Of all of the aspects of writing I’ve encountered as a reader and a writer, I think the question “Where do you get your ideas?” is one of the most common questions about writing, since everything grows out of that seed: plot, action, characters, setting – the entire world.
However, of equal interest to me is how an idea develops; stories and characters take on lives of their own, and the final result might be something quite different to what the author originally intended.
My first – and as yet unpublished – novel took that kind of left turn. I’d never written anything resembling a book, so when I decided to try it, I opted for a form with which I was familiar: a mystery of the Agatha Christie type. That idea lasted about two chapters, and the characters and plot took the bit in their teeth, and I simply held on.
Lovers’ Knot, published this past Spring by Running Press, however, was a bit more straightforward. It didn’t veer off into unknown territory, but grew slowly and broadly from a simple beginning.
I had been asked to write a short story for a friend’s anthology, as story with two themes: the main character had to be gay, and there had to be spellcraft involved in the story. I agreed, and then wandered, idealess, for weeks, guiltily ignoring the requests for a first draft.
Then one morning I woke suddenly, with a clear picture in my head from a dream I’d just had: an old woman in a small, dark cottage, holding the hand of a younger man and turning his wrist upright, and saying “You have to cut the knot that binds you to him. You have to cut the lovers’ knot,” and tapping him on the underside of his wrist.
So. I had: a witch, a gay man, and a spell. All I needed was the story. And, to my surprise, the characters, the setting, the basic incidents of the entire piece were there in my head almost immediately. It was a ghost story. It would be set in Cornwall. The year was 1906 (or thereabouts). The young man had come back to a farm he’d visited years before, with tragic results. Even some of the characters’ names appeared. I bolted to my laptop (fortunately on) and typed furiously; it was, after all, 4:00 in the morning, and I’d never remember this if I went back to sleep.
After I did, and awoke, I started the legwork: research, research, research, and finally the actual story, which didn’t deviate much at all from my original image of it. It did grow much longer than I had anticipated, quickly outstripping the word count for the anthology, and developed a decidedly romantic feel, as opposed to the psychological haunt story I’d initially envisioned. The characters fueled this by taking turns I very much did not expect – the character of Nat, in particular – while others, originally supposed to be small and incidental, grew to be important and, to me, wonderful creatures. Photographs I found in the process of my research developed into places, and into scenes and events, feeding back into the story and expanding it, flavoring it. And finally, after two years of work, I had a book, a book that was to be published…and was.
All from one small seed of a dream.
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