Friday, February 14, 2014
My cousin and I were discussing what provides the initial spark of inspiration for a new book. I told him that mine always begin when a main character's name pops into my head. Usually, that's a man but not always. In Magic Creek, it was a woman. The name usually comes with a general sense of who this person is and as I sit down to write, more and more about him or her is revealed.
My cousin, who writes science fiction mostly, said his books begin with a "what if" question and go from there.
I told him I thought my method was preferable to his because if you stall out in finding an answer to your "what if", you're just done. He admitted that many of his ideas do peter out like that.
By contrast, with a person as your starting point, the possibilities are limitless. He can be a cop or a race car driver, a doctor or a teacher, a devil or a saint (most of my characters are some of each). He can be from anywhere in the world, be of any religion or any sexual orientation.
Rafe Vincennes, hero (anti-hero) of the Rafe Vincennes series is an actor and a race car driver, a lover and a killer. Cole McCarren, in Sticks and Carrots, is Irish. He is a wealthy businessman but his heart belongs to his racing stable, McCarren Broad Farm. Ethan Pierce (How to Build a Killer) ends up fleeing to South America to escape U.S. law. Shea Rafferty goes west as a boy, becoming a cowboy and a saver of wild horses in Eureka Spills. In my latest book, Sanctuary in the Atchafalaya, Luca Quai is half/Jew and half/Gypsy. He begins his life in Romania before coming to New York. He is an assassin who finds his spiritual home in Louisiana, with a Creole townhouse in New Orleans and his refuge in the Atchafalaya.
The key, though, is that it wasn't vital for any of them to be who they were. Cole McCarren could have been French instead of Irish if that's where my imagination had taken me. Shea Rafferty could have saved wolves instead of horses. Luca Quai could have just as easily felt a bond to the Rockies rather than the Atchafalaya.
When you build a story around a person, you begin with a shadow and fill in the colors as you go along. You can look to the far horizon and know that you're not bound by any restrictions. You can simply take off and fly to see where your creativity takes you.
Perhaps some writers are uncomfortable without a basic structure to go by. They prefer to set their original plot up as a kind of paint-by-numbers canvas so that they are working within an outline that must be adhered to.
We are all different in the way we write but if you stuck for a a direction, imagine a person who fascinates you and see if you can take it from there.