I wanted, the more I realized I might have a book idea.

Then the first line hit me out of nowhere and I dropped my paranormal romance for a YA contemporary sci-fi thriller - I call it My So-Called Life meets The Bourne Identity. And just because I like it so much, here's the first line (which may or may not survive revision):

"The day a girl first discovers her latent ninja skills is a memorable one."

Kiersten said...

Valerie--Tee hee. I still remember that day, myself...

I mean, umm, I'm still waiting for that day. Dangit.

And I like that you write the book you want to read!

Madeline said...

I saw a picture on of a girl sitting alone in a tunnel, and that became my destop background, and then suddenly a word document was open and the girl had a name and her story began from there.

Actually I've never really thought back to how-it-all-started. Who knows what I'd be doing with my life it I hadn't seen that picture. Hmm. Weird.

Kiersten said...

Madeline--My friend Stephanie Perkins and I have had that exact same coversation: what if [insert trigger here] had never happened? It's actually kind of horrifying to think how accidentally we stumble onto these ideas that become so important to us.

Valerie said...

Wow, I should really proofread before I post. I meant I'm looking forward to READING your book, although I suppose it's possible I could meet it too. Or not.

One of my all time favorite writing quotes is by Toni Morrison and it says: "If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, you must write it."

I think it's one of the things that gave me courage to really try rather than just think about doing it. I knew if I did it right, at least it would be a book that I would buy!

Kiersten said...

Valerie, Paranormalcy. Paranormalcy, Valerie. Now you can be best friends!

: )

carolinestarr said...

Sometimes I'll have a vague idea about a character and start asking myself questions to figure out her story.

Sometimes I just start with a feeling I want to convey.

Sometimes I'll research a place I want to learn more about, trusting characters and a story will start to emerge.

I've never approached a manuscript the same way twice.

Lily Cate said...

Geeze, my ideas come from...I have no idea.
I just scribble them down when they hit me.
My characters do have to have names, and they usually have to have lived with me for a while before I can start writing them.

Anthony said...

>>If you write, where do your ideas come from? Do you start with a scene? A character? A premise? Or do you have some ridiculous trigger that demands you spin a story out of it?<<

That is a good question. I am going to attempt to answer your question rather than resort to what I feel like doing, which is jump up and down going “HEY YOU GOT A BOOK DEAL! THREE! WITH HARPERTEEN! WOO WOO!”

But I digress.

Personally, a novel thrusts itself into my poor overloaded mind based on two things: a character, and a theme.

This is the heart of my creative process. I need both a main character with a distinctive voice, and I need a unifying idea. When the two meet, it’s magic. My brain will refuse to let go of the two, and, at some point, they merge and I will have the resulting plot and setting. I am now compelled to write the story.

But where do these characters and themes come from?

Mainly, I observe. I am not a shy man, but I am a quiet fixture. Why does that smartly dressed woman at the airport waiting for the same flight as me have a perpetual frown? Why are the neighbors across the street so reclusive? Is the wife sick? If so, will she ever get better? The Sherriff Deputy in the coffee shop--if she were in trouble, big trouble, would she have the will and fortitude, beyond her training, to survive? If not, would anybody come to help?

Observation can give me characters, and it can give me themes.

For example, why does our society have a culture of blame-the-victim, bordering on the tolerance for the criminal? Where did this corruption come from, and where will it lead? Why do some cultures today feed off each other, becoming stronger, while others clash, causing conflict? Is a society that devalues the lives of children for the sake of control and equality doomed to failure? If so, how will it fail?

Sometimes I will be thinking these questions and suddenly they will merge into a story. For example, the Sheriff Deputy in the coffee shop is in trouble. She is a strong person but in the wrong place at the wrong time. She is a righteous woman, but righteousness is not going to save her now (character, maybe the main character, or an important minor one).

Career criminals, released by our society to prey upon the weak once more without mercy, decided they were going to kill a copy one day. Our society tolerates evil men such as this. It has happened before (literally), and it will happen again. Where did this corruption come from, and where will it lead? (theme).

The righteous and the evil go at it in the coffee shop parking lot. Outgunned and outmaneuvered, the death of the female deputy is a forgone conclusion. How would she get out of this?

She gets help. A woman caught in the crossfire draws her sidearm and joins the gun battle.

Why did this woman have gun? Well, she has the typical ex-husband who has threatened to kill her. She decided she wasn’t going to use a paper shield and actually defend herself.

Only, she isn’t defending herself. She is defending someone sworn to defend her! She is shot. Nevertheless, everyone lives, except the evil men.

And this heroic action caused the next American Civil War (plot).

That’s my writing process. For me, only when I have a firm character, or characters, and a unified idea to generate conflict as a theme, can I get a plot that works for me. At this point, I have a novel. All that is left is my outlining process (which I do in my head) and typing. You may think a gun battle in a coffee shop parking lot and the next American Civil War is a gigantic, random leap--but it’s not. The theme, as you recall, is “Where did this corruption (tolerance for evil) come from, and where will it lead?” With these characters and this theme, the blot burst out of me like the alien from the chest of poor Kane on the Nostromo.

Anyway, that’s where my ideas come from.

Andrea Cremer said...

Love it! My ideas start much the same way, scenes spring up when I'm driving, doing yoga, walking the dogs. Usually it's a character coming to me with a problem, or more accurately me seeing them trying to deal with a problem, and the story unfolds from that point.

Fantastic Book Review said...

LOL! I loved how she sighed before she tased him. I have a WIP going but it's hard finding time to actually sit down and write. My mind wanders all over the place and ideas just pop up and I run with it and write the ideas down on a piece of paper, my hand or whatever's near me as I go.

Mariah Irvin said...

I love it when ideas come from dreams. I don't love it when they keep me from getting sleep though!

Carrie Harris said...

Still love the beginning. But then again, I love everything about Para. :)

Oh, and you also need a beret. With razor edges. Because that sounds kewl.

Whirlochre said...

You've hit on something that's been rolling around in the netherwhirled for a while: this notion of how much of the original vision survives the scythe of edits. Last night, I wrote out a speculative blog post, which although shamelessly nebulous (and thusly disregarded — eeeek) I may nonetheless revisit on the strength of this (perecptive) (inspiring) (awesome — did I say awesome?) post. When the fruits of unbidden witness and the labours of merciless craft have rendered (between them and the bills, distractions & etc) a manuscript worthy of potential flight yonder, how much of that first flash of light bursts aglow from the pages? This nonsense that implored you to render it into somethinglife?

You've rung a few bells for me here — even more than when you posted about the hoppy chicken, and I can't recall chimes there, only clucking. Is the chicken coming back any time? How I miss those cheery hops! Those plastic leaps into the unknown!


Renee Collins said...

My new story idea came to me in a dream. How cliche is that?!

I'm envious of storyqueen. Titles are my curse!

Novice Writer Anonymous said...

My current WiP began with the meaning of my MC's name. It's developed a lot further than that by this point (6 or 7 years after initial concept) but that was the original impetus.

Jenn Johansson said...

My ideas come from just random what if conversations. Occasionally a dream... but mostly just going what if many times in a row. :) Eventually I stumble on something cool.

Kathryn Magendie said...

Stopping by from Deb's place to congratulate you on your book deal! EXCITING! have fun - enjoy all the moments!

Jade said...

I'm very new to the blogosphere but I am so loving it. Actually, I'm loving it too much. I should be writing, dammit!

The idea for my current WIP was a charm bracelet and some marbles. Sound weird? Welcome to my head!

BJW said...

Ideas? No idea. Weird places and times. Most of the time in that moment they seem like the most brilliant idea in the world. Briefly. Then most reveal themselves to be humiliatingly bad. That's when I pray I didn't show anybody too soon. Which I usually did.

Tara said...

Wow! I love it. Thanks for sharing. My current WIP was the result of a what if question. The one I plan to start next came from a phrase my mother used.